The 107-acre Bay Unit Enhancement Project near Pacific City, Oregon, was recently completed, wrapping up a multi-year effort to improve habitats for wintering dark geese, ducks, and coho salmon on Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).
The project not only replaced outdated infrastructure with new culverts and tide gates to meet stringent fish passage requirements but also created greater connectivity between the Little Nestucca River, tidal wetlands and the interior channels of the Bay Unit.
Objectives for the Bay Unit project were to produce economic and environmental outcomes for working agricultural lands and provide benefits to wildlife, fish and other aquatic species.
Established in 1991 to protect and enhance habitat for Dusky Canada Geese and Aleutian Cackling Geese, the Nestucca Bay NWR is the largest of six national wildlife refuges along the Oregon Coast. To support habitat conditions needed by these and four other subspecies of geese, the refuge promotes short-grass prairie conditions through cooperative management with local dairy producers on portions of the refuge.
Due to the Bay Unit’s location in the lower river estuary, maintaining water elevations and decreasing saltwater influence can be challenging, especially with antiquated or degraded infrastructure.
“The balance of land uses, restoring function and creating habitat make this a unique project for a wide variety of fish and wildlife species,” said DU Western Oregon Regional Biologist Kelly Warren. “This project can serve as an example for public and private lands with diverse goals and resource management interests. These elements will result in a project that will have resiliency for agriculture practices and the species utilizing the site.”
To meet fish passage standards, the project included the installation of a Muted Tidal Regulator (MTR) designed specifically for tidally influenced areas. The refuge can more closely monitor water levels to allow greater water flow into the system in the winter to mimic natural hydrology. Water levels can be lowered in the summer to enable agricultural partners to improve pasture habitat beneficial for wintering waterfowl. To meet Oregon's fish passage criteria, the MTR also keeps tide gates open longer and with lower flow velocities.
“Thousands of tide gates and other fish barriers exist in Oregon and Washington, many of which are old, degraded and in need of removal, repair or replacement,” said Greg Green, DU director of conservation programs for the Pacific Northwest. “It is important to identify each one and determine whether the tide gate should be removed or replaced. DU works with landowners and partners to maintain viable working lands and local economies while also improving fish and wildlife habitat.”
The Bay Unit Project also included reactivating depressional wetlands for increased habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and amphibians. Native trees and shrubs were planted along interior channels and pools to provide riparian habitat and shade to cool water for added fish benefit. The improved interior channels opened nearly a mile of off-channel habitats.
This project was possible through collaboration and funding from numerous partners, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Business Oregon, the Oregon chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and Ducks Unlimited. Other organizations that played roles in the project’s design and evaluation include Nestucca, Neskowin and Sand Lakes Watershed Council, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“This multi-year project is an example of managing floodplain working lands to provide multi-species benefits,” said Kate Iaquinto, deputy project leader for the USFWS Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “With these new water management capabilities, we can more dependably manage water levels for optimal pasture conditions while also providing off-channel habitat for Salmonids. This capability allows the US Fish and Wildlife Service to meet management objectives for numerous focus species with struggling populations.”
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.