Horsetail Creek Floodplain Restoration

Horsetail Creek, in the Columbia River Gorge, was historically a dynamic part of the Columbia River floodplain with an ash forest, willow bottoms, and five creeks and sloughs connecting to the river, providing important habitat for salmon, steelhead and lamprey. The area is important, as quality floodplain habitat is scarce and for out-migrating salmon, the Horsetail floodplain is one of the last spots to rest and feed before traveling through the Portland-Vancouver Metro area where such habitat is severely limited. In 2013, the Estuary Partnership worked with the US Forest Service and other partners and contractors to restore connectivity and 180 acres of habitat at the site.

Horsetail after construction
Horsetail site after the project

The site had several issues. The construction of Interstate 84 and the railroad line cut the floodplain off from the mainstem Columbia River, and habitat was further degraded when people cleared the land to graze cattle. Though there was a culvert, it was too small and only accessible by fish when the Columbia River was high. Fish could also be stranded when river levels receded. Moreover, when the highway was constructed, there was a gravel pit left behind that nearby Oneonta Creek had diverted through before it flowed into Horsetail Creek. This still water raised temperatures throughout the site. 

gravel pond before project
The gravel pond before construction

Through the project, we worked with crews from Aquatic Contracting to retrofit the culvert that passes under I-84 to make it easier for salmon and lamprey to access the site. We also eliminated the diversion of Oneonta Creek and converted the former gravel pond to native wetland habitat. Crews from Ash Creek Forest Management also removed invasive species and revegetated the area with native trees and shrubs. Helicopters flew in and placed 600 large logs and root wads in the streams and wetlands. Design, engineering and construction oversight was by Inter-Fluve.

helicopter flies in large log
Columbia Helicopters flew 300 pieces of large wood in to sensitive areas
workers place large wood
Workers place and secure large wood habitat structrues

Many species have been observed at the site, including coho, steelhead, and Chinook (including stocks from eastern Oregon, Washington, and Idaho), red-legged frogs, great blue heron, and other wildlife. 


spawning lamprey in Oneonta Creek
Spawning lamprey in Oneonta Creek


Steelhead in Oneonta Creek
Steelhead in Oneonta Creek

In 2017, the Estuary Partnership and the US Forest Service began scoping for a second phase of floodplain restoration at this site, to the east of the first phase's project area. The plan is to fell large trees onto the floodplain to increase habitat complexity and restore native vegetation to another 30 acres of floodplain and riparian habitat. In fall of 2017, the Eagle Creek Fire burned through the Columbia River Gorge and impacted approximately 16 acres at this site, making revegetation efforts even more critical. In early 2020, Phase II leveraged trees burned in the fire by felling them, along with some live trees, into the stream and onto the floodplain. Future Phase II activities will see crews treating invasive reed canarygrass and planting 65,000 native trees and shrubs.

Felling trees at Horsetail

Project Video:
Thanks for Sara Fox for developing a video for the project.

Horsetail Creek Restoration 1 from Sarah Fox on Vimeo.

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Project Partners
Friends of the Columbia Gorge
Oregon Department of Transportation
US Forest Service Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Bonneville Power Administration
East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District
Oregon Community Foundation
Oregon Department of Transportation
US Forest Service
Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board