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Salmon Sanctuaries in Portland

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Photo shows a female coho salmon with male coho in the background during spawning season in Crystal Springs Creek. Photo taken underwater.
In the recent past, salmon were on the brink of extinction in Portland. Thanks to restoration efforts that support salmon recovery, salmon are returning to Portland’s rivers and streams. Salmon Sanctuaries show that it is possible to create healthy urban habitats for these threatened species.

What is a Salmon Sanctuary?

Salmon and steelhead have been a vital part of the ecosystem in Portland for centuries. They are an indicator of clean and healthy rivers, and they help sustain many species of fish and wildlife. Local creeks and streams can earn a Salmon Sanctuary designation by meeting two mandatory criteria and fulfilling at least five other salmon habitat essentials.

Mandatory Criteria

  • Young, juvenile, and adult salmon are present
  • Barriers — like culverts or pipes — to ocean do not exist

Other Criteria

  • Limited invasive fish species
  • Access to cold water refuge
  • High water quality
  • Limited stormwater runoff
  • Abundant riparian cover
  • Healthy stream banks
  • Presence of beavers
  • Active stewardship

Designated Sanctuaries

Crystal Springs Creek was the first stream in Portland to earn the Salmon Sanctuary designation. The creek is 2.4 miles long but offers significant habitat for salmon, birds, and other wildlife in the city. The naturally cool and steady year-round flow in the creek provides important rearing and refuge areas for juvenile salmon.

Thanks to the efforts of Environmental Services with more than 20 partners, nearly half the length of the creek has been restored. Today, salmon find colder, cleaner water and more abundant food and shelter.

The Salmon Sanctuary designation is the result of a citywide evaluation of salmon habitat by Environmental Services and other city bureaus including Portland Parks & Recreation, Transportation, Planning and Sustainability, and Water. Once a location is designated a Salmon Sanctuary, the local stewardship group will receive a one-time grant to invest in watershed restoration. The inter-bureau team identified eight other streams that are primed to achieve sanctuary status when restoration projects are completed. Those include Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Miller Creek in Forest Park, and Tryon Creek.

The Salmon Sanctuary evaluations are conducted by the same team whose work led to Portland becoming the first certified Salmon-Safe city, a designation that means the city has met or is working to meet standards for limiting water pollution, conserving habitat, and additional practices that go beyond current law. Salmon-Safe, a non-profit organization, administers those standards.