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World Leader in Wetlands Conservation

Pacific Northwest - More Information

Background information on DU's Pacific Northwest conservation priority area
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Strategies

  • Continue current partnerships, and develop new ones, with public agencies, the private sector, and university-based research specialists to identify program priorities and to secure funding to allow the work to be accomplished.
  • Work with the Pacific Coast Joint Venture to develop a Joint Venture Coordinator position for Alaska. This position will assist in efforts to identify projects and secure financial support to complete those projects.

Pacific Northwest: United States Upper Pacific Coast

Important waterfowl habitats in the Upper Pacific Coast region in the U.S. include estuaries, riverine wetlands, marine habitats, floodplain marshes, wet prairies and isolated potholes of coastal Washington, Oregon, and northwest California. Critically important wetland complexes in this region include Samish Bay, Skagit River Delta, Snohomish River estuary, Puget Sound, Hood Canal, Grays Harbor, Chehalis River floodplain, Willapa Bay, Columbia River estuary, Willamette Valley, Tillamook Bay, Coos Bay/South Slough, Coquille Valley, Klamath and Eel Rivers, and Humboldt Bay.

The Pacific Northwest is a high rainfall zone with annual precipitation exceeding 250 cm in some locations. The diverse topography in the region, combined with high precipitation, has resulted in a rich and diverse mix of wetland habitats within this ecosystem.

Major rivers in the region have carved out extensive freshwater floodplain habitats and created large estuarine systems, both of which are used by hundreds of thousands of waterfowl. Prior to settlement by Europeans, some areas in the region contained extensive freshwater wetland habitats, including a huge complex of wet prairie wetlands in the Willamette Valley.

Pacific coast wetlands have been degraded by human expansion. Large-scale timber harvest and development of agricultural lands have resulted in direct wetland loss, sedimentation of bays and degradation of water quality and submergent plant beds. Extensive urbanization and industrialization has eliminated entire wetlands and reduced the value of other coastal wetlands to waterbirds. Many of the estuaries along the Pacific coast have been diked and drained, primarily for agricultural development. For example, approximately 95% of the Skagit River estuary has been drained. Expanding urbanization eliminates connections among wetlands, disrupts natural hydrologic flow patterns, and results in few areas that are without human disturbance.

Marine, estuarine and freshwater habitats along the Pacific Coast are complex. Migratory waterfowl, particularly puddle ducks, depend on tidal estuaries, freshwater floodplain marshes, riverine habitats, isolated freshwater wetlands and flooded agricultural lands in this region. Diving ducks primarily forage in riverine, estuarine and coastal marine wetlands. The coastal zone is a critical migration and wintering area for sea ducks. Aquatic beds of eelgrass are present in many of the region’s bays and are heavily used by Pacific brant, wigeon, diving ducks, and many other waterbirds (alcids, loons, cormorants, and grebes). Many of these beds have been destroyed or reduced because of shellfish mariculture, wetland drainage and water quality problems.

The Upper Pacific Coast of the Lower 48 of the U.S. is divided into six subregions: Puget Sound, Washington Coast, Lower Columbia River, Oregon Coast, Willamette Valley, and Upper California Coast.

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