An ambitious project on tap for the Tillamook River proposes to restore 73 acres of wetlands and recreate a critical nursery area for eight salmon species that reside within the Tillamook Bay estuary, including federally threatened Oregon Coast Coho Salmon. Oncecompleted, the project will represent the third largest tidal wetland recovery effort of its kind in Tillamook Bay.
“This was an incredibly unique mix of tidal wetlands within a highly productive and complex estuary system that not many people even know existed there,” said Jack Smith, president of the Coastal Conservation Association Oregon Chapter (CCA Oregon).“This project is a major undertaking that will turn back the clock and show the profound impact that conservationists can have on an ecosystem. We are really excited about this opportunity and are confident the project will succeed in enhancing our valued coastal wetland resources.”
CCA Oregon and the Building Conservation Trust – the national habitat program of Coastal Conservation Association – provided funding to the project, which is being spearheaded by The Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP) in partnership with the North Coast Land Conservancy. The site is located at river mile three of the Tillamook River, one of five major tributaries to Tillamook Bay. Prior to draining and levee construction, the site was known to be spruce tidal swamp, one of the rarest habitat types in the Pacific Northwest. This unique habitat area had largely disappeared, with 92 percent of the original habitat gone.
In order to accomplish the goal of reconnecting lost habitat, the partners have had to acquire the 73 acres of property and develop the necessary scientific analysis of ecological opportunities and constraints and project design. Included in the design are revisions to five tide gate structures, eight culverts, and approximately 3,000 feet of historic levee.
“Then we will construct a complex network of tidal channels, placing structural components such as large woody debris, planting a diversity of locally adapted native species, and removing competing exotic animals and plants that may exist,” said Smith. “
Rough cost estimates for implementation range from $1-2 million, which will be refined as the project design moves forward. To date, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has awarded the partnership two grants to purchase the property, evaluate project feasibility, and begin design. A third grant to finalize the project design is pending with NOAA’s Coastal Resiliency Fund Program.
“For CCA Oregon, this project represents a blend of many things that make our state a special place and are important to our livelihood – diverse natural areas, farming and forestry, hunting and fishing,” said Smith. “This projects just affirms our believe that we can restore our wild places and leave them in better shape for future generations – that is the most valuable outcome any hunter or angler can hope for.”