Less than 10 miles from downtown Eugene, the Willamette Confluence Preserve offers a sanctuary for wildlife including Chinook salmon, the northern red-legged frog and the western meadowlark, Oregon’s state bird.
But, it took more than a decade of restoration efforts by The Nature Conservancy to transform the property. Now, the preserve, where two forks of the Willamette River converge, is under the care of the McKenzie River Trust.
“The site was pretty beaten down,” said Joe Moll, the executive director of the trust.
Gravel mining in the Willamette Valley exhausted areas that were once free flowing floodplains. The preserve, once filled with invasive species, has become an ecologically diverse landscape featuring wetlands, floodplain forest and native prairie.
“It’s a joy,” Moll said. “It’s the kind of place where you can witness big-picture change.”
Now, the trust and its partners are tasked with a balancing act: hoping the public respects and loves the newly restored space without disturbing its natural growth. The trust is working with agencies at the federal and local level, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, the city of Springfield and Lane County. Public access to the space is limited, but Oregonians can participate in guided tours and volunteer opportunities throughout the year, according to the trust.
“We’re not just taking, we’re not just using nature, but we’re being present,” Moll said. “We’re learning about it. We’re recognizing our hand in its stewardship.”
He added that the different federal, state and local agencies can work together on protecting the property, which features more than 1,200 acres of extensive habitat where fish and wildlife remain a top priority.
“We’re in conflicted space because so many species are on the edge. We think of them as threatened or endangered,” he said.
The land is protected under conservation easements which typically restrict how a property can be used to protect native wildlife and the natural resources the land contains.
The National Marine Fisheries Service canceled commercial and recreational ocean Chinook salmon fishing for the spring in much of the state, and is expected to announce a final recommendation for the summer fishing season in April.
The Willamette Confluence Preserve acts as a crucial resting spot for fish.
Protecting these landscapes is important for other reasons too, Moll added. Healthy meandering rivers provide clean water and potentially hold more water in times of drought.
“This isn’t just about salmon. This isn’t just about a particular species or its habitat. It’s about a river,” he said.
Moll spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller about the preserve. Click play to listen to the full conversation: