Overview: 

The Salmon SuperHWY is an unprecedented effort to restore access to almost 180 miles of blocked fish habitat throughout six major salmon & steelhead rivers of Oregon’s North Coast. Using strategic partnerships, a scaled approach to maximize benefits and minimize costs, this unique, community partnership will deliver a portfolio of 93 projects in 10 years. Their completion will reconnect historic habitat, reduce chronic flooding, improve recreation opportunities and stimulate the local economy, both now and for the future. 

The Problem: 

Salmon, steelhead and other ocean-going fish need to access a wide range of different types of habitat throughout their freshwater life cycle to survive. Fish people call this “habitat connectivity.”  Big, adult fish need to be able to travel from the ocean to reach spawning grounds in rivers and small streams, and juvenile fish need to access different habitat types to feed, mature and escape predators, storms and other dangers before eventually migrating out to sea.

Hundreds of in-stream barriers have created bottlenecks throughout Oregon’s coastal watersheds, causing major problems in this process. Most are problem culverts at road crossings that contribute to flooding and road damage, along with some small dams and tidegates.

Throughout the past few decades, critical habitat restoration has taken place, specifically in Oregon’s North Coast, on a project-by-project basis as opportunity and funding became available. To maximize the fruit of all that labor, a comprehensive strategy linking all those projects and their benefits together, has been developed: The Salmon SuperHwy Project.

The six adjacent major river systems that drain from the Coast Range into Tillamook and Nestucca bays on Oregon’s iconic North Coast provide an historic opportunity to reconnect productive habitat with six species of anadromous (ocean-going) fish at levels and at a scale not seen in decades. Maximized connectivity of fish habitat at an unprecedented scale and optimized conservation return on investment is the goal, and The Salmon SuperHwy Project spanning the 940-square mile Tillamook and Nestucca landscape on Oregon’s iconic North Coast is the strategy to get there – together.

An Ongoing Solution:

Starting in 2010, fisheries scientists and local habitat professionals began assessing the entire 6-river landscape covering some 940 square miles on the North Oregon Coast that feeds Tillamook and Nestucca bays. The Tillamook-Nestucca watershed and the North Oregon Coast represents some of the richest salmon and steelhead recovery potential anywhere in the lower 48. They identified all 260+ remaining barriers to fish passage throughout the Tillamook-Nestucca, and determined that to fix them all would cost some $140 million and take about 70 years at current spending levels to achieve.

The costs of some of the projects on that list likely simply outweigh the overall benefit. Through a detailed cost-benefit analysis, a 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. The timeframe we’ve set to get that done is 10 years at a cost of about $34 million.

Economic Benefits:

This collaborative effort is underway and presents real economic benefits to the region.

With investment in culverts and better infrastructure, interruptions to production and supply chains caused by flooded or failed culverts will be addressed. A reinvestment in Tillamook County’s road infrastructure is a reinvestment in one of the cornerstones of its economy and community.

Foresters and a range of recreational forest users – hunters, hikers, anglers, and others – also rely on forest roads to reach their destinations. Well maintained forest roads minimize the amount of harmful fine sediments and material that enter streams in heavy rains, and well maintained road crossings are much less prone to unnatural, harmful erosion and slides. Keeping forest roads in good condition is one way to help ensure those areas and the streams within them stay healthy.

Without fish, there is no fishing. And if salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout can’t access the diversity of habitat types they need, when they need it, ultimately fishing suffers. Without fishing – and the irreplaceable value healthy fisheries contribute to Oregon’s coastal communities, economies, and identity – much of the spirit of conservation may be lost as well.

Ensuring the highest level of “connectivity” possible for fish throughout the habitat systems they rely on is one of the most basic necessities for ensuring healthy fish populations – and good fishing – now and in the future. Access to habitat alone will not recover fish runs to historic levels. But without access to the full diversity of habitats that salmon, steelhead and other fish need – at the stage of their life cycle when they need it – full recovery of coastal salmon and steelhead runs is unlikely at best, and critical conservation investments and efforts in other areas could be compromised. Providing historic levels of habitat connectivity for fish throughout one of the most productive landscapes anywhere – the Tillamook-Nestucca – is what the Salmon SuperHwy Project is about.