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Agencies, Groups Announce
Joint Estuary Restoration Project

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 1, 2004

Seventy-six acres of tidal marsh and 115 acres of forest on the lower Columbia River's Crims Island will be restored to provide better habitat for young salmon, a group of government agencies and conservation groups announced this week.

The three-year, $3.8 million project -- officially known as the Crims Island Section 536 Environmental Restoration Project -- is a joint effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, American Rivers and the Columbia Land Trust.

The tidal marsh restoration will provide juvenile rearing and foraging habitat for fall chinook, chum and coho salmon. Other salmonids, including Snake River sockeye, steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout will benefit from restored linkages in the Columbia River's estuarine food web. The project also will provide habitat for waterfowl, bald eagles, Columbian white-tailed deer, and migratory songbirds.

Crims Island, 48 miles downriver from Portland in Columbia County, Ore., is a unit of the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge for the Columbian white-tailed deer, which is administered by the Service.

"Without any one of the primary partners, this project wouldn't be possible," said Taunja Berquam, the Corps' project manager for the effort. "The exciting thing about this project is the success of collaborative efforts with disparate organizations. It shows what can be done when we all get behind something constructive," Berquam said.

This project will guide tidal marsh restoration elsewhere in the lower river, said Charles Stenvall of the Service. "We have never tried anything of this size and scope before, so the information we gain at Crims Island will influence the design of future restoration projects on other refuge islands," he said.

David Moryc of American Rivers agreed.

"If we want future generations to enjoy abundant wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River, we must focus on restoring habitat. This collaborative effort is an excellent model and we hope to see more science-based habitat restoration occurring across the lower Columbia estuary."

The federal-private partnership began in August 2003 when the Vancouver-based Columbia Land Trust acquired 451 acres on Crims Island with funding assistance from BPA.

The Land Trust stepped in and purchased an option to acquire the property one day before the property was slated to be sold at auction. "A private donor gave us the $10,000 option money which gave us the time to work with the other partners to raise the full purchase price, said Glenn Lamb, executive director of Land Trust. "This private donor, and the private landowner's willingness to work with the Land Trust have made this entire project possible."

The Land Trust then donated the property to the Service to manage as part of the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge for the Columbian white-tailed deer. The Corps is providing the federal funding to complete the restoration on the property in partnership with the Service. American Rivers helped secure the authority and federal funding for the work.

"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 of species all at one time," said Cathy Tortorici, Columbia River Estuary coordinator for National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Division. (NOAA Fisheries issues the biological opinions that guide restoration efforts of the BPA, USFWS and the Corps in the lower Columbia related to changes in the system brought about by hydropower and Corps activities).

Actual construction work at Crims Island began in late August 2004 but was cut short due to heavy rains on the construction site. Construction will resume in July 2005; work will include excavation of 2 feet of soil from a supra-tidal reed canary grass-dominated marsh to restore daily inundation and allow for development of a native emergent marsh plant community.

Adjacent upland habitat, currently used for cattle pasture, will be used as a disposal site for material excavated from the reed canary grass-dominated marsh. Once construction for the tidal marsh is completed, the upland area will be converted to native riparian forest habitat via planting and natural seeding.

The authority for the restoration study was obtained through section 536 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000.

In the President Bush's fiscal year 2003 budget, the Crims Island Section 536 study was funded as a new start for $2 million. The primary purpose of the study was to carry out ecosystem restoration projects necessary to protect, monitor and restore fish and wildlife habitat based on recommendations made by the Lower Columbia River Estuary Program.

The Columbia River estuary provides refuge, food and habitat for juvenile salmon as they make their transition from freshwater to saltwater. Scientists agree that restoration of the Columbia River estuary is needed to help recover healthy sustainable wild salmon stocks.

Historically the Columbia River produced more wild salmon than any river system in the world. Today less than 1 percent of that number return to their natal waters and 12 species of Columbia and Snake River salmon are currently listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Columbia River estuary has lost over 70 percent of its historical habitat (50 percent since 1950) primarily due to construction of agricultural levees in floodplain habitat and to floodplain development (the estuary is home to a growing population of over 2 million people). Local communities from Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., downriver through Brownsmead, Ore., and Grays River, Wash., all the way to Astoria, Ore., are involved in restoration projects to improve water quality and aid salmon and wildlife.

CBB Staff
Agencies, Groups Announce Joint Estuary Restoration Project
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 1, 2004

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