Let the Light In and Let the Water Flow - Columbia Land Trust
Restoration begins on two coastal properties

Along the lower Columbia River, estuaries, coastal dunes, and forests blend together, supporting wildlife and local industry. The Land Trust’s conservation priorities here include connecting habitat areas, setting the stage for more old forests, and giving rivers room to move and flood naturally without threatening infrastructure. This fall we kicked off two restoration projects to support these goals.

Seal Slough
Located along Willapa Bay, Columbia Land Trust’s Seal Slough property encompasses 564 acres of former industrial timberland, including tidal wetlands and numerous fish bearing streams. This summer work began to thin 130 acres of dense Sitka spruce forest to eventually foster older growth forest conditions.

“It will be a dramatic change, from a really dark and dense forest to a much more open forest,” explained Natural Area Manager Austin Tomlinson. The thinning operation will create more habitat for wildlife like birds, deer, and elk, and will allow sunlight to filter in and encourage understory growth, which is currently nonexistent. “Hemlock and alder often fill in quickly in disturbed, open areas,” said Tomlinson, “and we expect native shrubs like salal and sword fern to fill in over time.”

We worked with forestry contractor Pacific Forest Management to develop a thinning prescription for the site, considering species’ preferences to determine an ideal number of trees per acre to leave, while preserving the largest existing trees. Unlike the approach typically taken in commercial forestry, the Land Trust instructed forester to leave imperfect trees standing, like those with split or broken tops, and curves, to create structural diversity and enhance wildlife habitat.

“Historically, in a mature forest you have multiple different habitat structures and tree age classes,” said Tomlinson. “Spruce grow so quickly, I can’t wait to see how this forest changes over the next ten years.”

All revenue generated from the sale of the thinned lumber will be invested into the Land Trust’s conservation fund which will help support future forestland acquisitions.

Kandoll Road North
Restoration began this fall on Columbia Land Trust’s 37-acre Kandoll Road North property along the lower Grays River. The project will move 3,000 cubic yards of material to create freshwater channels and ponds in an old pasture that has stood overgrown for years. The goal is to transform the area into an emergent scrub shrub forested wetland with water features and enhanced habitat for waterfowl and amphibians. (It will be a freshwater wetland, as the area currently is not tidally connected.)

A large, existing drainage channel runs through the center of the property. It holds water throughout the year and is influenced by beaver activity and used by ducks and geese. The excavation will create two additional channels connecting to this main central channel, and the dirt spoils from the dig will be used to build up micro topography in the surrounding landscape.

The planting of Sitka spruce trees, willows, emergent grasses, rushes, and a variety of wetland and upland shrubs is slated to begin in early 2022. Because of the invasive reed canary grass, thistle, and blackberry currently growing there, close attention will need to be paid to ensure the new plants survive.

“This project will be a great addition to the hundreds of acres we have already restored in the Lower Grays River,” said Tomlinson “It is also highly visible and accessible from Kandoll Road and may provide a unique space for bird watchers, locals, and visitors.”

The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge provided support for the Seal Slough project in the form of equipment and labor. Funding for the Kandoll Road North work came from Natural Resource Conservation Service and North American Wetland Conservation Act grants, and in-kind support from U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

Story by Kelsey Farabee