Steve Denney, project director for The Nature Conservancy, in southern Oregon’s Coquille Valley. © Charles Quinn/TNC
Steve Denney, the Conservancy's south coast project director, is finding ways to return the tide to the historically salmon-heavy Coquille Valley, east of Bandon.
Tidal wetlands once covered 17,500 acres of the valley. As of 2014, there were only 900 acres left. Coho salmon, a threatened species, used to number over half a million. In the past decade, 8,000 to 50,000 run the river each year. In addition, the valley is an important annual stopover for millions of birds; in fact, winter flooding of the valley supports the largest coastal concentrations of dabbling ducks between San Francisco Bay and the U.S./Canada border.
The biggest thing salmon need here are wetlands where they can eat, hide from predators, and escape the main river during winter floods. But, tide gates and ditches currently keep the land dry. The Conservancy facilitated a land trade in 2013 for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to acquire 546 acres of wetlands in the Coquille Estuary and is facilitating the acquisition of an additional 107 acres of estuary wetlands.
“I don’t think working landscapes and restoration are mutually exclusive. I think they can be done together,” said Denney, who oversees a 25-acre wetland mitigation bank on his own farm, too.
More modern tide gates can be adjusted and change the water level for fish or cows. So the tide — and the salmon — can come and go. And cows can have their grass — and eat it, too.
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