Previously unnoticed and unnamed, the stream came to light when the Almeda fire burned away blackberry thickets that covered it
By Emily Bowes
In the heart of Southern Oregon near the Bear Creek Greenway, a much-needed victory has taken place. It serves as a symbol of the power of community activism and underscores the importance of protecting our waterways in an era of shifting environmental regulations. On Oct. 12, an ad hoc citizen’s group called Save the Phoenix Wetlands and the clean water advocates at Rogue Riverkeeper secured a significant victory that resulted in the official naming of a previously unnamed tributary of Bear Creek in Phoenix. This tributary, now bearing the name Blue Heron Creek, represents a beacon of hope amid the mounting environmental challenges faced by wetlands and waterways.
“Blue Heron Creek provides the hydrology and pure water that creates the associated wetlands and riparian habitat that supports a wide variety of wildlife and is especially important for many songbirds that are found along the creek, said wildlife biologist Scott English.
The significance of this achievement cannot be overstated. Small streams, wetlands and springs scattered throughout the region are crucial for maintaining water quality and providing a habitat for native fish and a myriad of wildlife. Unfortunately, many of these waterways remain unnamed and, consequently, vulnerable to threats. Prior to the naming of Blue Heron Creek, the stream had remained unnoticed as it was covered by a dense growth of invasive blackberries. After the 2020 Almeda fire burned away the blackberry overgrowth, community members could see the significant water feature and stream, yet there was no documented record of its existence. If water features are not mapped and named, they are not taken into consideration in planning and development. The lack of recognition had left the creek exposed to potential harm, putting its survival at risk.
Recent legislative changes have cast a shadow over the protection of such fragile ecosystems. On Aug. 29, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final Waters of the United States rule, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Sackett v. EPA case. This revised definition significantly narrows the waters previously protected under the waters framework, potentially opening the floodgates for industries and development to compromise and devastate critical wetlands, streams and other vital water bodies.
The implications of the rule change are profound, extending far beyond the regulatory sphere. Numerous wetlands across the nation, including those in our beloved Rogue River Basin, now stand at risk of losing their protections under the Clean Water Act. Development projects, ranging from pipelines to sprawling housing developments, have been granted leeway to proceed without adhering to essential federal water quality standards.
“Our native salmon and steelhead need cool water to thrive,” said Dan Van Dyke, Rogue District fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Drought, heat waves and projections of more severe weather in the future are roadblocks to producing salmon and steelhead and make spring-fed streams like Blue Heron Creek even more important. Naming will create awareness of the creek and will eventually help protect native riparian vegetation that keeps all streams in the Rogue watershed cool and productive.”
For organizations like Rogue Riverkeeper, this news hits exceptionally close to home. Our commitment goes beyond local boundaries; we are a proud member of the global Waterkeeper Alliance, and our vision extends to advocating for clean water worldwide. Our campaigns, whether addressing the impact of commercial jet boat tours on native fish habitats or working to modernize the management strategies for the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, rely on the foundational protections provided by the Clean Water Act.
Amid these environmental challenges, we find solace and inspiration in recent achievements. The official naming of Blue Heron Creek in Blue Heron Park, an endeavor powered by dedicated community members, highlights the importance of local action in safeguarding our natural heritage. This achievement carries immense significance because small streams, wetlands and springs in our region play a pivotal role in preserving water quality and providing vital habitat for native fish and wildlife. Unnamed waterways often escape the attention and protection they deserve, leaving many critical watercourses vulnerable.
The official naming of Blue Heron Creek strengthens our resolve to continue advocating for clean water, healthy ecosystems, and vibrant communities. It serves as a symbol of what can be achieved when communities come together to protect their natural heritage. In the face of legislative changes that threaten our waterways, we must remember that our mission to protect and restore the Rogue River Basin remains unchanged.
Together, we can rise to the occasion, ensuring that we continue to champion clean water, healthy native fish populations and vibrant communities in the Rogue River Basin.
KS Wild Side appears every month and features a staff member from KS Wild, a regional conservation organization based in Ashland. Rogue Riverkeeper is a program of KS Wild. Emily Bowes works as the conservation director for Rogue Riverkeeper. For more information go to rogueriverkeeper.org.