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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
Associate Coast and Marine Conservation Director in Oregon

 

Why Tillamook Bay?

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?

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.

Important restoration work is underway in Tillamook Bay to restore historic wetlands. The Nature Conservancy is leading work at the mouth of the Miami and Kilchis rivers to reconnect floodplains to the rivers. In addition, Tillamook County is leading a large-scale project at the mouth of the Wilson River to protect the City of Tillamook and adjacent agricultural lands from flooding. These projects involve removing old dikes, creating new habitat channels and allowing more natural water flows between the rivers and Tillamook Bay.

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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