Grays River - Columbia Land Trust

Grays River

Seal Slough, a Grays River tributary. Photo by Doug Gorsline
  • Number of Projects:11
  • Acreage: 1687
  • Fact: The historic run of Columbia River chum was estimated to be 1.4 million; over the past 50 years, the average has been just a few thousand per year.
  • Experience: Tides rule this dynamic Columbia River tributary located about 40 miles from the Pacific in Washington State. This water-carved landscape contains some of the area’s last Sitka spruce swamps, as well as farms and small communities.
  • What We’re Doing: Conserving Sitka spruce swamps. Restoring tide-connected wetland habitat for threatened Columbia River salmon and other wildlife. Developing large-scale projects that benefit wildlife and address flood-control issues of neighbors.
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The Big Picture

Located in southwest Washington’s Wahkiakum County, the Grays River twists by farmlands and Sitka spruce swamps before meeting the Columbia at Grays Bay. Columbia Land Trust conserved its first land here in 2000; since then, we’ve conserved and restored numerous tidal wetlands, allowing the river access to its floodplain and providing habitat for salmon, waterfowl, and many other species. One of the places we care for here, along Crazy Johnson Creek, is one of the most important areas for chum salmon in the entire Columbia River basin. During spawning seasons, the creek roils with chum—a rare sight in the Columbia today.

Why It Matters

Complex, multi-storied, and anchored by large trees, Sitka spruce swamps are critical to the health of the Columbia River Estuary. They support food webs, lower water temperature, capture sediment, and absorb floodwater, among other functions. The swamps also provide rearing habitat for the endangered coho, Chinook, chum, and steelhead—whose runs along the Grays River once were legendary. The last 150 years have brought changes, as farming and then the demand for Sitka spruce during World War II led to the Sitka spruce’s rapid decline. The challenge today is how to balance the needs of people who live along the Grays River with the need to care for habitat.

West Fork Grays River
Featured Story

Changes on the Grays

Author and ecologist Robert Michael Pyle offers an introduction to his home waters, the Grays River.

In a time of travel blogs and Instagram influencers, it can feel as if the secret places of the Pacific Northwest have all been shared. Yet, despite being just two hours from Portland and three from Seattle, the Grays River still flows in relative obscurity. The Grays drains a 90,000-acre watershed from the broad emerald valleys of the Willapa Hills to the Columbia River, just 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean in Southwest Washington. This is timber country—home to a few thousand people…

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Updates from the Field
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Conserved: 1,103 Acres in the Grays River Watershed
Protecting water quality for people and forest habitat for marbled murrelet

Conserving the forests and rivers in the Grays River watershed is a long-time priority for the Land Trust. With the conservation of these 1,000+ acres, we’ve secured an important parcel that works toward our vision of protecting connected landscapes in the coastal region to foster salmon recovery, improve forest health and water quality, and support…

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Let the Light In and Let the Water Flow
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…

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The Witness Tree
Watch our new short film that highlights an ancient hemlock tree along the Grays River

On the banks of the Grays River, where salamanders crawl, salmon push upstream, and one ancient hemlock tree tells the story of change and resilience. What can this tree teach us about our iconic Northwest forests? What does the future hold for our communities and the watersheds on which we depend? From past history to…

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