A watershed worth its weight

 

WASHINGTON

Ellsworth Creek near the mouth of the Columbia River is a typical Northwest forest ecosystem, with 800-year-old red cedars, clear-cuts, salmon, the federally protected marbled murrelet, rare salamanders and frogs, and nearly 100 inches of annual rainfall.

Now it's in line for one more thing - protection.

The Nature Conservancy of Washington wants to buy the 5,000-acre watershed for $20 million. This would mark the first time a coastal watershed in Washington has received full protection.

The goal is to preserve the entire watershed, says Conservancy biologist Dave Rolph. That means restoring logged lands, thinning dense clusters of younger trees and allowing large trees to fall into streams when they grow old, creating pools that nurture young salmon.

"All of those components help form the biological diversity in that stream system," Rolph says.

Although the group has bought only 117 acres so far, Rolph says the Nature Conservancy chapter expects to purchase the rest of the watershed over five years with private donations, grants and other state and federal money. A fund-raising campaign has raised $2.2 million so far. The Campbell Group, the Portland-based timber company that owns the land, says it's willing to sell.

Copyright 2000 HCN and Mike Stark

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