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Meet the 2020 State Land Board Award Winners

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The Oregon Department of State Lands recognizes the Opal Springs Volitional Fish Passage Project; ODOT's Vernal Pool Mitigation and Conservation Bank Restoration; Jefferson Jacobs of the Oregon Natural Desert Association; and Metro and SOLVE for their exceptional contributions to Oregon's natural resources.

Stream Award: Opal Springs Volitional Fish Passage Project

Top image: construction crews raise the dam pool height and install a fish ladder. Bottom image: the complete dam and fish laddeThe Opal Springs Volitional Fish Passage project is a collaborative effort that sought to eliminate a major fish migration barrier for native steelhead and salmon in the Crooked River Watershed. The project opened 125 miles of Crooked River habitat to fish by raising the Opal Springs dam pool height and installing a fish ladder.

Partners have collaborated for decades to support, fundraise, and advocate for the completion of the project. Their work paid off -- in November 2019, just hours after completion of the fish ladder, a steelhead entered the Crooked River without human help for the first time in more than 50 years. In the months since, 28 steelhead have gained safe passage.

The Deschutes Valley Water District's collaborators included the Crooked River Watershed Council, project team Kleinschmidt Group, Otak, JACOBS and RSCI Group, and partners the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Oregon Water Resources Department, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Trout Unlimited, Portland General Electric, Energy Trust of Oregon and Deschutes Partnership.

A video series featuring the project brings the work to life: 
Part One: The Chosen River
Part Two: Breaking Down Barriers 
Part Three: Open Passage
Part Four: Oregon's Collaboration

Wetland Award: ODOT Vernal Pool Mitigation and Conservation Bank Restoration

Top image: Flourishing meadowfoam at the vernal pools restoration site. Bottom image: workers preparing the soil at the restoratThe ODOT Vernal Pool Mitigation and Conservation Bank Restoration project is an eight-year collaboration that restored wetlands and returned native species to nearly 200 acres of rare vernal pool habitat.

Vernal pools, an unusual wetland type found in Jackson County, fill during the rainy season and dry in the summer heat. The pools are inhabited by unique plants and animals that have evolved to survive that cycle – including threatened species, vernal pool fairy shrimp, and endangered plants, Cook's desert parsley and large-flowered wooly meadowfoam. Much of the vernal pool habitat in Jackson County has been lost to development, incompatible land uses, or invasive weeds.

During the project, the Oregon Department of Transportation, The Nature Conservancy, and CC Patterson & Associates used new  technology and innovative techniques to restore vernal pool wetlands and provide compensatory wetland mitigation for many key transportation projects across the region.

For example, the team used historic aerial photos and lidar data to identify likely pool locations. They then began slowly and precisely removing soil from vernal pools, with scientists and ODOT equipment operators working together in a process that resembled archaeology with excavators.

As a result of project efforts, the vernal pool wetlands have doubled. The vernal pool fairy shrimp have increased four-fold, and desert parsley and meadowfoam has gone from nonexistent and minimal to tens of thousands of plants. Native plants dominate the landscape, making up 70 percent of the plant community.

Learn more about the project in the 2020 report, Vernal Pool Restoration on the Whetstone Savanna (PDF).

Partnership Award, Catalyst: Jefferson Jacobs, Oregon Natural Desert Association

Top image: Jefferson Jacobs points off to the distance. Bottom image: volunteers weave hay.Jefferson Jacobs's commitment to engaging volunteers in restoration projects has enhanced thousands of lives along with thousands of acres.

Jacobs has led riparian restoration efforts in Oregon for more than a decade, designing projects around the significant work volunteers can do.

In a recent habitat enhancement project at Hay Creek in Cottonwood Canyon State Park in Gilliam County, Jacobs coordinated numerous multi-day outings with 119 volunteers for a total of 2,613 volunteer hours. The work established six beaver dam analog complexes and more than 9,000 square feet of revegetation riparian habitat.

According to his Oregon Natural Desert Association colleagues, Jacobs's particular talent is inspiration. Whatever a project needs – whether it's more hands, more resources, or community support – his spark lights the way for others to get involved.

Inspired by Jacobs, the Department of State Lands this year added a new “Catalyst Award" within the Partnership Award category. The Catalyst Award will recognize an individual partner whose efforts advance significant change. 

Partnership Award, Team: Metro and SOLVE

Top image: SOLVE volunteers pose in front of truck. Bottom image: Metro staff remove trash from unathorized camp.Metro and SOLVE have acted as collaborative and compassionate partners in the state's ongoing efforts to clean up garbage and camps along Oregon waterways. The partners do complex, thoughtful work that respects people, while working toward the common goal of clean state lands and waterways.

Metro's RID Patrol team cleans up dumped or abandoned garbage. This is work that increasingly involves engaging with the houseless community. The team has strived to learn more about issues affecting houseless people and has joined with partners like Multnomah County's Joint Office of Homeless Services.

SOLVE's volunteer-powered cleanup projects have helped protect the health of Oregon's lands and waterways for decades. The SOLVE volunteer force enables the organization to respond nimbly to cleanup needs in partnership with Metro and DSL.

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