National Wildlife Refuge System



After a Year’s Delay. Bandon Marsh Project Is Completed

By Karen Leggett


Least sandpipers, above, are among many waterbirds observed in the restored wetlands at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oregon. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of locally brewed Rogue Restoration Redd Ale will be donated to the refuge’s environmental education programs. A redd is the riverbed depression where a female salmon deposits her eggs. (Roy W. Lowe/USFWS)
Least sandpipers, above, are among many waterbirds observed in the restored wetlands at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oregon. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of locally brewed Rogue Restoration Redd Ale will be donated to the refuge’s environmental education programs. A redd is the riverbed depression where a female salmon deposits her eggs.
Credit: Roy W. Lowe/USFWS

Rogue Restoration Redd Ale was flowing and so were the tides when Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge formally celebrated Oregon’s largest tidal marsh restoration project on Oct. 1. The local ale’s special label features an image of juvenile coho salmon, a species expected to use the marsh.


The $9.5 million project, which started with the refuge’s expansion in the late 1990s, restored 418 acres of wetlands—mostly salt marsh—from an area near the mouth of the Coquille River that had been diked, drained and converted to farmland by 19th–century settlers.


The land was acquired in four years—lightning speed in such multi–faceted matters. The Archaeological Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy and willing private landowners helped with land acquisition. Twenty–seven acres, valued at $450,000, were donated. “Anything we do to restore tides on the refuge affects so many other people within the estuary,” says Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex project leader Roy Lowe. “We were only able to accomplish this monumental project because of the valued partnerships we have.”


The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians’ fish biologist was involved from the beginning. The Coquille Indian Tribe helped monitor and protect cultural resources at the site. Ducks Unlimited helped design, engineer and construct the restoration.


The project was funded by the Refuge System and nongovernmental organizations, lottery revenue from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and $1.6 million in damages paid after the 1999 New Carissa oil spill off nearby Coos Bay. A power–line rerouting was covered by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, and $4.2 million in federal transportation enhancement funds were used to raise a county road to prevent high–tide flooding.



Power–Line Problems

One big challenge involved the power–line rerouting. An above–ground line had to be buried 50 feet under the river bed to avoid wire–strike mortality of migratory birds. The drill kept coming up in the wrong location on the hillside and the bore holes collapsed more than once. The power–line construction difficulties delayed final dike removal by a year.


Finally, on Aug. 15 at 10:46 a.m., a small cofferdam was breached and the tidal flow surged into the new mouth of Redd Creek and upstream into the marsh. Over the next three days, crews repeated the process on NoName and Fahys Creeks, marking their return to their historical locations.



The restored refuge unit is named Ni–les’tun, which means “people by the small fish dam” in the language of the Coquille Tribe. Two hours after tidal flow was restored to Fahys Creek’s mouth, seven tribal members entered the marsh in a ceremonial canoe—the first time Coquille Indians had paddled in the Ni–les’tun Marsh in 140 years. Later, as the canoe disappeared downriver, an osprey splashed down in the marsh and successfully grabbed a fish, setting off cheers in an assembled crowd.


Young fish, especially coho and Chinook salmon, smolts and cutthroat trout, are expected to appear in the marsh first, eventually followed by other estuarine–dependent species such as flounder and sole, and perhaps by Dungeness crab. Lowe says anchovies already have been seen in what used to be pasture.


Potential recreational uses for the marsh will be outlined in the Bandon Marsh Refuge’s draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP), due out next spring, but a new 600–foot nature trail already gives pedestrians access to two small tidal channels leading into the marsh.


And for Lowe, the restoration is the crowning jewel of his 34–year Service career because, he says, “when you restore a tidal marsh, it’s forever.”


Karen Leggett is a writer–editor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.



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Refuge Update November/December 2011

Last updated: November 21, 2011