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Ecology and salmon related articles

Columbia Land Trust, BPA Complete Property Purchase

by Staff
St. Helens Chronicle, January 24, 2012

Officials hailed purchase of Columbia River estuary habitat. (BPA photo) The Columbia Land Trust, Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the largest purchase of riverside habitat in the Columbia River estuary in nearly 40 years. The purchase is intended to permanently protect essential refuge for salmon, steelhead and other wildlife.

The acquisition, which will benefit salmon from Oregon, Idaho and Washington as they migrate to the ocean, is the largest step yet in the estuary to mitigate the impact of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

On Jan. 23, Columbia Land Trust completed the purchase of the 920-acre Columbia Stock Ranch on the south shore of the Columbia River near Goble. BPA contributed $5.3 million in funding from electric ratepayers. The trust is a private, nonprofit group working to conserve habitat along the greater Columbia River region.

The trust said the purchase now sets the stage for the Corps of Engineers to restore hundreds of acres of historic wetlands in the next few years. This land will provide food and shelter for salmon migrating to and from the ocean.

Columbia Land Trust says the acquisition protects more estuary habitat for conservation than any other single purchase since the early 1970s.

"The size and ecological importance of this habitat set a new benchmark for habitat protection and is a key piece in an extensive fish refuge system in the lower Columbia River," said Glenn Lamb, executive director for Columbia Land Trust.

Over the past decade, Columbia Land Trust has worked with about 60 landowners to conserve more than 9,000 acres of spawning and rearing habitat. BPA has been an important part of the effort.

"The estuary is a particularly vital nursery for young salmon, and this project is the best demonstration yet of conserving and restoring the lands that make the estuary so valuable."

An independent panel of biologists identified the parcel as an especially valuable swath of historic tidal wetlands that, if restored, would boost survival of young salmon as they transition to saltwater. Some two-thirds of estuary wetlands have been lost over the last century, but recognition of their biological significance has encouraged restoration.

"Everything we learn tells us more and more that the estuary is very important to juvenile fish," said Ron Thom, a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientist specializing in ecosystem restoration who helps assess potential projects. "Restoration can create more habitat to support them. In general, the more opportunities for fish to access large, productive rearing and feeding habitats, the better the chances of young salmon gaining strength and ultimately surviving."

It has been nearly 40 years since a single purchase of land of this size has been made purely to support conservation efforst.

"The Deer Island area was once a rich network of forests, shrub scrub, wetlands, sloughs and floodplain lakes that provide critical shallow water areas for juvenile salmon resting and rearing as they make their way to the ocean," said Deborah Marriott, executive director of the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership. "With this purchase and the restoration of this property, these essential habitats will once again become available to Endangered Species Act listed fish and other species."

Related Sites:
Columbia Land Trust

Columbia Land Trust, BPA Complete Property Purchase
St. Helens Chronicle, January 24, 2012

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