Restoring Oregon's Estuaries
Replacing tide gates and restoring wetlands offers improved habitat for juvenile salmon and other species.
Tidal wetlands and estuaries—where rivers and oceans meet—are ecologically critical habitats, providing juvenile salmon, among other species, with the much-needed space to grow strong and healthy. Replacing failing tide gates and restoring tidal wetlands to improve estuary condition is shown to have tremendous impacts on fish populations and health, in addition to water quality.
Estuaries and Salmon
It's hard to overstate the importance of salmon for the people and ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. A critical food source for coastal communities and countless species of wildlife, salmon are also key contributors to the health and balance of rivers, streams, forests and watersheds.
Estuaries play a critical role in the life cycle of the Pacific salmon. Hatching upriver, baby salmon swim out into the open ocean where they spend a few years before heading back up the same river they themselves hatched in to spawn. Baby salmon use wetlands and estuaries as nurseries where they rest and eat in order to grow big enough to survive their time at sea. Without this stop-over habitat, they reach the ocean too soon and are too small in size which dramatically reduces their chances of living long enough to return.
Historically, Oregon had over 228,000 acres of estuarine habitats; today only 17% of our tidal wetland habitats remain in high-quality condition. Our goal is to increase the acres of tidal wetlands to 25% of their historic acreage by 2021.
What Is a Tide Gate?
Tide gates, devices used to control tidal river water, are used by farmers and ranchers to provide dry agriculture and pasture land. However, failing tide gates also block fish passage. In nearly all of Oregon’s estuaries, from the Columbia River to the Coquille River on the South Coast, tide gate infrastructure is in disrepair, not meeting the needs of farmers and ranchers and not providing sufficient access to habitat many fish need to thrive.
What Can We Do?
Over the past decade, we've worked to restore habitat for juvenile coho salmon in southwestern Oregon by restoring tidal wetlands and installing a new state-of-the-art tide gate system at a special place called Winter Lake on the Coquille River.
Restoration of the tidal wetlands in Winter Lake along with improved passage through tide gates will allow juvenile salmon to reach the ocean at twice the size of those prior to the improvements, dramatically increasing their survival rates.
Restoration of Winter Lake
We've installed innovative new tide gates at Winter Lake on the Coquille River that allow for fish passage and for agricultural fields to be flooded for juvenile salmon when they need it. But we've got a lot more work to do. There are an estimated 3,000 tide gates in Oregon—1,500 along the coast and 1,500 on the Columbia River—that may be negatively impacting fish passage and juvenile salmon habitat. With your support, we are committed to restoring the tidal wetlands salmon need to thrive.