Wild spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead fight their way 484 miles upriver from the ocean past three major dams to spawn in the gravels of the Middle Fork John Day River. Four and one-half miles of river on a former ranch are being restored to provide spawning habitat for these fish.
Near John Day, in Central Oregon
With no dams or fish hatcheries, the wild and scenic John Day River holds great promise as a future stronghold for healthy runs of wild Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. The conservation challenge here is to restore former river meanders and streamside vegetation, in order to increase and improve habitat for fish, elk, beaver, songbirds and other native wildlife. A 1996 wildfire burned two-thirds of the preserve, causing no damage to structures but returning fire to the site, and providing ecologists with an opportunity to study the effects of the fire over time.
Dunstan Homestead is named for the family which settled here in 1888. In 1996, a dedication ceremony with family members included Mildred Deardorff, who was born on the preserve.
The Conservancy works in partnership with Oregon Fish and Wildlife, Malheur National Forest, the Umatilla and Warm Springs Confederated tribes and others to restore natural flows and vegetation to the river floodplain. Several blockages, created by an old railroad grade and river channelization activities, have been removed from two formerly active channels. Recent counts of redds (salmon spawning nests) have been encouraging.
Ecologists gather and analyze data on water flows and temperature, to better understand the hydrology of the river and its floodplain. Ecologists have developed a forestry plan to restore the health of the uplands; so far, they have thinned 124 acres of forest. Other activities include reintroducing fire in the uplands and removal of non-native species. Ecologists are also sampling aquatic invertebrates, spotted frogs and breeding bird populations on the preserve.
Alders, black cottonwoods, willows and sedges create a diverse riparian community, while ponderosa pines and Douglas-firs dominate the upland slopes.
In addition to wild spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead, the preserve hosts migrating and nesting songbirds, marten, black bear and elk, among other wildlife.
The best time to visit is from May to November. Camping is available at the U.S. Forest Service Middle Fork Campground, located about four miles east of the Sunshine Guard Station.
Please observe the following guidelines while hiking:
From John Day: