Guest column: A living lab and boon to coastal economy
Here on the North Coast, we live in such a rich area for diverse scientific opportunities, from forestry to wetland restoration to maritime science. Our varied landscapes inform and inspire the ways we live, play, and earn a living. We believe that ensuring that this way of life continues for our coastal communities means investing in education, job opportunities, and in the care and management of our lands and waters.
That’s why four years ago, Columbia Land Trust and the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce (CREST) came to Clatsop Community College with a plan for purchasing and conserving 82 acres of wetland at South Tongue Point. The property sits adjacent to the college’s Marine and Environmental Research and Training Station (MERTS) campus and features tidal wetlands with tremendous habitat potential for salmon as well as migratory birds and other wildlife. The point is a haven of biodiversity, lush with willows, alder, and cottonwoods.
Together we set out to realize a vision for this land to serve as a living laboratory, part of a new campus for the MERTS program. Students of the program could use the living lab to practice long-term field research and gather real world data that would be of value to the scientific community, while also learning land management and restoration practices.
Austin Tomlinson, Columbia Land Trust’s coastal land steward who went to Seaside High School, notes that he might not have had to leave the state to study environmental science if this kind of opportunity had been available at the time.
Stories like Austin’s are part of why the college is developing relationships with local environmental groups to create job pathways for students coming out of the program with certifications in environmental science.
To make this vision a reality, $1.41 million was needed. To date, Columbia Land Trust has already raised 90%, with just $141,000 left to complete the goal.
Afterwards, our partners at CREST will help restore the wetland habitat. With these funds, the Land Trust can fully pay for the South Tongue Point property and transfer it to the college.
For the land trust, this partnership embodies our approach to conserve and restore important wetlands and floodplains in the estuary, while partnering to inspire and educate the next generation of conservationists and land stewards. The land trust serves the lower 250 miles of the Columbia River in both Oregon and Washington. We have invested in common ground conservation in the Columbia estuary and the coast for more than 20 years.
From the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary and Kerry Island in Clatskanie to the Wallacut River and Grays Bay in Washington, we’ve worked to conserve and restore thousands of acres of wetlands along the Columbia River Estuary and the rivers that drain into it. Restoring these wetland habitats means reviving a vital ecosystem at the nexus of vast salmon migrations and awe-inspiring bird migrations along the Pacific Flyway. South Tongue Point represents another important piece in broader restoration picture, and the educational opportunity makes it even more valuable.
Both as conservationists and educators, we are excited about all the good a MERTS campus with a living laboratory could do for the communities of the North Coast, both today and for years to come. This project represents an investment in a thriving future — a hub for 21st century education and training in land management, maritime science, and environmental science. A program with hands-on training on the land that will ultimately provide a home-grown boon to the coastal economy.
We invite everyone in support of educational opportunity, career pathways and a healthy environment in the North Coast to invest in this shared vision for South Tongue Point. If you would like to support the project, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Columbia Land Trust at 360-213-1203.
Glenn Lamb has been active with Columbia Land Trust since its founding in 1990 and became executive director in 1999. He serves on the Leadership Council for the Land Trust Alliance, and is a past board member of the Alliance and the Washington State Parks Foundation, among many other groups.
Chris Breitmeyer has been president at Clatsop Community College since July 2016. He started his academic career at Yavapai College in Arizona, where he taught environmental biology for more than 10 years.