Bulldozers enter the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge in June embarking on a two year fish habitat restoration project. The effort supported by BPA will reconnect 960 acres of wetlands that have been cut off from the Columbia River for generations.
The biggest fish habitat restoration project BPA has ever sponsored in the lower Columbia River will provide nearly 1,000 acres of off-channel habitat for young salmon and steelhead as they migrate to the ocean.
With more than seven years of planning finally behind them, earlier this month work crews with heavy machinery moved into the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge near Washougal, Washington, and fired up their tractors.
“Of the 60 habitat restoration projects BPA has sponsored in the estuary over the years, Steigerwald is our largest undertaking to date,” says Jason Karnezis, BPA’s estuary program lead. “It’s taken a ton of work to get here. There are very few opportunities like this remaining in the estuary, and we are excited to watch all the plans come to fruition. I really think it’s going to be something we all can be proud of.”
Young salmon migrating through the Columbia River Basin on their way to the Pacific Ocean need areas where they can rest, eat and grow while transitioning from fresh to salt water. Decades of industrialization in the lower river has removed a majority of the historic wetlands. The restoration of the Steigerwald floodplain will make 960 acres of wetlands once again accessible to migrating fish while also improving habitat for various other types of wildlife.
“One of BPA’s core values is environmental stewardship, and Steigerwald is a great representation of that,” says Scott Armentrout, vice president of BPA Environment, Fish and Wildlife. “We are partnering with several governmental agencies and local nonprofits, so this project really shows
what we can accomplish for fish when we work together.”
The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Port of Camas-Washougal, and about a dozen other public and private partners are working with BPA to help make the Steigerwald project a reality. The complex project design requires federal and state permits to move parts of the existing levee and raise Washington’s Highway 14 above the 500-year floodplain. There are also efforts to reshape approximately 3 miles of tidally-influenced channels that will give adult salmon better access to Gibbons Creek, a tributary running through the refuge.
The refuge hosts nearly 90,000 hikers, birdwatchers and other nature lovers annually, so the project also provides a new parking lot, restrooms, improved hiking trails and new bridges. By 2022 the restoration effort should be complete, and a brand new Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge will be ready for its many visitors, both people and migrating fish.