Bear River Estuary Restoration

Escavators remove dike material on the Bear River Estuary Restoration Project/USFWS Photo

Discover more about Willapa NWR's largest estuary restoration effort

Remove it and They Will Come

Estuaries are among the most productive natural systems on earth due to the mixing of nutrients from land and sea. Coastal areas, including estuaries, comprise less than 10% of the nation’s land area yet support a significant number of wildlife species, including 75% of migratory birds, nearly 80% of fish and shellfish, and about half of all threatened and endangered species.

The Bear River Estuary Restoration Project will return portions of the Lewis, Porter Point and Riekkola Units back to historic estuarine conditions, increasing open water, intertidal flats, and salt marsh habitat. Restoration will benefit a diverse array of species including chum and Chinook salmon, shorebirds, waterfowl and other migratory birds, as well as contribute to the overall health of Willapa Bay. 

The restoration project is taking place in five phases. Phase 1 was completed during the summer of 2012 with the removal of the dike and fish ladder at the Lewis Unit. This effort restored 160 acres of estuary and is already being used by shorebirds, waterfowl and salmon. Phase 2 was completed during the summer of 2013 and 2014. This phase removed the dike and fish ladder in the Porter Point Unit and restored 140 acres of estuary. The engineering design to modify the existing interior dike within the Riekkola Unit (Phase 3) was completed in 2015. Phase 4, modification to the interior dike, called Parker Slough Dike, has begun and is scheduled to be completed in 2016. Removal of the outer dike in the Riekkola Unit, restoring the remaining 200 acres of estuary (Phase 5) may begin in 2017, contingent upon funding.

The goal of habitat restoration is to help rebuild a healthy, functioning natural system. Dike removal is only the first step in the restoration process.

Watch a video of this project…

Review the Bear River Estuary Restoration Biological Evaluation and Engineering Plans (7.14 MB PDF)

More Opportunities to Interact with Wildlife

The Refuge has plans to enhance wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities in combination with this restoration project, including increased hunting opportunities and a new wildlife observation trail.

Many Hands Make Light Work

An effort this size takes a lot of planning and resources. Although this restoration is mostly being completed with Refuge staff, a multitude of partners have contributed to the success of this project. Learn more about Willapa NWR's partners on the Bear River Estuary Restoration Project:

*Contributor or Consultant