Conservation groups explore restoration initiative for Duck Lake Wetlands in Scappoose

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Surveyors Bill Bennett (left) and Jeff Booth (Right) wade through the Duck Lake Wetlands, sweeping the area for amphibian egg masses. A red-legged frog egg mass can be seen floating near the surface of the water in the foreground of the above photo.The Duck Lake Wetlands in Scappoose, just east of Highway 30 near Means Nursery, is an expanse of invasive reed canary grass choked by various dykes that restrict the area’s water from interacting with the Multnomah Channel.

While native salmon are mostly blocked from the wetlands, a number of amphibian species have established a strong presence.

Chas McCoy, coordinator for the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council, said the group is hoping to draft a “passive restoration plan” for the area, one that would allow salmon to return without hindering the amphibian habitat. McCoy said the plan, which involves reconfiguring nearby Joy Creek into the wetland, would be slated for implementation in 2015.

On Tuesday, March 4, surveyors from various agencies and organizations, equipped with thigh-high waders, trekking poles and large spoons, waded into the wetlands in search of amphibian egg masses.

“We’re looking to see if there are any amphibians at the site and survey abundance,” McCoy said.

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON  - Jeff Booth, a volunteer with the Sauvie Island Habitat Partnership carefully lifts a northwestern salamander egg mass from the Duck Lake Wetlands. While a portion of watershed council funds go toward restoring salmon habitats, McCoy said it’s important for the council to first compile data on the wetland’s existing species to create an effective restoration plan for the site.

“What we don’t want to do is create a habitat for one species and destroy a habitat for another,” McCoy said.

Under the instruction of McCoy and Jane Hartline, founder of Sauvie Island Habitiat Partnership, surveyors on Tuesday lined up next to one another to sweep the area and identify a number of red-legged frog egg masses clinging to reed canary grass near the surface of the water. McCoy noted the benefit of such high numbers of red-legged frog egg masses in light of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s classification of the species as “sensitive.”

“Where they are present, they seem to be doing very well,” McCoy said of the frogs.

Overall, McCoy said he and the surveyors identified four key amphibian species at the site, including red-legged frogs, long-toed salamanders, chorus frogs and northwestern salamanders.

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - The Scappoose Bay Watershed Council aims to restore connectivity between Joy Creek, the Duck Lake Wetlands and the Multnomah Channel. The council hopes to bring native salmon into the area while preserving the existing amphibian habitat. While the group identified mostly red-legged frogs Tuesday, McCoy said he expected to see signs of other species in the coming months as they tend to lay their eggs later in the season.

“This is about on par with what we expected,” McCoy said. “It’s a pretty intact wetland with a ring of reed canary grass around the outside. In the center, there’s too much water for the grass, so it’s good for natives. This is the balance the natural environment has created for itself. They make due.”

The watershed council aims to restore the area to a point where Joy Creek no longer flows through ditches, but acts as a meandering channel. While McCoy said the group would like to accomplish this goal with as little disruption as possible, the council may have to make exceptions given the degraded state of the creek.

“Given that Joy Creek has been as altered as it has, it might require a more active approach,” McCoy said.

Surveyors Tuesday came from a number of organizations, including the Columbia County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Lower Columbia Estuary Project, the Sauvie Island Habitat Partnership, the Linnton Neighborhood Association and the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.

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