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Oregon

Tillamook Bay Welcomes Wetlands

"When you restore tidal wetlands, you expand the bay’s capacity to absorb floodwaters ...  that means less threat to life and property, plus you get all the benefits of renewed habitats for fish and wildlife. Everybody wins."

Dick Vander Schaaf
Coast and Marine Conservation Director in Oregon

The Nature Conservancy recently acquired 67 acres near the mouth of the Kilchis River, and will soon own a 40-acre tract on the Miami (pictured above). Partners are already undertaking extensive restoration on the Miami River, including removing dikes to reconnect channels with tidal wetlands.

We asked Dick Vander Schaaf, our coast and marine conservation director, to tell us what’s happening.

Why Tillamook Bay?

Your question implies there hasn’t been a lot of conservation attention paid to Tillamook Bay. Maybe that’s true in the past but no longer. Tillamook is Oregon’s second-biggest estuary, fed by five rivers. The lower reaches of the rivers are all tidal and part of the estuary, extremely productive for salmon and other fish. But about 85% were converted to pasture, mainly for dairies.

The wetlands that remain aren’t enough to maintain a healthy estuary. That’s a challenge the local community has embraced, and they’ve enlisted other partners including us, the Wild Salmon Center and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

What’s at stake for the local community?

The Tillamook Estuaries Partnership is a federally supported local collaboration among governments and community groups. They’re actually doing most of the restoration work.

Historically, Tillamook has been one of Oregon’s most disaster-prone communities because of flooding. When you restore tidal wetlands, you expand the bay’s capacity to absorb floodwaters. In the future, that means less threat to life and property, plus you get all the benefits of renewed habitats for fish and wildlife. Everybody wins.

Is climate change an issue?

All the climate models predict higher sea levels at some point. Obviously, higher seas will tend to push estuaries upstream. This illustrates that you have to be thinking about how your conservation work today will enable ecosystems to move and adapt tomorrow.

Are chum salmon good to eat?

You know, they’ve fallen out of favor and you never see them on the menu. They’re not that abundant anymore. But back in the day, huge chum runs in Tillamook Bay and other estuaries fed massive salmon canning operations. The great thing is, the chum are still there, they’re still returning to spawn in these estuaries and, with restored habitats, they could be the comeback kid.

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