Columbia Land Trust to preserve 300 acres of land along West Fork Washougal River

Vancouver nonprofit says area’s old forests, riparian habitats ‘increasingly rare and threatened’

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The Columbia Land Trust has reached an agreement to purchase 300 acres of land along the West Fork Washougal River for conservation efforts.

The Vancouver-based nonprofit organization received grants from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, The Conservation Alliance, and the Washington State Department of Ecology in partnership with the City of Washougal to secure the property. The family that previously owned the land worked with Columbia Land Trust for more than 20 years toward a conservation outcome and donated a portion of the value, according to the Columbia Land Trust’s website.

“This is a property we’ve known and cared about for more than two decades,” said Columbia Land Trust forest conservation director Cherie Kearney. “We’ve known the family all this time and understood their interests in ensuring their property of old forest, bisected by a mile of the west fork Washougal, stayed wild.”

The Columbia Land Trust will strive to maintain the relatively old, forested habitat, protect water quality in the Washougal River watershed, and protect habitat for salmon and steelhead in the West Fork Washougal River, according to its website.

“For the 25 years I’ve worked for Columbia Land Trust, most of that time we have known the family and understood the importance of this mile of river and old, intact forest,” Kearney said. “While we have a forest management plan for the adjacent Wildboy forest that includes harvests that will lead to mixed, native tree species and uneven age classes, the West Fork forest is native, old forest that will be managed for upland and riparian habitat benefits.”

The site’s old forest and riparian habitats are increasingly rare and threatened in the West Cascades, according to the website.

“The forest here is believed to have regenerated following the Yacolt Burns of the early 20th century, making it more than 100 years old,” the website states.

The conserved area includes more than one mile of the West Fork of the Washougal River and more than a half-mile of Jackson Creek, both of which are salmonid bearing streams. Because of the older trees that shade the two waterways and cool the water, the site carries cold water into the mainstem Washougal River, “which is important for maintaining a water temperature beneficial to salmon,” according to the website.

The forest is noteworthy for its tall, old trees, the cool water flowing from the hillslopes, the diverse native vegetation, and the massive old snags created in the Yacolt Burn that are interspersed across the landscape, the website states.

“On a hot summer day, it is a cool oasis of green,” Land Trust stewardship director Ian Sinks said in an article on the nonprofit organization’s website. “It supports a diversity of wildlife from salamanders and freshwater mussels to pollinators and larger mammals.”

The West Fork forest and the 1,200-acre Wildboy Forest, which the Columbia Land Trust purchased in 2020, will protect a network of waterways that connect the Cascade foothills to the Columbia River, according to the website. The Columbia Land Trust is collaborating with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to remove Kwoneesum, an approximately 50-year-old, unused 55-foot dam, to create a summer camp swimming hole at Wildboy.

“Over the course of time, Columbia Land Trust was successful in purchasing the adjacent approximate 1,200 acres, called Wildboy, for conservation, including forestry, riparian protection and restoration,” Kearney said. “While the Wildboy forest was previously owned and managed for industrial timber, the West Fork forest is old, dating to the Yacolt Burn. It is a very rare block of forestland that shades the river, keeping it cold, and gives wildlife room to roam.”