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Striking images of restoration project in Oregon draw praise online: ‘There’s definitely some great improvements there’

The project has even won over some of his more skeptical neighbors.

The project has even won over some of his more skeptical neighbors.

Photo Credit: Grande Ronde Model Watershed

Before-and-after photos posted recently on Reddit showed the progress of a river restoration project in Oregon, displaying a remarkable amount of life that returned to the area just one year after the project began.

The side-by-side photos, posted on the r/geomorphology subreddit by u/Yoshimi917, show an aerial view of the Wallowa River in 2020, before the restoration started, and in 2022, after the river had been redirected to bring it back closer to its original state, before human activity changed its course. The efforts are also depicted in a video on Vimeo.

Wallowa River Process-Based Restoration from Tensegrity Productions on Vimeo.

The difference is incredibly stark — in the first photo, the land surrounding the river is sparse and gray; in the second, as shown in greater detail in the video, it is lush and green.

The project was largely the work of nonprofit Trout Unlimited and rancher and fish biologist Ian Wilson, whose family has resided on the land around the Wallowa River for five generations. With a $1.2 million grant from the Bonneville Power Administration, Wilson and Trout Unlimited embarked on an ambitious quest to return the river to its former glory. 

Years of human activity — mainly, farmers, developers, and road builders clearing floodplains by cutting down trees — had caused the river to straighten. As a result, fish were unable to spawn there, and the entire ecosystem suffered. Using the grant money, Wilson and Trout Unlimited placed 475 new trees around the river and created 54 artificial beaver dams to unstraighten its path.

The change is noticeable both in the aerial photos and in person. Wilson says that the river is now full of fish, and that other wildlife has returned as well, including ducks, bald eagles, dragonflies, and songbirds.

The project has even won over some of his more skeptical neighbors. “I mean, it’s a good project,” one neighbor told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “I wouldn’t spend $1 million of my money on it, but yeah.”

The Redditors who commented on the thread were also excited to see the fast progress of the restoration.

“There’s definitely some great improvements there,” wrote one commenter.

“Really cool!” said another.

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