The McKenzie River Trust (MRT) has just purchased and protected a 217 acre property on the Siuslaw River for fish and wildlife habitat conservation. The Waite Ranch estuary acquisition builds on other land protection efforts over the last 20 years, adding to a network that includes The Nature Conservancy’s Cox Island property, ODFW’s Bull Island, private properties enrolled in the federal Wetland Reserve Program and other conservation easements, and the Wilbur Island Wetland Mitigation Bank.
Ryan Ruggiero, the MRT Land Protection Manager who negotiated the acquisition, noted the many values of the project. “It’s pretty satisfying to see a property like this one, identified as a highest priority for conservation and restoration nearly thirty years ago, wrapped in to the complex of protected lands in the lower Siuslaw. It gives us an incredible opportunity to stitch together estuary lands in a way that supports fish and wildlife populations, recreational opportunities, and clean water.”
The Siuslaw Basin Partnership, which includes the McKenzie River Trust, the Siuslaw Watershed Council, and numerous other local, state, tribal and federal partners, will develop a management plan and embark on an ambitious estuary restoration project to re-establish tidal exchange between the river and the interior of the property. A project advisory team comprised of technical experts and stakeholders will examine a range of restoration approaches to ensure long term success and ensure against impacts to Highway 126, a vital commercial link between the southern Willamette Valley and the central Oregon coast.
Liz Vollmer-Buhl, Executive Director of the Siuslaw Watershed Council, highlighted the project’s habitat features and collaborative approach. “Waite Ranch in particular is significant both for its size and location, which will provide habitat connectivity for species moving up and down the estuary. The Waite Ranch Project also demonstrates what can be accomplished with well-rounded partnerships—the landowner, local and regional organizations, state and federal agencies, the tribes, and more were all involved and will continue to be as we head into the restoration phase. It is an exciting project and process.”
Approximately 211 acres of tidal estuary habitat are expected to result from restoration, in addition to approximately 10 miles of tidal channel.
The restored tidal estuary is expected to provide vital rearing habitat for several regionally important fish species including Coastal coho salmon, steelhead, Chinook salmon, sea-run cutthroat trout and Pacific lamprey. It is anticipated that following restoration the site will support numerous sensitive bird species such as marbled murrelet, dunlin, band-tailed pigeon, willow flycatcher, Pacific slope flycatcher, rufous hummingbird, peregrine falcon, and American bald eagle.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, through The Nature Conservancy’s Northwest Wildlife Conservation Initiative, is contributing $175,000 to the acquisition to support implementation of the Oregon Conservation Strategy. MRT is seeking additional funding from public agencies and private donations. In addition to acquisition funding secured to date, project partners have attracted approximately $123,000 in restoration funding in support of baseline data collection, engineering analysis, and feasibility studies.
Waite Ranch is the McKenzie River Trust’s largest acquisition to date in the Siuslaw watershed.