First Advisor

Barbara Brower

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography




Columbia Slough (Or.), Wetlands conservation, Wetland co-management, Wetlands -- Environmental aspects -- Oregon, Wetlands -- Government policy -- Oregon




On the periphery of Portland, Oregon, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers lies an expansive wetland, the Columbia Slough. Once a thriving wetland ecosystem nineteen miles long by three miles wide, the Slough has been drained, filled, and developed into a humanized landscape. The human experience of this landscape has always been about use: people make, move, and exchange things here. Few people actually live and play in this transformed wetland, and most would consider it a featureless, polluted, and otherwise valueless landscape save for the money to be made here. Yet remnants of the old, wild landscape survive in mostly small and fragmented enclaves; they have withstood over a century's worth of human encroachment and pollution. This is the Columbia Sloughscape.

Using the Columbia Slough as a case study, this paper examines how our shifting perspectives of wetlands have influenced the evolution of wetland landscapes. I start by establishing the physical geography of the Slough in order to lay the groundwork for the subsequent landscape discussion. It is followed by review of the existing geographic literature on reading landscapes and the cultural values reflected therein. Then I track the history and development of national wetland management, looking at the cultural, political, economic, and technological factors that all played vital roles in shaping wetland management in the U.S. I follow the arc of federal wetland management policy from endorsement to condemnation of wetland drainage through present day.

Then, using the Columbia Slough as a case study, I demonstrate how the arc of federal wetland policy and perception is reflected in the Columbia Slough landscape. I look at how the Slough landscape changed under drainage and how the local values and perceptions of the Slough have shifted over time just as national policies shifted. I follow that trend through the 1980s when we started acknowledging the Slough as a place to preserve, instituting legally protected wild spaces, regulating water quality, and supporting watershed education.

I conclude by discussing the recent developments in the Slough's health and the efforts that continue to help restore it. These results and continued efforts are a reflection of how we as a community of Portland-area residents view the Slough. The Columbia Slough Watershed Council has been at the forefront of many of these restoration efforts, engaging and educating the community about the Slough's ecology and the ongoing projects to help improve it. And this is how the landscape is currently changing, shaping the wetland perspective of future generations through education.


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A research paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Geography

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