Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

by Western Rivers Conservancy
Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

Project Report | Nov 9, 2020
Western Rivers Conservancy: Fall 2020 Report

By Anne Tattam | Associate Director of Foundation Relations

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.                                  

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy has:     

  • Conserved a river in the redwoods at the heart of California’s Big Sur coast
  • Protected 172 acres along Washington’s Nisqually River

California’s Little Sur River:

The majestic Big Sur Coast has a new sanctuary for fish and wildlife along a mile of the Little Sur River, the result of our recent accomplishment in partnership with the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County.

In July, Western Rivers Conservancy transferred 1,199 acres of old-growth redwoods, rolling oak woodlands, chaparral forest and redwood-shaded riverbanks to the Esselen Tribe. Located just beyond earshot of Big Sur’s crashing waves, and with sweeping views of the sea, the property is the first land returned to the Esselen people since the Spanish displaced their ancestors 250 years ago.

Our efforts protected a critical stretch of the Little Sur River, which is considered one of the most important summer steelhead streams remaining on California’s Central Coast. Historically, steelhead returns on the Central Coast numbered in the tens of thousands, but today it is likely that fewer than 100 fish return to the Little Sur River each year. Protecting healthy, functioning streams like the Little Sur, which are the last real refuges for these powerful, ocean-going fish, is critical to their longterm survival as a species.

The ranch also has ideal terrain for endangered California condors, which were recently reintroduced to Big Sur and depend on ridgetop grasslands and old-growth redwoods for feeding and nesting.

As throughout Big Sur, the redwoods on the property are some of the southernmost stands on Earth. These resilient trees are uniquely adapted to Big Sur’s warmer, arid climate and, in the face of climate change, may hold the genetic key to sustaining groves up north, where redwoods are more vulnerable to hotter, drier weather. At the landscape scale, the property fills a significant habitat link between protected U.S. Forest Service land on the coast and the main body of Los Padres National Forest inland.

With the completion of the project, the Esselen people now have nearly two square miles of Big Sur, at the heart of the tribe’s ancestral homeland, to call their own. Although this is a fraction of the tribe’s former territory, it is enough to allow the Esselen to rebuild a traditional village site, reinvigorate tribal culture, conduct traditional ceremonies, provide educational opportunities to tribal members, and host events to teach visitors about tribal culture and history. The property faces Pico Blanco, a mountain in the Santa Lucia Range that the tribe holds sacred.

In this magnificent place, where condors soar over ancient redwoods and some of the last pristine steelhead streams still flow freely to the sea, WRC’s and the Esselen’s partnership is a landmark accomplishment. The completion of this project will benefit wild steelhead, Big Sur’s imperiled wildlife and the tribe’s own cultural resurgence for generations to come.

Washington’s Nisqually River:     

Just 20 miles southeast of Olympia, Washington, WRC and the Nisqually Land Trust have completed an effort to conserve a beautiful and critically important stretch of the Nisqually River.

The Nisqually is a vital salmon and steelhead river and one of the least developed streams flowing into the south Puget Sound. Bookended by two federally protected areas—Mount Rainier National Park at its headwaters and the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge at its mouth—the Nisqually supports an impressive seven native salmonid species, including threatened fall Chinook, winter steelhead and bull trout, runs that all remain very fragile.

While the Nisqually is protected along much of its length, the lower river is pressured on all sides by residential growth. When one of the largest private reaches of the lower river was listed for sale in 2019, WRC negotiated its purchase and eliminated the risk of 34 homes being built along the river.

The Nisqually Tribe, which has lead salmon recovery efforts throughout the basin, and the Nisqually Land Trust, which owns land upstream and downstream of the property, have sought to conserve this parcel for years. It’s one of the most extensive intact stretches of river bank along the lower river and features side channels for rearing salmon and a healthy riverside forest. In late August, that vision became a reality when we successfully transferred the land to the trust for permanent protection.

That the Nisqually remains largely intact is a testament to the tribe and generations of river guardians, like tribal activist Billy Frank Jr. himself, who have stood up for the river and its salmon. WRC is proud to build on that legacy of stewardship with the completion of this effort.


The Little Sur and Nisqually River projects are just some of our recent projects. WRC currently has over two dozen active projects in six states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or for further information. Thank you.

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Organization Information

Western Rivers Conservancy

Project Leader:
Anne Tattam
Administrative and Development Associate
Portland , OR United States

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