History of the Watershed
The Slough wetlands and waterways were home for millennia to Native peoples as it provided abundant and diverse fishing and hunting opportunities, and safe canoe passage. The Portland metro area rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla. Longhouses with hundreds of residents stretched along the Slough in a village called Neerchokikoo.
The Hudson’s Bay Company set-up camp across the water from the Slough, in present-day Vancouver and began trapping otter and beaver in 1820. Neerchokikoo villagers faced extremely difficult circumstances with the settlement of Portland, and the majority of tribal peoples were forcibly removed or died due to smallpox and other European diseases during the “cold sick” epidemic of the early 1830’s. By the 1850’s, Europeans were rapidly settling the area, and farming had replaced trapping as the main European economic activity. Despite removal and disease, some Chinook tribal members continued to live along the Slough, with the last documented remaining elder moving out in 1906. He was known simply as “Indian John.
During the early 1920s, levee construction began to prevent the Columbia River’s annual spring floods. As the area developed, what was once a wildlife-rich mosaic of sloughs, wetlands and lakes was transformed into a highly managed system of channels, agricultural lands, industrial development, and residences.
Today, this urban watershed provides recreation, greenspace, drainage, and habitat. It is home to 4,200 businesses, 170,000 people, a marine terminal and two airports. The watershed collects stormwater runoff, rainwater, and groundwater. Its streams, sloughs, wetlands, grasslands and woodlands provide wildlife corridors and migratory routes for over 175 species of birds. Mink, river otter, beaver, coyote and sensitive species like Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Willow Flycatcher, and Western Pond and Painted turtles use slough habitats. Twenty eight fish species call the Columbia Slough home.