The largest purchase of riverside habitat in the Columbia River estuary in nearly 40 years is now a reality.
That's according to an announcement this week by the Columbia Land Trust, Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The land purchase permanently protects essential refuge for salmon, steelhead and other wildlife. Specifically, it will benefit salmon from Oregon, Idaho and Washington as they migrate to the ocean. The purchase is seen as the largest step yet in the estuary to mitigate the impacts of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake river systems.
The Columbia Land Trust on Monday of this week completed the purchase of the 920-acre Columbia Stock Ranch on the south shore of the Columbia River near Goble, Ore., with $5.3 million in BPA funding from electric ratepayers.
"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 of the Columbia Land Trust.
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."
Federal agencies are responsible for mitigating the impacts of federal hydroelectric dams on salmon.
The mitigation includes new technology ensuring more fish pass dams safely and habitat restoration, with increasing focus on the estuary below Bonneville Dam.
Management and restoration plans for the property will be developed with public input. The restored habitat will benefit coho, chinook and chum salmon; steelhead; and cutthroat trout, as well as terrestrial wildlife such as black bear, elk and river otter.