The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 fundamentally transformed the surrounding landscape, triggering geophysical processes that are still unfolding.
Among them was a debris avalanche caused by the eruption, that blocked the outlet from Spirit Lake to the North Fork Toutle River.
To prevent the rising lake level from breaching the blockage and potentially flooding communities downstream, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built an outlet tunnel to maintain safe lake levels.
However, the tunnel must be periodically closed for repairs, during which time the lake level rises.
Prolonged closures, combined with increased volume from melting rainfall and snow in the spring, could allow the water level to rise high enough to breach the natural dam.
In 2015, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest commissioned a study to assess risks associated with alternative outlet options.
A team consisting of researchers from the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Oregon State University authored the study.
At the team’s request, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a dam safety risk-assessment of long-term solutions: maintaining the existing tunnel, rehabilitating the tunnel, creating an open channel across the blockage, or installing a buried conduit across the blockage.
The assessment determined that there is no risk-free way to remove water from Spirit Lake, but the likelihood is generally low that these solutions will fail.
With this information, the Forest Service is moving forward with developing a long-term solution to managing the Spirit Lake outlet.
LA GRANDE, Ore. (July 29, 2019) — Earlier this summer, Tim Bailey and Winston Morton of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were looking for signs of spawning steelhead in the headwaters of Beaver Creek southwest of La Grande.
They’d surveyed miles of the creek, tediously making their way over downed trees, rocks, and slippery stream banks while scanning the streambed.
Then they found four redds, depressions in the river gravel made by fish to lay their eggs.
This simple discovery represents a breakthrough for migratory steelhead, which had not been able to reach the headwaters of Beaver Creek for over 100 years.
Migratory steelhead are amazing fish. After they are born and raised in cold freshwater streams, they will swim hundreds of miles to feed and grow in the ocean. Then they swim back to the stream of their birth to reproduce.
For many thousands of years, steelhead followed this life cycle in the Grande Ronde River and its tributaries, including the headwaters of Beaver Creek.
That changed a century ago with the construction of the Beaver Creek Dam and four water diversions in the La Grande municipal watershed.
Steelhead and other migratory fish could no longer swim past the dam and diversions to reach the high-quality spawning and rearing habitat in upper Beaver Creek.
To solve this problem, several local, state, and federal entities teamed up to implement the Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project.
When the construction crew broke ground in June of 2017, the project had been in various stages of planning for 20 years.
Why did it take so long?
Designing a structure to provide fish passage up to, and down from, the Beaver Creek Dam was a significant engineering challenge. The structure had to be low-maintenance and work without electricity; it also had to accommodate high flows in the spring as well as low flows later in the summer.
The City of La Grande worked with a local civil engineering firm, Anderson Perry & Associates, to evaluate several alternatives for a fish passage structure, and other project partners provided technical feedback.
They ultimately landed on a one-of-a-kind solution: a series of 59 precast concrete weirs (little dams). Each weir weighs 27,000 pounds and had to be constructed off site.
Stacked one-by-one along about 400 feet of the dam’s eastern spillway, the weirs create a staircase of resting pools that allow fish to jump & swim up and over the top of the dam.
To date, there are no other fishways like this in the Pacific Northwest.
Implementing the Beaver Creek Fish Passage
Project took a total of $1,125,700 and vital contributions from several
The City of La Grande
provided technical expertise, project funding, and grant administration.
Anderson Perry & Associates of La
Grande provided engineering design and construction project management.
Lindley Contracting of
Union constructed the project, including the fish passage structure, upgraded
several intake structures, and replaced worn out utility infrastructure.
Grande Ronde Model Watershed
facilitated project funding, including $150,000 from the Bonneville Power
Administration, as well as technical feedback that contributed to the
enhancement of the project.
The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board
The Oregon Water Resources Department
provided $600,000 in grant funding.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
provided expert advice, design review, and project monitoring.
The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
provided environmental analysis, planning, technical feedback, and implementation
“I’m grateful for the collaborative effort put forth by everyone involved,” Kyle Carpenter, La Grande’s director of public works, said. “The wealth of knowledge and experience that we all pooled together, along with our cooperative move-it-forward mentality, were invaluable in the successful completion of this project.”
“The La Grande Municipal Watershed provides some of the best drinking water in the world, straight from our National Forest,” Lee Mannor, water superintendent for the city of La Grande, said. “Now we also provide some of the best native fish habitat in the world. That is something we can all be proud of when we turn on the tap.”
“The Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project was a special one for our team,” Brett Moore, P.E., with Anderson Perry & Associates, Inc., said “The City of La Grande asked us to help them solve a unique engineering design problem, which is always rewarding. This project also gave us a chance to be part of something much bigger right here in our own backyard.”
“This is a testament to nature’s resilience,” Jesse Steele, interim director of the Grande Ronde Model Watershed, said. “I’m looking forward to more success stories as we continue to connect and restore habitat in the Grande Ronde Basin.”
“After more than 100 years away, migratory steelhead now have access to over 14 miles of pristine spawning and rearing habitat above the Beaver Creek Dam, and they are moving back in,” Tim Bailey, a fisheries biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said. “Finding those first four redds was an important milestone, and I expect we will find even more in the future.”
“It really made my summer when I heard that steelhead were once again spawning in upper Beaver Creek,” Bill Gamble, district ranger for the La Grande District, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, said. “There is a lot of credit to go around. We in the Forest Service were just privileged to work with so many great partners over the years to help make the Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project a reality. This is another win for our local restoration economy – where habitat restoration projects are driving more investments and jobs while improving everyone’s access to natural resources.”
For more information, please see the article, “Reconnecting the Habitat Dots,” published in Ripples in the Grande Ronde and the La Grande Observer in the summer of 2017.
Source information: Wallowa Whitman National Forest (press release).
COLVILLE, Wash. (March 4, 2019) – Summer promises exciting new recreation opportunities on the Colville National Forest, as the Mill Pond Historic Site and Campground reopens after a two-year closure.
This site has been closed since July of 201,7 when construction began to remove Mill Pond Dam and restore surrounding habitat.
The campground is scheduled to reopen before Memorial Day, with 10 upgraded campsites, including new food storage lockers, and major improvements to roads, parking, signage, and bathroom facilities to better support visitors’ outdoor experiences.
The Mill Pond Historic day use site and a new trail system are expected to re-open by June 27, 2019.
The project is being performed by Seattle City Light on the Colville National Forest, as required by the Settlement Agreement for the Boundary Hydroelectric Facility License issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2013.
The log crib dam that formed Mill Pond was constructed in 1909 by the Inland Portland Cement Company, and was replaced by a concrete dam in 1921, but had not been used for electricity generation in many years. Seattle City Light agreed to perform the removal work as part of an agreement to re-license a different dam.
Two new loop trail systems will be available around the old pond site, including two footbridges spanning the old dam site and the upstream channel. The new trails connect to about three miles of existing trail in the area.
The Mill Pond Historic Site day use area will also be renovated with a large new picnic pavilion, which includes a community fireplace, new picnic tables, and accessible parking.
New interpretative signs and kiosks that tell the history of the site will be installed by late fall of 2019.
Visitors to the area will find the landscape of the old pond site has been transformed during the closure. Most of the sediment in the pond was flushed downstream with strong Sullivan Creek flows in the spring of 2018, exposing the pre-dam ground surface of the Sullivan Creek floodplain.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2018, a natural riverine ecosystem was shaped with multi-thread stream channels and extensive logjams to provide high quality fish habitat and spawning areas.
During the fall, thousands of locally sourced shrubs, trees, and grasses were planted in five different planting zones around the old pond site.
As warmer weather sets in this spring, the site will begin greening up and the final steps of the site restoration will be complete.
For more information on the Mill Pond Dam Removal and Habitat Restoration project, visit www.millponddam.com.
The busy, busy beaver is our February Forest Feature.
Beavers, or Castor canadensis, are sometimes called the “engineers of the wild.” They are probably best known for the elaborate dams they construct across streams, flooding surrounding wetlands.
A beaver dam creates a pond that provides habitat for the beavers, and for many other aquatic creatures. Deer and other animals may forage for grass and shrubs that grow in small meadows beavers have created by harvesting wood to build with.
The dams are built from wood, mud, and rocks. Beavers cut down small trees by chewing through them. They may even dig canals to float those trees back to their pond!
The beaver is the largest rodent that is native to North America. A typical adult beaver is more than 3 feet in length, if you include their broad, paddle-like tail, and weighs more than 40 pounds!
You might be surprised to learn beavers don’t live inside beaver dams. A beaver’s home is called a “lodge” and is typically a large mound, also made from branches and mud, located upstream from a dam.
Lodges can have multiple entrances, which lead to an above-water den inside. They even have “skylights” – small holes near the top that lets in fresh air.
Beavers live in colonies of up to a dozen beavers, and a colony may have several lodges!
During the winter, beavers take a break from all their busy building. In places where it gets very cold, beavers will store food for winter at bottom of their pond, or swim out under the ice to harvest underwater plants.
After a few years, when beavers have eaten most of the food and felled the closest trees around their dam, the colony will begin looking for a new home. Once abandoned, the beaver’s dam quickly deteriorates and the pond recedes, revealing a new wetland or meadow covered with rich, newly-fertilized soil where plants will quickly grow.
Did you know?
A beaver’s front teeth are very strong, and are sharpened by their chewing.
Beavers have bad eyesight, but a strong sense of smell and very good hearing. They do most of their construction work at night.
A beaver has furry paws on their front legs that are good at grabbing and holding building materials, and webbed toes on their back feet that are excellent for swimming.
Beavers warn each other of danger by slapping their wide tails against the water.
A beaver’s tail also helps them balance when carrying building materials, and steer themselves while swimming.
A beaver can hold its breath while underwater for up to 15 minutes.
Beavers’ building benefits the environment in many ways, including protecting endangered salmon and their habitat. Young salmon and trout find protection from predators in the complex currents and mazes of logs and branches surrounding beaver lodges and dams. Debris piles leftover from former beaver dams and lodges also protects the streams and creeks running through them from erosion.
Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes, a family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.
If you’d like fact sheets, activities, or links to other educational resources about this topic – and for information about other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate environmental education and forest science in your Pacific Northwest classroom – email YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.
The website North American Forest Partnership (NAFP)’s website shares stories from its members, a diverse coalition of forest industry professionals, organizations, and government agencies (including the USDA Forest Service) that focus on relevant, responsible, and innovative efforts for forest management, conservation and sustainable harvesting.
The USDA Forest Service’s Wood Innovation grants are awarded annually invest in research and economic development that expands the wood products and wood energy markets.
From the website:
For more than 90 years, the Freres family has been a steward of Oregon’s forests. With responsibility for more than 17,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest, the family-owned Freres Lumber Company has long been a pioneer in sustainable forest management and manufacturing.
Today, Kyle and his family continue that tradition, blending technology and sustainability to create the building materials of the future: Mass Timber. The same sustainable and renewable wood engineered to replace steel and concrete on a scale not previously possible. #forestproud.
View the video on the #forestproud website, or below:
PORTLAND, Ore. – Aug. 10, 2018 – Weekend visitors to Multnomah Falls took in an unexpected sight July 22nd; two USDA Forest Service engineering inspectors performing a climbing inspection of the Benson Bridge and the viewing platform at the top of the falls.
David Strahl, a USDA Forest Service engineer, taking notes while inspecting the upstream side of 104-year-old Benson Bridge July 22, 2018.USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Van Hecke; USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region.
Mark Sodaro and Dave Strahl are licensed professional engineers and members of the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region’s Engineering Structures Group. Sodaro is also licensed as a structural engineer. But most unique among their qualifications is that both are Level 1 certified SPRAT (Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians) climbers.
“When I interviewed for my current position I was asked if I had a fear of heights, my response was that I had a healthy fear of heights and that I had recreationally rock-climbed several times before,” Strahl said. “I had no grasp of what I would experience over the next nine years.”
There are around 1,500 road bridges and 1,500 footbridges the Forest Service maintains or inspects in Oregon and Washington alone. Most are accessible by less dramatic means, such as a bucket truck; only the most technically complex inspections require climbing.
Sodaro said it’s “exhilarating” to take in some of the Pacific Northwest’s most scenic views during a technical inspection climb – but that it probably isn’t for everyone, or even most of his fellow engineers.
“It’s awesome. It’s just pretty cool. I do recreational climbing, too, so it’s fun for me,” he said. “I don’t think this is something you can ‘be volunteered for, you have to volunteer.”
A USDA Forest Service engineer inspects the High Steel Bridge, which rises 420 feet above the Skokomish River Gorge on the Olympic National Forest in Washington, in an undated 2017 photo. Courtesy photo provided by David Strahl.
Twisting from a harness beneath the bridge below Gorge’s tallest waterfall isn’t even the most nerve-wracking inspection they’ve conducted, Strahl said.
That honor goes to the High Steel Bridge, perched 420 feet above the Skokomish River Gorge in the Olympic National Forest, which he and Sodaro inspected last year.
“That bridge is an order of magnitude more intense that the Benson Bridge,” Strahl said.
Strahl said he still gets a little nervous before a climb, but it fades as his focus shifts to the technical side of the bridge inspection and managing his ropes.
Any sense of relief he felt as he climbed out of his harness after the Benson Bridge inspection was related less to the height of the bridge, and more to the large crowd of visitors that had gathered to watch the inspectors work, he said.
Multnomah Falls is located along Interstate 84, less than 30 miles west of Portland, Ore., and summer weekends frequently draw a capacity crowd.
“Some of the public weren’t too happy to have access limited to the bridge,” Kathryn Van Hecke, the regional structures engineer, said. But, “they certainly enjoyed taking pictures of something they won’t see for at least another five years—climbers dangling from the bridge!”
The recent Benson Bridge inspection combined a regularly scheduled maintenance inspection and a review of repairs done in 2014 when a rock fall damaged the century-old bridge. The viewing platform was inspected to ensure it didn’t sustain damage in the 2017 Eagle Creek fire.
“For the most part the bridge is in good condition. I expect it to last another 100 years,” Strahl said.
A USDA Forest Service engineering team inspects the 104-year old Benson Bridge, located above the base of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Oregon July 22, 2018. Forest Service engineers David Strahl and Mark Sodaro, both Level 1-certified SPRAT climbers, conducted the inspection. A contractor, Extreme Access, provided Level 3 supervisory climbers to ensure the climbing was done safely. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Van Hecke; regional structures engineer, USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region.
Source information: Kathryn Van Hecke is the regional structures engineer for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region.
MULTNOMAH FALLS, Ore. – March 19, 2018 – Visitors can once again view Multnomah Falls with no fence in the foreground, as the lower viewing platform re-opened today. The lower viewing platform, located at the base of the falls, has been closed to the public since Sept. 4, 2017, two days after the start of the Eagle Creek Fire.
The lodge, restaurant, gift shop, and snack bar reopened Nov. 29, 2017, but the platform remained closed due to the need to rebuild a rock catchment fence which was damaged during the fire by falling debris and trees.
The reconstruction of the fence was completed late last week, and the new fence will protect visitors on the platform from trees or rocks that may fall from the hillside.
The USDA Forest Service also hired contractors to fell hazard trees and conduct rock scaling, measures which will limit the amount of dangerous debris that can fall unexpectedly.
The trail to Benson Bridge, which spans the upper and lower falls, will remain closed until the next round of repairs is completed.
Work will include the replacement of Shady Creek Bridge, a wooden footbridge that burned during Eagle Creek Fire, and clearing and repair work on the lower portion of Larch Mountain Trail. An initial trail assessment found up to 90 percent of the trail covered by rocks. Crews have begun work to clear, repair, and stabilize the trail.
The projected timeline for reopening the trail up to Benson Bridge is summer, 2018. A timeline for the trail to the upper viewing platform remains undetermined.
The recreation site, managed by the Forest Service, is one of the most popular natural attractions in Oregon, receiving millions of visitors each year. Visitors still need to access the lodge through the Interstate 84 parking lot, operated by Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). When parking is full, the gate to the I-84 parking lot will close. Travelers are asked to respect gate closures and use caution on the interstate.
A six-mile section of the Historic Columbia River Highway from Bridal Veil to Ainsworth State Park remains closed with no timeline for re-opening. Rocks and trees continue to fall on the road and ODOT will keep the road closed until it can safely re-open. Nearby Benson State Recreation Area will also remain closed to protect public safety.
The Forest Service continues to work in close collaboration with ODOT and Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation to mitigate hazards in the vicinity of the Eagle Creek Fire burned area in order to reopen roadways and recreation sites affected by the Eagle Creek Fire as soon as it is safe to do so.
Staff report, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
[VIDEO] Ryan Cole, an engineering geologist based at Mount Hood National Forest, discusses post-fire work at Multnomah Falls Lodge in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, to make it safe for visitors following rockfalls and other hazards created during the 2017 Eagle Creek fire.
ROSEBURG, Ore. – February 27, 2018 – The Federal Engineer of the Year Award, sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers, Professional Engineers in Government, honors engineers employed by a federal agency that employs at least 50 engineers worldwide.
Steve Marchi, USDA Forest Service, Umpqua National Forest engineer, was recognized as the UForest Service’s agency winner during the 2018 Federal Engineer of the Year Award ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., February 23, 2018.
As an agency winner, he, along with 30 other esteemed engineers nationwide, was a finalist for the Federal Engineer of the Year.
Steve Marchi, and engineer assigned to the Umpqua National Forest, USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region, was an agency-level honoree at the Federal Engineer of the Year 2018 awards ceremony. Agency honorees are also finalists for the Federal Engineer of the Year award, presented annually by the National Society of Professional Engineers. Courtesy photo.
Typically, the honor is reserved for a current employee, either civilian or military, who is either a licensed professional engineer or engineer in training and who works at a federal agency that employs at least 50 engineers worldwide.
“I nominated Steve for his many professional achievements and organizational engagement as well as his continued attention to learning,” said Emilee Blount, Director of Engineering, Technology and Geospatial Services for the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C.
Blount served as keynote speaker for the ceremony.
Marchi previously received another national award in 2017 in recognition of his outstanding work in integrating different work areas and projects both inside and outside of the Forest Service.
Marchi holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from University of Idaho (1997) and is a registered professional engineer in the State of Ohio. He began his career with the U.S. Forest Service in 1993 on the Payette National Forest in Idaho. Marchi began working on the Umpqua National Forest in 2011 after working 10 years on the Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio.