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Oregon Wildlife Foundation Celebrates Completion of Project to Save Fish and Migratory Bird Habitat


SAUVIE ISLAND, Ore. – [JUNE 21, 2019] - The Oregon Wildlife Foundation today announced the completion of a $6.5 million partnership project with West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District to save critical fish and migratory bird habitat on Sauvie Island. The Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project reopened a connection between Sturgeon Lake and the Columbia River reestablishing flushing flows to slow and potentially reverse the accumulation of sediment that is gradually turning the lake into a tidal mudflat.

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“Our Board and staff saw the need for funding assistance and were happy to help this critically important project get implemented”

Tim Greseth, OWF Executive Director

The Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project replaced failing culverts under Reeder Road with a bridge and revived the Dairy Creek channel connection between the Columbia River and Sturgeon Lake. The sediment plugging the creek was deposited by the 1996 Columbia River flood. The fully reconstructed channel is designed to provide a tidal connection from the Columbia into Sturgeon Lake long into the low flow summer months; maximizing juvenile salmon access to the lake for rearing through most months of the year.

OWF initial project video from 2014.

The bulk of the funds to complete the Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project came from the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As the project’s nonfederal sponsor, the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District was obliged to raise just over 1.3 million in non-federal funds for the project. “Thank goodness the Oregon Wildlife Foundation was available and took it upon themselves to take on this task,” said Jim Cathcart, District Manager for West Multnomah SWCD.

“Not only was the Foundation responsible for raising over a half million dollars through donors, their involvement in the project signaled the project’s importance and value to Oregon - which was instrumental to getting the state and local government grant funding necessary to achieve the non-federal funding goal.”

State and local government funders included Multnomah County, Metro Parks and Nature, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District. Funds secured through the Oregon Wildlife Foundation included support from private donors led by the Wessinger Family Foundation, Hilltop Foundation, Reser Family Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Mary E. Horstkotte Field of Interest Subfund of the Oregon Community Foundation, Phil and Jo Chase Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, King Family Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, RH Parker/United Foundation, Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, Pape’ Family Foundation and many other generous donors.

What lacks in beauty, is gained in preparedness; as the image above depicts crew laying foundation for the new bridge to be installed along Reeder Road to improve connectivity of Sturgeon Lake. Image: Portland Tribune

Sauvie Island is the largest island in the Columbia River and one of the largest river islands in North America. Sturgeon Lake, on Sauvie Island, is the largest lake on a river island anywhere in the United States. This unique habitat is a key stopover and critical link in the Pacific flyway for thousands of migratory birds and a winter refuge for juvenile salmon.

Prior to the construction of Sauvie Island’s system of levees, Sturgeon Lake benefited from regular freshets from the Columbia River that helped keep the lake free of sediment and debris. The levees effectively cut off all connections to the Columbia. The water level in Sturgeon Lake still rises and falls daily with tidally-influenced Columbia River water, but the connection is indirect via the Willamette’s Multnomah Channel and the Gilbert River. Unlike historic connections, this connection is the same into and out of the lake so there’s ample time for suspended sediment to settle out in a process called siltification. The average depth of Sturgeon Lake prior to the construction of the levees in 1941 was six feet; today it’s half that. Without intervention, Sturgeon Lake would eventually disappear; becoming a mudflat.

The completed project bridge Feb., 2019.

Restoring connectivity to the Columbia River through the Dairy Creek channel reintroduces flushing flows into the lake to slow and perhaps reverse the accumulation of sediment ensuring that the birds, fish, and other wildlife that depend on it can continue to do so well into the future. Sturgeon Lake isn't just for wildlife; hundreds of thousands of people visit Sauvie Island each year. For the hunters, anglers, wildlife viewers, and kayakers, Sturgeon Lake is irreplaceable.

Oregon Wildlife Foundation's mission is to empower the lasting conservation of Oregon's fish, wildlife, and natural resources.


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All pictures used with permission and attributed where necessary. 

Deschutes River image by Erik Dresser