Ranching and Restoring Together
A long stretch of the southern Oregon Coast is known as the Wild Rivers Coast because it’s home to five National Wild and Scenic rivers, pristine old-growth forests and some of the healthiest remaining native salmon runs in the continental U.S.
The same stretch of coast has also been called the Dark Coast, because from Bandon south to Port Orford, the coastline looks almost completely dark to passing ships. The reason is simple: There is very little development along those 30 miles. Instead, there is verdant ranchland that farmers and ranchers have for generations used for sheep, cattle, timber and cranberries.
The two nicknames might seem to set the stage for an environmental and agricultural collision, but not to Mary Wahl and her family, the fourth generation to raise sheep and harvest timber on their ranch at the mouth of the Elk River. Instead Wahl — who managed the city of Portland’s watershed program for 10 years — and her family have been blending habitat restoration into their operation for years. Part of their goal is to help native salmon and other species, but there’s more to it than that.
“We want to conserve both habitat land and agricultural land,” says Wahl.
At the Elk River Ranch, that’s meant fencing off 25% of the ranch’s 860 acres to keep livestock from trampling through prime fish habitat and polluting waterways with their waste. The family also turned one low boggy area into a pond that serves as an important off-channel estuary habitat for young salmon.
Wahl says other local ranchers have taken similar steps to preserve habitat; many have also worked with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, which will help ranchers install water lines for livestock if animals are kept out of streams. In addition, several stakeholders in the area are working on a conservation easement option for area ranchers who may eventually want to sell their lands.
Another benefactor from salmon conservation efforts is sparsely populated Curry County, home to several renowned fishing rivers. According to economic impact research conducted for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, recreational anglers spent more than $10.3 million on everything from accommodations to food and travel expenses in the county in 2008.