Conservancy group acquires land near Willapa Bay

A non-profit group geared toward preserving critical pieces of wetlands has secured 162 acres of mostly estuary land on the southeast shore of Willapa Bay near the mouth of the Naselle River.

Seattle-based Forterra used $350,000 in funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and environmental group Wildlife Forever to purchase the land from the Hancock Timber Resource Group. The state will manage the property long term, according to a press release from the groups.

“Willapa Bay … is widely regarded as one of the most pristine estuaries in the United States and is the second largest estuary on North America’s West Coast,” said Kyle Guzlas, with the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, in a press release. He added that the agency “has worked with Forterra for over a decade to protect, conserve and restore key wetland habitats throughout Willapa Bay for ecological and public benefit.”

Forterra may be better known in the community under its former name, the Cascade Land Conservancy, a group that has worked to acquire land timber companies no longer wish to maintain, typically found near estuaries and critical coastal lands. To date, the non-profit group has conserved over 7,616 acres of estuarine property on the coast, including property along the Hoquiam River.

Forterra estuary manager Mark Johnsen said that the Willapa Harbor property served as a buffer to about 10,000 acres of timberland that Hancock will continue to manage. Johnsen said that the 162 acres located in an area known as Chetlo Harbor had relatively no usable pieces of timberland because of critical areas rules and buffer zone requirements for timber sales.

“The sale was mainly focused on sensitive areas,” Johnsen said.

He noted the land will be preserved for the endangered green sturgeon and the marbled murrelet. Although the murrelet has not been found roosting at the site or nesting there, he said the hope is that the habitat will continue to grow and may attract the endangered species, which needs tall trees on the coast for nests. “The murrelet has been known to fly over the area,” he said.

Public access will continue on the property, allowing hiking, hand-launch boating, waterfowl hunting, fishing and other watchable wildlife activities.