Arian Stevens

Deschutes Update: Boots on the Ground

"I've got about four sites I want to get planted, so let's get going." With that, Matt Mendes, NFS River Steward for the Warm Springs River, rounded us up and got us going on our day of willow planting. In partnership with the Habitat Office of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Department of Fisheries, Matt had arranged for our team of seven to plant 150 willow stakes in riparian areas that had been severely burned in last year’s Rattlesnake Fire.

This is the second year Matt has spent the winter and early spring carrying out riparian habitat work along the Warm Springs and lower Deschutes rivers. Last year, Matt focused on trash removal and posting signs alerting anglers to areas with high densities of salmon and steelhead redds. While he is continuing with that work this year, Matt is expanding his repertoire of activities. He helped Native Fish Society staff conduct a steelhead spawning survey on Bakeoven Creek in Maupin. In February, Matt led a casting clinic for tribal youth of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Twelve young people showed up and Matt taught them basic casting techniques, a bit of fish biology, and sent all of them home with their very own rods.

If you get the chance to spend some time with Matt, you quickly learn that one of his priorities is passing on his knowledge to the next generation. As part of that personal commitment, he’s taken a new young guide, Joseph Logan, under his wing and is teaching him not just how to be a good fishing guide, but also a good river steward. True to his training, Joseph was second in command when we planted willows last weekend, jumping in the river to pull out the stake bundles where they had been soaking in preparation for planting.

There was a bit of uncertainty in the group about how long it might take us to get 150 willow stakes in the ground and how difficult it might be to get the stakes deep enough so that their developing roots would be able to access water not just this spring but during the hot and dry summer months. We need not have worried. The stakes need to be planted close to the water, so the ground was still quite soft and in fact, we realized we could have planted many more willows if we had had more cuttings! Not only did the work go quickly, but it hardly felt like work at all, as we got the chance to spend time with like-minded people and chat about fishing and the river.

Looking forward to next year, the Habitat Office has asked Matt to help develop and install educational kiosks at high-use areas on the river to provide people with more information about native fish, their spawning, and habitat needs. NFS sees Matt’s work as an important part of our mission to improve habitat quality for salmon and steelhead in the Deschutes, as well as providing opportunities for volunteers and kids to learn more about the needs of fish and engage in conservation actions themselves.

If you feel like you missed out on the fun by not making the willow planting, don’t worry! There’s another opportunity to help Matt with his work coming up on Tuesday, April 19 at 10am. There is an old, large dump site on Reservation land near the river that requires a number of people to tackle it. If you’re interested in joining, contact Northern Oregon Regional Coordinator Liz Perkin (liz@nativefishsociety.org), and she’ll provide you with all the necessary details. But hurry! Participation will be limited to the first 8 who volunteer.


We’d like to thank PGE Community Grants, AFFTA Fisheries Fund, M&T Charitable Foundation and the individual donors who supported Matt’s work in 2022.

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