WALDPORT — University-affiliated researchers want to hear from Alsea Bay area residents and learn their thoughts on estuary restoration projects, specifically how efforts to improve an area’s overall ecology affects those who call those estuaries their home turf.

The Marsh Restoration Perspective Project at Portland State University features an interdisciplinary research team studying Oregonians’ thoughts and attitudes toward marsh restoration sites. The group’s focus is to learn about locals’ values and priorities when it comes to marsh restorations. The team is asking groups of people who live near current or proposed marsh restoration sites to participate in the research.

“What we want people to know is that we’re really very interested in what you have to say,” Melissa Haeffner, a Ph.D. in ecology and assistant professor in Environmental Science and Management at Portland State, told the News-Times late last week. “And I think that’s a pretty good thing, getting opinions from the people most affected by restoration work.”

The research team hosts a focus group meeting from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5, at First Baptist Church, 2620 E Alsea Highway in Waldport. There, researchers will ask 15 participants from the community what they like and dislike about marsh restoration, as part of an overall project titled “Developing and Integrating Social Measures of Estuarine Restoration Success.”

After compiling both ecological and social data regarding marsh restoration projects, researchers will compare that data to gauge project success based on both the perspective of environmental managers and area residents. In the end, the project aims to improve coastal restoration project design with the help of more inclusive communication with area stakeholders surrounding estuarine restoration.

“It’s a combined effort with researchers from Portland State and UC Davis (University of California, Davis), and we received a grant from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science collaborative, a branch of NOAA,” Haeffner said. “We’re also aligned with community partners and working very closely with the South Slough Reserve and doing similar research around Coos Bay.”

Haeffner, one of three of the project’s technical leads, added the team members seek to gain more community involvement when it comes to decision making regarding ecological restorations in marshlands along the coast, and that research her team is engaged in is not a prelude to future projects in the area.

“We’re conducting scientific research to report to local watershed managers,” Haeffner said. “What we’re doing is no way tied to a specific project, and we’re not even going to be asking about potential solutions for any specific project. What we want to know is what people think are the benefits to estuary restoration and what are the drawbacks.”

As of 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, Haeffner said researchers were no longer seeking participants for this week’s Alsea Bay focus group, however, there are some COVID-19 prevention-related protocols that were added this week.

“All participants and researchers must be fully vaccinated in order to participate,” Haeffner wrote in an email. “We will be taking everyone’s temperature with a digital thermometer, and we will have disposable masks available. We are watching this situation closely.”

The research team will calculate data and share it with local watershed managers, allowing them more insight into community attitudes toward marsh restoration.

For more information on the project, including a general overview, visit https://tinyurl.com/45k83rh8.

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