The Ecological and Recreational Benefit of the Molalla River, Oregon

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Executive Summary

The Molalla River is an Oregon natural treasure. This 53-mile river originates in coniferous forests in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and travels downstream through forests and agricultural land before joining the Willamette River. The Molalla is a valuable and necessary feature for local communities in the Willamette Valley of Oregon – it provides drinking water for the cities of Canby and Molalla, offers many acres of native fish habitat including cold water tributary fish spawning streams, and is an attraction for recreational users of many kinds. However, the river and its surrounding lands are at risk from impacts of urbanization, over-use by visitors, clear cut timber harvesting, and global and regional climate change. There is a need to address these threats and assess how they will affect the river’s values and determine what management and legislative actions can be taken to protect the river.

The following White Paper summarizes the ecological and recreational values of the Molalla River, with a specific focus on the upper part of the watershed above the city of Molalla. It highlights the historical uses of the watershed, the current recreational and cultural uses, and the critical spawning and rearing habitat for native fish. It also discusses some of the limitations and challenges that the upper part of the river and surrounding riparian areas face in terms of water quality limitation and land use practices. Improving the resiliency of native fish and the larger river system to warming temperatures will be vital in ensuring the health and productivity of the river and its native fish runs are not compromised. To achieve this goal, certain tools, such as Wild and Scenic River designation, will be invaluable in protecting the Molalla River’s ‘outstandingly remarkable values’, as are river restoration efforts that enhance fish passage and allow fish to migrate to cold water thermal refuges.

The objective of this White Paper is to educate and inform both decision-makers and the public who will shape the management and use of this Oregon natural treasure in the coming years.
This report is not a comprehensive analysis of all issues pertaining to the upper Molalla River, but rather serves as a synopsis of the current situation of river and land management, and suggests ways to protect and manage the river in the short and long term.