On a recent sunny day, not long after my fellowship began, I found myself waist-deep in a pit of pondwater by the side of the highway. It was a good place to be. I was spending the day—three days, in fact—at the Miami wetlands restoration site, about fifteen minutes north of the city of Tillamook and just east of Highway 101. Over the past few years, TEP has been working to transform this site from an unused property riddled with ditches and dominated by invasive weeds to a lush wetland. We—me; Scott, TEP’s project manager; Tracy, an environmental consultant; and Katherine, a botanist working for The Nature Conservancy— were there to check up on the willows, elderberry, spruce, alder, cottonwood, twinberry, slough sedge, and other native species that TEP had planted the previous winter and several years before. Although the site is by no means free of invasives—reed canary grass, for example, swayed above my head at many of the sites we surveyed, even when I wasn’t sunk in a hole—TEP’s restoration work is giving native species a chance to take over and turn things around.
This isn’t part of my typical day as a Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy fellow at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership in Garibaldi. Usually, I’m in the office, working on the update and revision of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. What does that look like exactly on a day-to-day basis? Well, that’s something I’m still figuring out. The original CCMP came out in 1999, so the first step is to gather as much existing information as I can about what has happened in the intervening 15 years. That means combing through TEP’s internal documents, talking to staff, and reaching out to the dozens of agencies that TEP partners with.
But it’s fun to get out of the office, and also really valuable to see some of the projects I’ll be writing about. Hopefully I was of some help—I don’t have the plant ID skills that Scott, Katherine, and Tracy have, so I assigned myself the role of pack mule, quadrat-assembler, and picture-taker. I also made a pretty fantastic human flag pole, if I do say so myself.
Whatever help I was, I certainly learned a lot. I can now identify dozens of plants I would have only vaguely recognized before. I also learned that I have a wicked allergy to reed canary grass. Two tabs of Claritin later, my head cleared enough for me to think about the distinction between working in a ‘wetland’ rather than working in an ‘estuary.’ Despite the “E” in “TEP”, most of this organization’s habitat restoration projects take place on the banks of rivers, in marshes, and in wetlands. It’s not false advertising—those kinds of habitats are vital to the health of the estuary. Because of my experience working in mudflats, my understanding of estuaries before joining TEP was pretty literal: they are bodies of water where ocean water and freshwater meet and mix. But for those interested in protecting them, estuaries are inseparable from the rivers that feed into them and the marshy margins that surround them. Estuarine health is wetland health is riparian health is watershed health.
Or, anyway, that’s what I told myself as I was I scrambling out of that mucky, waist-deep hole. Thank goodness it’s there.