North Coast River Systems

The Salmon Superhwy

Transforming an Oregon watershed for the benefit of both fish and people

Avoiding one-off solutions

Salmon Superhighway sign

Finding the BIG Picture

Nowhere has this been more the case than in the six adjacent river systems that drain from the Coast Range into Tillamook and Nustucca Bays. Although one-off restoration projects have been undertaken in these watersheds, the lack of an overarching regional plan has prevented them from achieving their full potential in terms of reopening fish habitat. Projects that should have helped fish reach even more territory have remained partially blocked by structures like culverts at road crossings, small dams and tidegates. The Salmon Superhwy project was designed to provide the big-picture view needed to maximize the benefits of restoration efforts in the area.

An Innovative Approach through Partnerships

A big picture view–it’s an important goal and an innovative approach. Instead of various stakeholders working in a vacuum—as sometimes happens—the Salmon Superhwy project brings together some two dozen government agencies, non-profit organizations, local businesses and private landowners. Together they’ve identified, prioritized and analyzed the costs of ALL of the projects that would be required to remove the remaining barriers to fish passage. Their initial findings identified more than 260 barriers that would cost $140 million to remove and would take about 70 years at current spending levels. But instead of stopping there, the partners sharpened their pencils and got to work on a better plan (from their website):

“Through a detailed cost-benefit analysis, they then determined the precise portfolio of projects that achieves absolute maximum habitat bang-for-the-buck: 93 projects that will result in access for 6 species of ocean-going fish to 95% of the habitat available at a fraction of the cost of a more traditional approach.”

As a result, the timeframe to accomplish the work was reduced from 70 years to just ten, and the $140 million price tag was slashed to $34 million.

Since then, work has been undertaken on many of the projects. As of 2019, 29 of the 93 priority barriers have been removed. Over 80 miles of habitat have been reconnected—almost halfway to the goal of 180 miles. And it’s not just fish that have benefited. To date, 129 jobs have been created, road flooding has been reduced at culverts, and Oregon’s vital fishing industry benefits from a stronger and larger population of ocean-going fish.

Highlighted Project

Skookum Dam Removal

A failing structure’s removal benefits both fish AND people

Just One of the 93 Projects…

Not all barriers to fish passage are culverts or tidegates. The earthen Skookum Dam on Fawcett Creek prevented fish access to almost two miles of upstream habitat, including the Tillamook Watershed’s only lake system. But worse than that, the dam, built in 1965 atop a natural slide, was at risk of failing, endangering homes and other structures below.

The dam has since been removed—one of the Salmon Superhwy’s larger projects to date. Already, pools and backwaters are forming and should soon provide excellent habitat for spawning and rearing young fish. And homeowners downstream have the confidence of knowing that a structure, which had become a threat, was no longer a risk to their homes and lives.