Jun 28, 2024

NEP Highlight Series: Tillamook Estuaries Partnership 

This blog was written by the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership in Oregon. The program belongs to the National Estuary Program. This blog is part of a series to introduce our community to the work of other National Estuary Programs throughout the country. 

Healthy Watersheds for a Thriving Community 

Imagine yourself in a shade house on a sunny afternoon in the Tillamook valley. You can smell the ocean on the cool sea breeze and the soil feels cool on your fingers as you carefully untangle the braided roots of seedlings. Multiple salmonberry seeds sprout in the same tube, creating fierce competition for space to grow. To preserve the effort of every seed, you separate them into their own pots and give them the space they need to thrive. The comforting hum of conversation and laughter from the volunteers working next to you, combined with the meaningful work of seedling thinning, is enough to keep you focused for hours. 

The Native Plant Nursery at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership. Photo courtesy of Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.

There are striking parallels between the salmonberry seedlings and the volunteers who tend to them. Just as these plants require care and attention to thrive, so do our communities. Salmonberries provide essential services to their ecosystems, shading riparian areas, cooling water for juvenile salmon, and nourishing wildlife with their flowers and berries. Similarly, volunteers lend their time and expertise to ensure the success of restoration efforts, embodying the spirit of stewardship. 

Seedling thinning in the Native Plant Nursery. Photo Courtesy of Tillamook Estuaries Partnerhips.

Seedling thinning at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership’s Native Plant Nursery is a task that symbolizes the nurturing ethos of the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP). Human connection and meaningful work converge to support the restoration of vital estuarine ecosystems through habitat restoration, monitoring, community education and engagement, and our native plant nursery.  

Restoring Habitat

Our focus for habitat restoration is to protect our communities and support healthy estuaries. All our projects begin with community and partner input and an intense grant-writing and fundraising process. During this initial stage, we often work with contractors or use the expertise of our partners to determine how a location can be enhanced. Habitat enhancement can take many forms, including fish passage barrier removals (such as culvert upgrades or replacements), creating habitat with large–woody debris placement, native plant planting, and more. After a project is completed, we monitor the area to understand its impacts and inform our community. 

Our habitat restoration projects focus on supporting healthy estuaries and protecting our communities. Photo courtesy of Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.

Understanding Our Impact

Our team of scientists, partners, and dedicated community volunteers systematically assesses habitat health parameters across the entire watershed, from the headwaters at the mountain’s peaks to the Pacific Ocean. Our focus is on meticulous data collection to develop a robust understanding of environmental conditions. Following this, we actively collaborate with partners to provide valuable context for future planning and development in North Coast communities. 

Our monitoring and data collection work is important for our understanding of local environmental conditions. Photo courtesy of Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.

Cultivating Connections

Our community engagement program aims to empower community members with knowledge of Tillamook County’s estuaries and watersheds. In order to do this, we design programs around three key groups: K-12 students, residents, and visitors. Our K-12 program focuses on providing hands-on educational experiences by bringing students into the outdoors or bringing the outdoors into the classroom. Our resident and visitor focused events and regular social media posts are geared towards learning while having fun. One great example is our partnerships with Tillamook County Wellness and Explore Nature Tillamook Coast to host crabbing, mussel and seaweed foraging, mushroom foraging, and berry-picking classes.  

Mushroom foraging event with local partner organizations. Photo courtesy of Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.

Sowing Seeds of Change

From seed to sprout, our nursery nurtures up to 120,000 native plants at any one time. The plants are unique because they are grown from seeds collected along Oregon’s North Coast, making them locally adapted to thrive in our coastal ecosystems. After three years of growing, strong root structures have developed, and the plants are ready for their new homes in the watershed. Our partners, through the Northwest Oregon Restoration Partnership, are vital in distributing and planting the plants throughout the coast. Once planted, they play a critical role in restoring habitats to create cleaner water and better habitats for fish, birds, pollinators, wildlife and people. 

Learn More About us

To learn more about our work in Tillamook County, visit our new website at TBNEP.org. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Eventbrite, or subscribe to our email to stay up to date on the latest news and events.  

Help us protect and restore the Morro Bay estuary!