Devil's Elbow Marshes On - Columbia Land Trust
Devil's Elbow, Grays River 2013
Tidal Wetland Restoration Work Pays Off.

Columbia Land Trust stewards do everything they can to restore vital lands in our region, even against the land’s toughest adversities. Sometimes, plans for restoration can fail and plantings can flop.  Encouraging changes after restoration actions can occur quickly, but sometimes seeing the results of the work can take years.

That was the case at Devil’s Elbow, a site along the Grays River, where invasive purple loosestrife weeds crowded the tidal marsh. A levee and undersized culverts disconnected the site from historic tidal fluctuations for almost a century, blocking important intertidal river floodplain habitat for rearing and over-wintering fish.

Invasive, non-native purple loosestrife

Invasive, non-native purple loosestrife

In 2003, the Land Trust partnered with Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited to build a set-back levee away from the river channel, allowing the river to travel into a portion of the floodplain. The crew also breached an existing dike in two places to allow contained water to flow.

In 2005, stewards installed 17 permanent vegetation monitoring plots in the hopes that the site would return to a native tidal marsh. But in 2009, Land Trust stewards slowed the monitoring of the plots after seeing only moderate changes. “It was enough to give us some hope, said Stewardship Director Ian Sinks, “but nothing knocked our socks off.”

Devil's Elbow - before

Devil’s Elbow – before

Crews continued to battle the aggressive purple loosestrife and the vegetation plots showed slow and little improvement. But this year, after much work, a true native tidal marsh habitat has finally unveiled itself.

“After returning this year to re-measure the plots, my socks have been knocked off,” said Sinks.

Devil's Elbow - After

Devil’s Elbow – After

The former weeded pasture, dominated by grasses and invasive plants, is now a burgeoning marsh habitat, and all 83 acres of purple loosestrife are being effectively controlled.  “Wapato, beggars tick, bulrush, and water plantain, among others, are thriving head-high on the site,” said Sinks. “We have even observed a new species to the area , water pennywort.” Sinks reported that the vegetation species are drastically different from the initial monitoring.

It’s important to remember that as stewards and as individuals in our own backyards, that sometimes nature just needs some time. Taking the appropriate actions in restoration and remaining patient will pay off for the land in the end.