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Commentaries and editorials

Trust Acquires Island Property
for Estuary Restoration

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 5, 2003

The Columbia Land Trust announced last week that it has acquired 451 acres of property on Crims Island in the Lower Columbia River for conservation.

The island is located approximately 55 miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean in Columbia County, Oregon. It is part of a system of lower river floodplains and main channel islands that are still under the tidal influence of the ocean. Its restoration will provide forested wetland habitat and marshland that has been identified as extremely significant to the recovery of salmon and other species in the Columbia River system, according to a trust press release.

"This project impacts overall ecosystem restoration of the Columbia River estuary in a positive way," says Cathy Tortorici, Columbia River Estuary coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries issues the biological opinions that guide the restoration efforts of the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers in the Lower Columbia related to changes in the system brought about hydro-power and Corps activities. The purchase helps to accomplish a BiOp goal of protecting and enhancing 10,000 acres of tidal wetlands and other key habitats over 10 years, beginning in 2001, to rebuild productivity for listed salmon populations in the lower 46 river miles of the Columbia River.

"This is the first piece to go toward that," said John Baugher, BPA's manager for the project and contracting officer/technical representative.

The Columbia Land Trust was able to secure an option on the property with the landowners while it then worked with BPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service to secure funding for the property.

The Crims Island project was reviewed during the Northwest Power Planning Council's Columbia Estuary provincial review process last year. It received favorable funding recommendations from the NPCC, the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority and Independent Scientific Review Panel, as well as BPA and NOAA. BPA, which funds the NPCC's fish and wildlife program, gave its OK in April. The sale price was $427,000.

Crims Island is within the expansion boundary of the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge. The trust will give the property to the Fish and Wildlife Service to manage as part of the refuge.

Along with BPA's funding for the acquisition of the property, the Corps is providing the necessary federal match by completing the restoration on the property. The Corps will work with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey on the restoration of the property, which will provide habitat for salmon, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, Columbian white-tailed deer and a variety of other species.

The restored habitat will provide juvenile salmonid rearing/ foraging habitat and help achieve the recovery of the Columbian white-tailed deer. Among the Endangered Species Act listed species using the property are Lower Columbia River chinook, Columbia River chum, Snake River fall chinook, Lower Columbia River steelhead and the Columbian white-tailed deer.

"This project is a good blending of federal agencies cooperating with each other and private partners on a project where we can bring about significant habitat restoration for a number species all at one time," Tortorici said.

"It is a real plus for everyone," Baugher said.

Crims Island is one of the few remaining large islands in the river that has not been radically altered by dredging, according to the trust. Restoration will provide large areas of backwater habitat for fish, restore habitat conditions critical for the white-tailed deer, and restore the native vegetation community to benefit a large variety of wildlife species. Restoration efforts will include removing invasive non-native plants, breaching dikes to restore the natural hydrology to the marsh and wooded swamplands and restoring native vegetation.

"The hallmark of our work is private initiative," said Glenn Lamb, the Land Trust's executive director. "We are so glad that the landowners were willing to take the time to work with us on this project."

"By agreeing to accept an option on the purchase of the property they gave us the time to work with our partners in creating a funding strategy that brought the land into conservation," Lamb said. The Land Trust acquired the property from Duncan Douglass LLC and it has been used for agricultural purposes since early in the last century.

Columbia Land Trust is a non-profit conservation organization with the mission of conserving signature landscapes and critical habitat together with the communities of the Columbia River region. They work in 11 counties in both Washington and Oregon with offices in Vancouver and Astoria. Supported by over 1,000 members the Land Trust has brought nearly 5,000 acres into conservation in our region since its formation in 1990.

Mike O'Bryant
Trust Acquires Island Property for Estuary Restoration
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 5, 2003

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