Ocean Ranch Restoration Project

A view of the coastal hills overlooking the Eel River Estuary. The channel snakes through the boggy coastal grasslands in the foreground and waves crash along the shore in the background, illustrating the spectrum of habitat in this brackish area of transition.
View of the Ocean Ranch Restoration Project Area | CDFW

Recently we toured the Ocean Ranch Restoration Project in the Eel River Wildlife Area. The Eel River Wildlife Area is a 2,600-acre complex in the Eel River estuary and is ancestral land of the Wiyot people. It contains salt marsh, pasture, wet meadow, brackish marsh, coastal scrub, and dunes.

Project map, click to enlarge | CDFW

The land was managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the last fifty years using a series of water control structures including levees, berms, and tidal gates. Over time, these water control mechanisms have repeatedly failed, leading the Department to discontinue maintenance of artificial wetlands and embrace restoring estuarine habitat.

The Ocean Ranch Restoration Project will restore and enhance tidal marsh and dune habitat, including 571 acres of restored saltmarsh and 279 acres of coastal dunes. The three elements of the project include tidal estuary restoration, which involves removing water control mechanisms and excavating tidal channels; invasive species control of dense-flowered cordgrass (Spartina desiflora) and European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria); and public access improvement including a new parking area, non-motorized boat launch, and trails.

This project is a collaborative effort between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited, with coordination and input from the Wiyot Tribe and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge System.


A freshly excavated channel, soon to be connected to the rest of the estuary.