Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image

ODOT Region 4 News
Wetlands in Region 4
Allison Cowie is an environmental jack-of-all-trades. As Region 4's Wetlands Specialist, her job requires her to use a mix of biology, hydrology, botany and soil science. 
Cowie has used her expansive knowledge of wetlands to change the way ODOT creates these marshy bodies of water, which are often located next to rivers and lakes. When a construction project impacts a wetland, ODOT is required by federal and state laws to replace, in size, the affected area.
In the past, Cowie said, wetlands were replaced on a project by project basis, near the construction site. This often created “postage stamp” wetlands. Cowie began looking at ways to make wetlands more ecologically and cost-effective.
“Wetlands provide all these functions, such as flood protection, wildlife habitat and purifying water,” said Cowie, who has worked four years at ODOT. “Large wetlands are more valuable ecologically and are also cheaper because they consolidate our efforts.”
Cowie is working on two projects in Region 4 that combine numerous wetlands that needed to be replaced because of highway construction. Both wetlands are five acres, with one next to the Lost River outside Klamath Falls and the other along the Crooked River near Prineville. Both areas are larger than required, with hopes of applying the excess to future construction projects that impact other wetlands.
Developing these wetlands has been in the works for several years. One of the first steps was to find land suitable for the project. Cowie placed classified ads in newspapers.
“I wanted to find land more suited to making a wetland,” said Cowie. “In Region 4, that mostly means being by a river or a creek. If there are wetlands on that land, I study the land and vegetation to construct a similar one. The one near Prineville was previously a cattle pasture. There are two or three acres of wetlands already there. It’s going from this disgusting, degraded area to this corridor of wetlands and the Crooked River really needs this.”
So far, it hasn’t taken much for the wildlife to return to the area. With the backhoes in the middle of digging out the projects, animals were already taking residence.
“You can see so many bird prints in the mud, it’s amazing,” said Cowie, who will introduce plants in the new wetlands and then monitor both for the next five to seven years. “Klamath Falls has some of the most spectacular habitats in the world. Birds stop at wetlands to eat and rest as they migrate to Alaska. Wetlands are bird restaurants.”