A 75-acre acquisition by the Columbia Land Trust has nearly quadrupled the protected area at the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary in Burnside.

The trust purchased the tract in December, adding shoreline and tidal wetlands to 27 acres of property already conserved by Clatsop County, the Oregon Eagle Foundation and the North Coast Land Conservancy.

The Columbia River shoreline property contains wetlands that are valuable to juvenile salmon that use the area to rest and eat on their way to the ocean.

Bald eagles live at the sanctuary site year-round. There are 30 active nest sites in the area.

The sanctuary already provides habitat for bald eagles in more than 30 active nest sites. The area also provides valuable grounds for wintering waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds. Beavers, raccoons, weasels, mink, muskrats and river otters live in the nearby islands and harbor seals and California sea lions feed nearby in the estuary.

Columbia Land Trust has more than 1,000 acres of holdings in Washington's Pacific County and more than 1,000 acres in Wahkiakum County. The trust also owns Haven Island in Youngs Bay and property along the Walluski River south of Astoria.

The organization purchased the 75-acre parcel east of Astoria with help from the Collins Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.

Nadia Gardner, the land trust's conservation director, said the organization won't have to do much restoration work on the eagle sanctuary property because it's already a highly functioning wetland area. Her plans for the site include removal of non-native plant species purple loosestrife and yellow iris and annual monitoring to detail the health of the ecosystem.

"We won't have to worry about restoration work or major stewardship projects," she said. "We can just hold it and know that it's preserved."

The trust was able to get funds to make the purchase in large part because of the salmon habitat it offers, Gardner said. "It's excellent rearing and forage habitat for juvenile salmon," she said. "They hang out here and eat and grow before they make their way out into the ocean."

The land builds on the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary, which was established in 1992 after an impressive grassroots effort from the local community.

An egret flies through the branches before heading north across the South Channel into the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo by ALEX PAJUNASThe North Coast Land Conservancy owns 12 acres of the sanctuary and Clatsop County owns 15 acres, which are managed by the Oregon Eagle Foundation.

The total conserved acreage with the Columbia Land Trust's new acquisition is more than 100 acres, including almost a mile of shoreline.

Though the Portland and Western Railroad line runs along the shoreline atop a dike that limits the connectivity of wetlands on the properties, a bridge on the eastern end of the site provides "a nice healthy opening" that allows water to flow in and out under the railroad tracks, creating a refuge for juvenile fish during high-water events, Gardner said.

Though bald eagles don't nest on the newly acquired property, they roost and forage in the adjacent habitat.

The Columbia Land Trust's recent acquisition of 75-acres quadruple's the protected area at the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary in Burnside.

Photo by ALEX PAJUNAS"This property is prime wetlands," she said. "The eagles are here. The salmon are here. But really those are indicator species of a larger ecosystem that all deserves protection."

The property lies across a Columbia River channel from the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge that covers 35,000 acres of mudflats, tidal marshes and islands in the estuary.

"With (the Columbia Land Trust's) acquisition, the eagle sanctuary is now not just a postage stamp protected area, but an important conservation area with landscape-scale ecological significance," said Neal Maine, former executive director for the North Coast Land Conservancy, which holds hundreds of acres on the North Coast. "Together, the conservation area has it all: old growth forest, tidal wetlands and shoreline. We are thrilled with the partnerships that made this a reality."

Visitors will still have the opportunity to walk through the natural area under Columbia Land Trust's management. The trust normally keeps its lands open to fishing and hunting, as well, said Gardner.

A viewing platform overlooks the conserved wetlands on Burnside Loop Road, just off U.S. Highway 30 between Astoria and Svensen.

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