Land trust acquires new habitat in Gorge

Entity now owns 299 acres along the lower Hood River

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: March 28, 2013, 6:53 PM

 

The Columbia Land Trust this week added another prized gem to its growing list of Northwest holdings: more than 3 miles of diverse habitat along the banks of the lower Hood River.

The property transfer, finalized and announced Thursday, gives the Vancouver-based land trust ownership of 299 acres along the river. Hood River County, Ore., will take on another 101 acres at each end of the corridor.

All 400 acres were donated by PacifiCorp, which held the land for decades while it operated the old Powerdale Dam. But severe flood damage ended its electricity production in 2006, and the Portland-based utility removed the hydroelectric facility in 2010.

PacifiCorp agreed to transfer ownership of the surrounding land as part of a decommissioning settlement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The county and Columbia Land Trust acquired the property at no direct cost, Executive Director Glenn Lamb said this week.

"It's so rare to have one landowner with 3 miles on both sides of the same river that's willing to make a donation," Lamb said.

Like many of the land trust's deals, this transfer was years in the making. The Columbia Land Trust was selected to help lead the process in 2006 with other partners, according to the organization.

The land trust's main goal in securing the land, Lamb said, is protecting and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat along the natural corridor. The organization will also strive to maintain existing recreational uses on the river, potentially enhancing future uses, and respecting tribal rights, said Ian Sinks, the trust's stewardship manager.

"It's a fish and wildlife habitat corridor that is really important, and it's really close to a community that values that," Sinks said.

The corridor stretches along the lower 3.5 miles of the Hood River, into the city of the same name at the waterway's confluence with the Columbia River. Hood River County received 101 total acres on both ends of the property, while the Columbia Land Trust will own the less-developed middle portion of the corridor. Particularly on the north end, a more urban setting falls outside of the land trust's typical scope, Lamb said.

"(That) is a real people place," he said. "Columbia Land Trust is more of a conservation group than a parks department."

The so-called Powerdale corridor sits just across the Columbia River Gorge from another PacifiCorp-owned property, surrounding another dam removal site. Crews finished dismantling Condit Dam on the White Salmon River last year, and many observers are closely watching to see what happens to the area next.

So far, no clear outcome has emerged. But Sinks said the Columbia Land Trust has been contacted about the White Salmon habitat, he said, and would be willing to play a role if conservation is the focus of any ownership transition there.

The Columbia Land Trust has worked to secure and conserve landscapes and habitats since its founding in 1990. The nonprofit has conserved more than 18,000 acres in Washington and Oregon to date.

In a released statement, PacifiCorp said it welcomes this week's transition that leaves the Powerdale land in good hands.

"We know Columbia Land Trust and Hood River County will continue this tradition of recreation so that the canyon will always be a place where you can safely enjoy nature," said Todd Olson, PacifiCorp program manager. "PacifiCorp worked with them to transfer full responsibility for these lands, which is in the best interests of our customers and all those who enjoy the lower Hood River."

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.