Conservation Deal Takes Unusual Tack
PORTLAND, Ore. A string of privately owned islands on the Columbia River near Longview, Wash., has been set aside for wildlife conservation, adding to a growing corridor of marshes, forests and flood plains managed by the Vancouver-based Columbia Land Trust.
But in an unusual twist, the nonprofit organization will not assume ownership of the property. Instead, it has signed a 50-year lease to conserve and restore the land for a fee of $1 a year paid to the property owner, Seattle-based Saltchuk Resources and its subsidiary, Foss Maritime.
Columbia Land Trust has gained control of 700 acres, including riverside parcels scattered from Portland and Vancouver to the mouth of the river. The islands include Walker and Sandy near Longview.
The trust has conserved more than 6,000 acres along the Columbia River and its tributaries, including a 450-acre haven on Crims Island for Columbian white-tailed deer, a species recovering from near extinction. Until now, the trust has generally acquired property through purchases or donations.
Officials hope the long-term lease idea can spur more opportunities to work with landowners who might not otherwise tackle habitat restoration.
"You don't have to transfer ownership of lands to conserve them," said Cherie Kearney, Land Trust conservation director.
Saltchuk Resources, a privately owned holding company, proposed the arrangement. The company wanted to set aside the land for fish and wildlife but realized it lacked expertise in conservation. At the same time, the company didn't want to give up ownership.
"To just wash our hands of the land was not real attractive to us," said Nate Dreon, Saltchuk's real estate director. "We wanted to have a relationship where we could still be participants."
Dreon said selling the property would have made the most sense financially. But he said the long-term lease to a nonprofit might qualify the property for exemption from property taxes. "We had mostly nonfinancial motivations for this," Dreon said.
The islands and other property have largely gone unused for many years. Foss Maritime has used some of the parcels as places to store barges and log rafts.
Walker Island, the largest of the properties at 300 acres, was mapped by Lewis and Clark and hosts a rich array of plants and animals, although an invasive weed, reed canary grass, has overwhelmed what was once an important marsh habitat, said Ian Sinks, Land Trust stewardship director.
A network of marshes and side channels along the lower Columbia River once sheltered and fed enormous numbers of young salmon preparing for life at sea. The seasonally flooded lands also supported migrating birds and Columbian deer. Nearly two-thirds of the swampy habitat has disappeared after a century of diking and dam building.
The long-term wildlife restoration lease looks promising to conservation groups not directly involved.
"Any restoration opportunity we can take is a good one," said Matt Burlin with the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership, a public-private entity overseeing a comprehensive conservation plan for the 146 miles of the lower Columbia River and estuary.
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News