In 1999 Columbia Land Trust began working with willing landowners who chose to voluntarily conserve their lands in the Grays River area. The Land Trust cares about this land because of its importance within the Columbia River system and the Grays River watershed. Our goals are to acquire the best remaining intertidal habitats to ensure these areas will remain intact and functional; and to acquire lands suitable for restoration of the natural processes that form and sustain habitats important for fish and wildlife.
Why are these lands important and why is Columbia Land Trust interested in conserving these areas? The Grays River is a very special place. Of all the habitats lost over the past 150 years in the Columbia River, none have declined more than intertidal spruce swamp. These are rich and dynamic environments unlike any other. They are important for fish and wildlife and have defined this region for centuries. They store sediment and improve water quality, and they increase flood storage capacity within the watershed. Fish in particular depend on these areas for feeding, growth, refuge, and preparation for their transition to salt water. Over the past year our monitoring has shown that juvenile salmon use the restored habitats during critical times of the year. Protection and restoration of these areas are an identified priority for a number of agencies and organizations including NOAA Fisheries, the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board and the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership.
Our work in the Grays River has been accomplished by working closely with the community to address local concerns and issues. We have participated in community events and grange meetings. We have supported the expansion of the Grays River Habitat Enhancement District, and we have regularly attended the Wahkiakum Stakeholders meetings to listen to local officials and agencies and keep them informed about the work we are doing.
As a non-profit organization we are permitted under state law to remove conservation lands from the tax rolls. However, Columbia Land Trust has opted to continue paying property taxes in Wahkiakum County out of respect for the needs of the community at large. We have also agreed to keep our conservation properties available for public uses that do not directly conflict with the conservation purpose of the property. We strongly believe in healthy communities and healthy environments, and our work is intended to benefit both.
Fundamentally, all of our work hinges on each landowner's interest and willingness to voluntarily work with the Land Trust to conserve their property. In some cases the properties were actively marketed for sale, in other situations the Land Trust approached the landowner to see if they might be interested in selling their property. In two very significant cases the landowners approached the Land Trust because they wanted to ensure that the properties they had come to know and love would stay natural forever.
The letter to the Editor by Raven Webb last week raises a number of issues and questions regarding the work of Columbia Land Trust. We feel several of the comments expressed in this letter are the result of misunderstanding or a lack of information. There are however a number of points worth emphasizing here. The first is that the Land Trust only works with landowners who are willing and interested in working with us. We have absolutely nothing to gain from working unfairly with landowners, and to insinuate anything else discredits the landowners who have chosen to work with Columbia Land Trust. Second, Columbia Land Trust takes all public comments seriously, and we are striving to address all concerns raised in a definitive manner. The Grays River and Columbia River are very dynamic environments to work within, and predicting how the river will react to different conditions and changing environments is not an exact science. In Ms. Webb's case we are working diligently with project engineers to determine if our restoration projects adversely impacted her property during recent events. The patterns of flooding may have changed, but the ultimate flood elevation of 13 feet may have inundated the entire floodplain regardless of the work we have completed. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Columbia Land Trust will stand behind its projects and be accountable. We plan on continuing to be good neighbors and responsible landowners for many years to come.
Conservation Director/Coast and Estuary Lead
Glenn Lamb, Executive Director
Columbia Land Trust