Conserving the Last Wild Places in Clark County - Columbia Land Trust
Twenty acres on the East Fork Lewis River will safeguard steelhead habitat

With funding from the Clark County Legacy Lands program and the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Columbia Land Trust purchased 21 acres along the East Fork Lewis River to safeguard critical forest and riparian habitat and half a mile of scenic shoreline. This marks a significant milestone in protecting Clark County’s wild places and permanently protects Horseshoe Falls, the last remaining major un-conserved waterfall along the East Fork Lewis River. The East Fork watershed provides critical spawning and rearing habitat for federally threatened summer steelhead, and this site is important in facilitating their passage up the river. 

“The East Fork Lewis River is home to wild steelhead that have spawned here for millennia,” said Land Trust Conservation Lead Nate Ulrich. “The river gives so much to the people and wildlife of southwest Washington, and we worked with many of those communities to see this important acquisition over the finish line.” 

The East Fork is significant as one of just four rivers on the lower Columbia River designated as a wild steelhead gene bank by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, where hatchery fish are excluded to protect the federally threatened wild lower Columbia steelhead run. Waters in the reach above the project site are closed to fishing to protect this important population, so this property plays an outsized role in habitat conservation. 

This project was comprised of two transactions, in which Columbia Land Trust purchased parcels from both the English family and the Mathews family. The English family has a long history on the land, which was passed down to the current generation from their aunt who managed it as a privately-operated recreational site and residence for the better part of the last century. Both sellers had a strong desire to preserve the properties’ conservation values and worked with Columbia Land Trust for years to make this project a reality. We are grateful for the endurance and conservation commitment they demonstrated.  

The conservation acquisition was funded by the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board and Clark County’s Conservation Future’s program. 

“Clark County’s Legacy Lands program is proud to help preserve our community’s stunning and diverse landscape, which includes rivers, forests and wetlands,” said a statement from the county. “Funded by a property tax levy since 1985, the Conservation Future program safeguards natural treasures and protects water and wildlife habitats while offering recreational opportunities. We are immensely proud to support Columbia Land Trust in preserving Horseshoe Falls on the East Fork Lewis River. This watershed provides critical spawning and rearing habitat for federally threatened summer steelhead and is emblematic of the beautiful wild places that are unique to Clark County.”   

Currently, the site is not open to the public, because as part of the agreement, one of the family members who has resided beside the river his entire life, will live out his days on the property and serve as an informal caretaker. This life estate restricts public access for the foreseeable future, but some day the Land Trust will develop and implement an access plan. This unique agreement is an example of the creativity, collaboration and patience that our work involves. 

In the near term the Land Trust’s stewardship work will include weed management and planting native trees and shrubs to improve the riparian habitat. We also plan to work with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to study steelhead and monitor habitat enhancement strategies.

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