Restoring Native Species in the Deschutes Estuary

Juli Rendler

Estuaries are some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet and are often host to many different organisms that might not exist elsewhere. The construction of the 5th Avenue Dam destroyed the Deschutes estuary and surrounding ecosystem, and numerous species of plants, aquatic animals and birds can no longer make it home. By ruining this estuary, the city government of Olympia has eradicated the habitat of ecologically important plants and animals (Einstein, 14). In order to revive the populations of various native species such as Coho, Chinook, and Chum salmon, Cutthroat trout, Pacific blue mussels, freshwater clams, and Pacific blue herons, the dam must be removed and the estuary restored.

Capitol Lake is filled with toxic, chemically contaminated sediments and seasonal algal blooms that decrease the dissolved oxygen content of the lake, making it an ideal breeding ground for invasive species. Growing populations of the New Zealand Mud Snail along with other invasive species consume the native species’ resources and space, preventing them from maintaining healthy populations (Garono, 19). The buildup of toxic sediment within Capitol Lake has also caused many different types of native plants to become endangered; the chemical buildup has made it nearly impossible for those plant species to continue reproducing. When plants are unable to reproduce, overall populations decrease; any type of organism that depends on those plants for food has less to eat and a percentage of that organism’s population dies. (Garono, 17). The growing numbers of invasive species demonstrates why the estuary restoration project must be supported; this lake and dam should be removed so that the suffering populations of native wildlife can once again thrive in a healthy restored estuary.

Species native to the Deschutes estuary, like the Chum salmon and Pacific blue herons, also contribute greatly to the biodiversity of the planet which is a keystone in evolution and quality of life on Earth. By giving these native plants and animals back their home, the people of Olympia are both protecting the species and themselves and also creating a more beautiful and healthier place for everyone to live. In restoring the estuary, “Emphasis should be placed on improving and maintaining critical wetland and prairie communities that contain the [endangered, threatened, and sensitive] species, and high percentages of native species” (Thomas, 16). If important habitats for various native species are reestablished, the biodiversity of the estuary would return to healthy and productive levels. Kevin O’Brien in his text, An Ethics of Biodiversity, defines biodiversity as “a state or attribute of a site or area and specifically refers to the variety within and among living organisms and … biotic communities” (O’Brien,  23). By reviving the estuary, the general biodiversity of the Deschutes estuary will return and the ecosystem of the local area and larger Pacific Northwest will become more healthy. Having a wide variety of organisms in a biological community can help that community stay healthy and thriving because different species have different diets, nesting areas and general impacts on the land. The different needs of the species ensure no part of the ecosystem will ever be damaged or reach low levels of resource depletion.

Citizens of Olympia have no right to destroy maybe the only healthy habitat for some animal or plant species to live and must now work to rebuild the precious habitat that was ruined by the 5th Ave dam. O’Brien covers this topic of unnecessary human destruction well and delves into the ways the loss of biodiversity can cause environmental injustices. He argues that humans need to be much more conscious of the impact of their actions: “As a society we must make difficult choices about what we value, what we should do, and how much we are willing to act and sacrifice on behalf of– and again– other creatures with whom we share this planet” (O’Brien, 2). The restoration would be in support of ourselves and non-human creatures and the values we should cultivate, like environmentalism and caring for species who cannot defend themselves. While restoring this estuary would require some sacrifice from the people of Olympia,  it would also benefit the city greatly, including improving the health of the watershed, relationships between the native Squaxin Island tribe and city people might improve, and many different species of animals and plants would regain a healthy habitat to live and thrive.

The loss of these native species and the resulting loss of biodiversity has a cultural impact on the local Squaxin Island tribe as well as an environmental impact on the watershed and estuary. Within O’Brien’s main argument, he also discusses how native peoples are impacted by environmental injustices, “The destruction of native plant and animal species is a threat to us all but it is a far more immediate threat to those who depend upon and define their culture based on particular local places.” (O’Brien, 6). The construction of the dam and the subsequent loss and declining populations of the native animals, like Chinook, Coho, and Chum salmon, hurt the ecosystem and the citizens of Olympia but the negative impact it had upon the native Squaxin Island tribe should be the largest focus. The restoration effort should be two-fold in both restoring the estuary for environmental protection reasons, but also for the culture and livelihood of the native peoples who depend on it.

The 5th Ave dam was built decades ago without consideration for the surrounding ecosystem; now is the time to restore that essential estuary and nurture the land and the species affected by the dam back to complete health. The restoration project will improve the greater ecosystem of the Deschutes River by removing invasive harmful species and, with the return of native organisms, would help maintain higher levels of biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest region. Humans had no right to impede upon these plants and animals’ home and now we must work to return what was unjustly taken from them, the healthy and thriving estuary.

Works Cited

Einstein, Daniel, et al. Deschutes River Watershed Guide, DERT, 2016.

Garono, Ralph J., et al. Deschutes River Estuary Restoration Study, Biological Conditions Report. Wetland & Watershed Assessment Group, Earth Design Consultants, Inc., 2006, Deschutes River Estuary Restoration Study, Biological Conditions Report.

Hayes, Marc P., et al. Implications of Capitol Lake Management for Fish and Wildlife. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2008, pp. 9–59, Implications of Capitol Lake Management for Fish and Wildlife.

O’Brien, Kevin. An Ethics of Biodiversity: Christianity, Ecology and the Variety of Life. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 2010.

Thomas, Ted B., and Andrew B. Carey. “Endangered, Threatened, and Sensitive Plants of Fort Lewis, Washington: Distribution, Mapping, and Management Recommendations for Species Conservation.” USDA Forest Service, 1 Nov. 1995.