As fish habitat projects go, it’s a rare find: a nearly 1,000-acre canvas with historic wetlands, a prime location just off the Columbia River and a landowner who is ready to sell.
So when the 920-acre Columbia Stock Ranch landed on the Columbia Land Trust’s radar, the Vancouver-based nonprofit jumped at the opportunity.
“For the last 20 years, Columbia Land Trust has been weaving together a network of fish conservation projects,” said Glenn Lamb, the organization’s executive director. “This 920 acres is a crucial link to our system.”
The land trust this week finalized the purchase of the ranch — securing the largest such acquisition along the Columbia in nearly 40 years. The $5.3 million deal, announced Tuesday, begins a transition that biologists and environmental advocates hope will boost crucial habitat for fish and other wildlife.
The Columbia Stock Ranch is located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River near Goble, Ore., just across from Kalama. Its purchase was orchestrated by three main players: the Columbia Land Trust, which now owns the land; the Bonneville Power Administration, which covered the purchase price with ratepayer funds; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will lead the restoration effort.
Columbia Land Trust biologists have helped draw up a preliminary management blueprint for the land, Lamb said. The public will help refine those plans later, according to the trust. But at least some of that work is likely to involve connecting the parcel’s potential wetlands and waterways to the Columbia River’s main stem — intended to give refuge to salmon making their way to or from the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s really important that they have these places that they can hide out, and feed, and become stronger,” Lamb said. “Many of those places along the Columbia River have been separated or filled.”
That work, led by the Army Corps of Engineers, comes with more than a few logistical hurdles, said Corps spokeswoman Diana Fredlund. Connecting the parcel’s potential wetlands to the Columbia likely means somehow breaching a large levy that now separates them, she said. Careful planning and permitting is needed, she added, and the Corps is now working on a feasibility study to explore options.
The property has already earned high marks for its habitat potential, said Ron Thom, a member of the team that carried out early assessments. Among the parcel’s most promising qualities are its size, its low elevation — much of it sits in a flood plain — and its access to the Columbia, said Thom, a staff scientist with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The property was purchased by Arnold Leppin in 1951, Lamb said. The Columbia Land Trust learned that the family was looking to sell three years ago, and has since worked with Leppin’s three daughters, who had managed the property in recent years. Once it had a deal in the works, the trust went to BPA for funding. The BPA is supporting the effort as part of its ongoing environmental work in the region, which is spurred by federal rules.
Lamb credited the family for its good stewardship of the land for so many years — a legacy his organization hopes to continue, he said.
Plans are still evolving, but construction on the new habitat could begin as soon as 2013, Fredlund said. Plantings will likely finish it. Once those measures are in place, it’s a matter of letting nature take its course, she said.
“That’s what we want to do, is sort of give it a head start so it can go ahead and do what it thinks is best,” Fredlund said.
Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; firstname.lastname@example.org