Last week, I introduced you to Freshwater Farms Reserve, which is owned and managed by the accredited Northcoast Regional Land Trust. The land trust is creating a legacy of sustainable, family-owned farms, ranches and forests while protecting ecologically important lands in northern California.
And those lands need protecting. Humboldt Bay has lost 90% of its tidal salt marshes, which were historically drained and diked for agriculture. Since 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program has been working with NRLT to conserve wildlife habitats while preserving agricultural lands.
Over 12 years ago, Conor Shea, a Coastal Program hydrologist, moved to Humboldt County to work at the Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office, where he could work on the recovery of salmon. In 2009, Conor began working with NRLT and other partners to restore a 35-acre tidal wetland on Freshwater Farms Reserve. The restoration was completed in 2016.
Conor prepared the restoration designs and oversaw its construction, which involved breaching a levy, creating off-channel habitats (i.e., stream channels and ox-bow ponds), and planting of native salt marsh vegetation. The project benefits the federally endangered Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and tidewater goby, as well as many other fish and wildlife.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the restoration efforts have been successful. The coho salmon in Freshwater Creek grow four times faster, which increases their ocean survival. The native salt marsh plants have an 80% survivorship, creating important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.
The success of this restoration project is made more compelling by the fact that the property continues to be used for agriculture, including sustainable grazing for local, grass-fed beef.
In 2015, NRLT built a nature trail that provides public recreational access to the restored marshes and the farm at Freshwater Farms Reserve. The trail includes interpretive signs, a canoe launch, and a boardwalk that provides up-close observation of native wildlife.
You can see more in this video featuring Humboldt Bay and the transformational work that’s been done to benefit the community.
Chris Eng is a fish & wildlife biologist with the USFWS Coastal Program.
This story was originally featured on the Land Trust Alliance blog, Inside Dirt. Cover photo credit: DJ Glisson II/Firefly Imageworks