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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Answers in the Trees
Understanding the role of Northwest forests in tackling climate change

More and more, we’re reading about how trees can be a solution to climate change. (We wrote about it in the previous issue of Fieldbook, in fact.) The topic has generated a number of questions about what trees can do, what they can’t do, and how we can best go about working with forests as a climate solution strategy. To answer these questions, let’s start with the…

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An Ecosystem at Work
Hundreds of bald eagles swarmed the sky during the most recent smelt run in the Grays River in Wahkiakum County

On a crisp, clear day in Wahkiakum County, Columbia Land Trust steward Austin Tomlinson and his dog Porter hopped into their boat at the Grays River boat launch and started their morning on the water. The pair prepared to head out and meet Land Trust National Area Manager Jeff Malone and the Green Jobs Interns…

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Nature Knows Best
Natural climate solutions represent a key strategy to combat climate change

If you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet that you care about the environment (thank you). It’s also a safe bet that in the process of staying informed about the challenges of pollution, habitat loss, and global climate change, you’ve recently found yourself feeling overwhelmed by the sheer gravity of it all. It seems as…

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