Columbia Land Trust today announced the conservation of 1,300 acres of forestland in the upper reaches of the Washougal River system in Skamania County, Washington. The Land Trust conserved the land surrounding Wildboy Creek with the goal of removing an outmoded 55-ft. dam on the property and restoring the watershed for salmon and steelhead.
The Washougal River is a priority conservation area for the Land Trust, which sees this property as a unique opportunity to both conserve a large forest in an area threatened by development and remove a dam in a watershed valuable for habitat, recreation, and clean drinking water.
“Everyone sees a little bit of what they love in this project,” says Cherie Kearney, forest conservation director for the Land Trust. “For some it’s the process of removing a dam and making the ecosystem whole, for others it’s about habitat and fish, seeing salmon return to their ancient spawning grounds, and for others it is the continuation of sustainable forestry practices on the surrounding landscape that contributes to the local economy.”
In 1965, the Camp Fire organization built Kwoneesum Dam at the confluence of three creeks in order to create a recreational lake for a new girls’ camp. In the late 1980s, the camp closed, and the land was sold to an industrial timber company. Today the dam persists, blocking threatened Coho salmon and steelhead from seven miles of upstream tributaries while also holding back valuable sediment from downstream fish habitat. The shallow, stagnant lake created by the dam increases the river system’s water temperature, which also hinders fish and other wildlife.
The Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s Natural Resources Department had been doing restoration work elsewhere on the Washougal River and knew that the dam was a single barrier imperiling the ecological health of the entire system and the recovery of culturally important salmon and steelhead. Columbia Land Trust formed a partnership with the Tribe based on the shared vision of a restored and revitalized Washougal watershed: The Land Trust would build support to purchase the 1,300 acres of forestland that includes Kwoneesum Dam, and the Tribe will play a leading role in raising the funds for restoration and dam removal.
“It’s very hopeful to have partners like the Land Trust available for the Tribe,” says Bill Iyall, Cowlitz Indian Tribe Chairman. “We have similar missions: we want to take care of the land and we want people to be reconnected with the land.”
In addition to improving habitat for salmon and steelhead, the conservation of 1,300 forested acres around Kwoneesum Dam and Wildboy Creek will benefit an array of wildlife, from bear, deer, and beaver to cedar waxwings, American dippers, and numerous other waterfowl and songbirds.
Columbia Land Trust purchased the land from Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser, which had acquired the property in 2013 from an industrial timber company. Weyerhaeuser was supportive of dam removal and had been looking at opportunities to partner on a conservation plan. Moving forward, the Land Trust will implement a conservation forestry approach on the land that combines forest practices with watershed health. The site is in the heart of a timber-dependent rural community, and Land Trust forest management will contribute to regional jobs, mills, and tax revenues.
“It’s a win-win for all parties involved,” says Weyerhaeuser’s Jim Bunker, who worked closely on the deal. “The land has special conservation value as an important tributary for the Columbia River watershed, and the Columbia Land Trust has been a great community partner.”
The purchase was funded with grants from the Open Rivers Fund, a program of Resources Legacy Fund supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, as well as funding from Washington Department of Ecology’s water quality program, Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, private donors, and a program-related investment loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Now that the land is conserved, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe anticipates beginning dam removal process in the summer of 2022, pending the permitting process. The forest has been closed to the public and will continue to be closed during the dam removal and restoration work along Wildboy Creek. Ultimately, the Land Trust plans for the land to be open to the public for walking and quiet enjoyment as well as hunting and fishing.