John Baker ’60: Restoring habitats in Oregon
Photo by Robert Kemp
In far northeastern Oregon, John Baker ’60 and his wife Tarrah had a decision to make on the ranch they’d lived on since 2003. The Wallowa River, running through fields the Bakers farmed for hay, home to threatened species such as chinook, bull trout, and steelhead, a tributary to the Grande Ronde and Snake rivers, was gradually eroding the land, taking a bit of acreage with it each year. The Bakers could armor the banks to straighten the river and save the fields, or, as Ian Wilson, a fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, suggested, choose to “forego the haying, let the river do what it wants, and restore the fish habitat in this section of the valley.”
In 2012, when the river took more land and hundreds of feet of fencing, the Bakers moved forward with an ambitious engineering and conservation plan that would expand the river’s flood plain and create braided side channels to return that section of river to a higher-quality rearing habitat.
Tarrah and I are sure this approach to our land will survive way after we’re gone.
With funding of almost $1,000,000 from Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife department, with years of permitting completed, construction began in 2017. The Bakers gave up half of their productive acreage in the bargain — and have no regrets. “It’s gratifying to know we’re contributing our small effort to the fish and wildlife here,” says Baker.