December 2016 marks a decade since North Coast Land Conservancy acquired 80 acres at the base of the hills on the east side of Seaside and began an innovative and wildly successful wetlands restoration project. Gearhart photographer Neal Maine has enjoyed watching the wildlife here for years, from the coho salmon that spawn in Thompson Creek to the variety of birds that frequent the marshy edges of Stanley Lake, a large tidal wetland.
And he has spent hours and hours observing two particular mammal species whose life histories are deeply woven into this landscape.
Beavers are the stars of the show here. The restoration project was designed around beavers and their unbeatable ability to create wetlands; it was, in fact, the first state-approved wetlands restoration project of its kind that, in essence, hired beavers to do most of the work mainly by not killing them when they showed up. “The most significant thing was stopping the bleeding,” as Neal puts it. “Beavers have always kind of been around on the property, but prior to North Coast Land Conservancy, the landowners always removed the beaver dams.” When that stopped, beavers were able to do what they do: build dams, which enlarge wetlands, which create habitat for a great variety of other wildlife.
“With beavers,” Neal says, “everything changes: fish, birds, aquatic systems, and on and on.”
And then there are the otters. Since the tide gates were breached and saltwater was able to again enter Stanley Lake twice a day, estuarine creatures began to show up too—crabs and small fish such as sculpin–which brings the otters. “The otters show up for high tide,” Neal observes.
Neal has learned to look for otters in a particular pool created by beavers. It’s along the otters’ “trapline”—the route they follow looking for food. And it seems to be favored as a mating site too. He snapped this female after she and a male had been canoodling in the pond for a couple of hours.
Not many people see what Neal sees at Thompson Creek and Stanley Marsh. It starts with looking—these animals are here, every day. The more you look–at all the elements working together, from sunlight and rain and tides to all the plants and animals interacting in the landscape–the more you see. This is not a remote wilderness; the habitat reserve is right in Seaside, within sight of several neighborhoods and just a stone’s throw from US Highway 101.
All photos shot in NCLC’s Thompson Creek and Stanley Marsh Habitat Reserve by Neal Maine of PacificLight Images.