Strategy Spotlight: Salmon River Estuary

Salmon River Estuary from Cascade Head, May 17, 2012
Salmon River Estuary. Photo Credit: Kami Ellingson, USFS

Located in the Salmon River Estuary-Cascade Head Conservation Opportunity Area, multiple partners have been working together for more than four decades on restoring the 1,300 acre Salmon River Estuary. Estuaries are important nurseries for young salmon, and the Salmon River Estuary is one of the few remaining relatively undeveloped and/or restored estuaries on the Oregon Coast. Work was designed to benefit endangered coastal coho salmon, as well as Chinook salmon, steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout, and provide habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds, elk and other wildlife species. Although this area has a long history of human use, most of the major physical alterations started in the mid-50s. To create farmable land the estuary was ditched and diked and tidegates were installed. By the early 1960s, 75% of the lower Salmon River marsh habitat was isolated by dikes and tidegates and had been converted to pastures. In 1961, U.S. Highway 101 was rerouted into a shorter and straighter route that crossed the estuary constricting the flow of the tides the Salmon River and several tributary channels. These alterations caused subsidence of the marsh and cut off migrating fish from tidal channels. In 1974 Congress created the Cascade Head Scenic-Research Area (CHSRA) and the associated management plan set the stage for restoration in the area. From 1978 to 1996 a series of land acquisitions and intertidal marsh restoration projects were completed, restoring 339 acres of tidal marsh and over 3 miles of sinuous tidal marsh channels. Although land acquisition continued in the CHSRA, after 1996 funding and necessary support to continue with the increasingly more complex restoration needs stalled.

Efforts were reinvigorated in the summer of 2006 when a team of graduate students working with the local community developed a comprehensive restoration plan for the estuary. Multiple partners continue to work together on the Salmon River Estuary Project on the Siuslaw National Forest including the Salmon Drift Creek Watershed Council; Siuslaw National Forest; Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board; Oregon Department of Transportation; Oregon Department of State Lands; Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Greenpoint Consulting; “Hire the Fish Crew” Program; Sitka Center for Art and Ecology; Westwind Stewardship Group; and the Oregon State University’s Institute for Natural Resources. The restoration projects from 2007-2014 were more involved and complex, included dismantling a housing development and an amusement park built directly on  tidal marsh land.

Restoration efforts from 2006-2014 resulted in restored tidal influence to 108 acres; restoring more than two and a half miles of stream channel and floodplain;  removing more than two miles of dikes, failing septic systems, underground infrastructure and three tidegates, multiple complex ditches, and a boat basin carved into the marsh floor and restoration of native marsh and upland plants. In 2013 this project received the USFS’s National Rise to the Future Collaboration and Stewardship Award.

Location of former Tamara Quays Trailer Park in the Salmon River Estuary, May 21, 2014.
Photo Credit: Kami Ellingson, USFS. Formerly the location of Tamara Quays Trailer Park in the Salmon River Estuary, this area now includes natural vegetation and a restored tidal influence. Picture taken on May 21, 2014.

Comprehensive background information and recent project details can be found in Ellingson and Ellis-Sugai’s 2014 publication entitled:  Restoring the Salmon River Estuary: Journey and Lessons Learned along the Way 2006-2014.