Columbia Land Trust seeks new opportunities for conserving land


January 25, 2024

Austin Tomlinson, the Natural Area Manager for Columbia Land Trust, spoke to about 40 people on Saturday at the Hope Center through the Wahkiakum Outdoors Program, about the history and the mission of the organization, and some of the projects they have been working on in the region and more locally.

Columbia Land Trust’s work extends from the Pacific Ocean to just past the Dalles, and to Klickitat on the Washington side. Their headquarters are in Vancouver, where CLT began as a group of individuals concerned about development in Clark County, Tomlinson said.

“It’s expanded significantly in the last 30 years,” he said, “making their way toward the coast and working in the estuary.”

They now have offices in Hood River and Astoria. Their strategies are focused on five distinct eco regions including the coast range and estuaries region, the Willamette Valley/Puget trough, the West Cascades, and the East Cascades/Columbia plateau.

Most of their focus has been in Washington.

A new agenda in recent years was built off of Washington/Oregon conservation planning, Tomlinson said.

There were three priorities for the coast range and estuaries, Tomlinson explained. One is the Columbia River Estuary as a whole, but they are mainly concerned about the lower reach, which extends to the Cathlamet area, but not all the way upriver to the Bonneville Dam. Their second priority is the Grays River watershed, and the third is Willapa Hills.

Approximately 11,000 acres have been conserved within this region to date, across 60 different properties. The organization owns and manages around 36,000 acres, and they help other agencies with conservation.

“As a small private nonprofit group, we have a lot more flexibility and ability to seek out some of these acquisitions when some of those agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife or National Forest have red tape involved,” Tomlinson said. “We can do those acquisitions really quickly and transfer that land to the agency for management.”

“In total we’ve done about 56,000 acres in conservation over the last 25 years,” he added.

Most of what they are focused on in this region is flood plain restoration to support juvenile salmon runs and salmon recovery efforts along the Columbia River, he said.

“As you know the amount of salmon in the river is not what it used to be,” Tomlinson said.

“Opening up these habitat areas for juvenile salmon is really the best strategy to help achieve some of the recovery numbers.”

He said they’ve started looking at the Grays River as a whole to build a conservation strategy in the upper watershed to address downriver issues. They are trying to conserve more of the land around those riparian areas, and to trap more of the sediment in those unstable slope areas.

The goal is to eventually see a diversity of species, vegetation, and habitat throughout the region.

Another one of the things Tomlinson has been trying to fight for several years as an area manager is purple loosestrife, which takes a lot of time and money, he said. Last summer, he had a crew of about 30 people in waders waist deep in muck tackling it on a property.

Since 2005, CLT has restored about 1,300 acres of flood plain in the Columbia River estuary, Tomlinson noted. One such property, purchased near Astoria, was transferred to Clatsop Community College, where the school is now building a program centered around environmental science. The land will be used as a living laboratory.

“It was a nice collaboration,” Tomlinson said.

Here in Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties, they’ve spoken with local leaders about the potential for a community forest, which would put some decision making in local hands, and benefit the whole community.

“We think the community should have more of a say about what is happening in the upper watershed,” Tomlinson said.

Which includes public access, which is something he says that Columbia Land Trust would like to continue.

“Those conversations are ongoing and we are continuing to be a part of that,” he said.

He continued to talk about more of their projects, their many partners, and access.

At the end of his presentation, he was showered with a variety of questions from the audience about director’s salaries, whether land donations might be protected from development, and more.


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