As important as estuary and floodplain restoration is to the health of Puget Sound’s water, salmon and people, it is rare to be able to fully document project outcomes.
Written & Photographed by Zoe van Duivenbode, Marketing Intern
Another day in the field found Nature Conservancy staff on an adventure in search of GPS locations scattered throughout our Taneum Creek property in the central cascades. In order to continue previous years of stream temperature data collection, TNC’s aquatic ecologist, Emily Howe, and senior forest ecologist, Ryan Haugo, put on their waders and rain boots and embarked on a bushwhacking, log climbing, upstream mission.
By recording stream temperature, our scientists can determine what impact surrounding land use has on nearby stream habitats and can track short-term and long-term temperature fluctuations. Monitoring stream temperature is important because it influences the health, abundance and habitat suitability for fish and other aquatic life. Fish species, such as steelhead and bull trout, were historically present in central cascade streams and as a part of TNC’s conservation plan, our scientists aim to continue data collection which will help guide restoration treatments and protect endangered fish and wildlife species. Check out the slideshow above to follow our day in the field!
SCA + PORT SUSAN BAY
This past month we partnered with the SCA (Student Conservation Association) to have a crew work for two weeks on a few places where we work, mainly on the Upper Skagit and at our Port Susan Bay Preserve!
Crews spent time working in the Upper Skagit doing manual weed control of Scotch Broom, holly, clematis and some other weeds as well as removing an old building! At Port Susan Bay crews spent most of their time looking for Spartina.
This is the first time we’ve ever partnered together for nature and we loved having them work with us to keep Puget Sound healthy and clean.
Written & Photographed by Carrie Krueger, Director of Marketing for The Nature Conservancy in Washington
Crater Lake National Park provides unexpected adventure
When the theme song from “Gilligan’s Island” begins running through your head, it is rarely a good sign. Our “three hour tour” happened in Crater Lake National Park. We set-sail that day to tour the stunning, deep lake, and wound up trapped on the little island in the middle known as Wizard Island.
But let’s start at the beginning: Five families from five different parts of the country chose Crater Lake National Park for a summer vacation and reunion. Located in south central Oregon, the park is near nothing and not particularly easy to get to. But the trek is well worth it. The first view of the lake is unforgettable. The color is a remarkable deep blue and the water is surrounded by sheer cliffs and during our visit, a great deal of snow. Once we worked through our childish impulse to pelt one another with snow, we settled into the picturesque lodge on the rim of the volcanic crater that forms the lake. We spent our first day on short hikes around the region, learning about the geologic events the formed this stunning place.
The next morning we packed sandwiches and snacks and made our way to the tour boat dock. We were promised a water tour of the lake including drop off and pick up at Wizard Island where we could explore further. It seemed simple enough and we felt well prepared, even with many young kids in tow.
Wizard Island was a blast. From the rocky shore, we hiked to the high point of the island where we discovered a snow-filled crater. In no time at all, the kids had made sleds out of their rain jackets and anything else they could find and were zooming down the hills and hiking back up. This was sheer bliss, an unexpected delight – sledding in shorts and t-shirts, on a sunny island in the middle of the nation’s deepest lake. Wow.
Soon it was time to head to the little dock and await pick-up. A small crowd gathered at the dock, but when the next tour boat came by, it didn’t stop. The crowd on the boat waved and the captain called out that the boat was full and no one onboard wanted to get off at Wizard Island, so we would have to wait for the next boat. When this same scenario happened three times over the 90 minutes, we started to feel just a little concerned. One of us whistled the Gilligan’s Island theme and another softly sang “A three hour tour, a three hour tour.”
But in nature, there is always a way to have fun. Boredom is not an option! On the rocky shoreline, a rock-skipping contest ensued, with kids from all the waiting families (and some adults) joining in. On the flat, smooth water, rocks could skip and skip and skip! For those not in the skipping mood, it was time to get creative with cairns. You know, those little towers and piles of rocks – those are cairns and it’s amazing how much fun it is to look for the right flat rocks to build with. There were woods to explore, massive games of “eye spy” and critter spotting.
As the hours went by and food ran low, there was a funny irony in being able to actually see the lodge hanging on the cliff in the distance. Our home away from home, so close and yet so far. Surely we would not be left for the night? We were ill prepared for such a possibility, relieved we had at least insisted each child bring a light jacket. The day had been sunny and nearly hot, but as shadows lengthened, it quickly became chilly. Just for fun, we sat on the shore and brainstormed various ways we could get from there to the lodge. None were feasible, of course, but neither were most of the things Gilligan and his gang attempted on the old TV show. The kids enjoyed pretending we were actually going to spend the night on the island and we talked about the various ways we would shelter and feed ourselves.
Luckily, before anyone could lose their sense of humor about the situation the tour boat company dispatched an empty boat specifically to pick us all up. A dozen families and groupings crowded the dock and piled onto the boat and we tried to remember, did the Gilligan’s Island gang ever get rescued?
As young adults, all of the kids on that adventure still talk about the day we were trapped on Wizard Island and the fun we had exploring nature, as we waited to be “rescued”. Together we’ve visited many more National Parks and feel a collective sense of gratitude for the accessibility of such beautiful places and for the opportunity to commune and experience them. For me, every foray into nature stirs a powerful sense of responsibility to protect and preserve nature so that each generation can experience wild places, little adventures and big escapes.
Written & Photographed by Marlo Mytty, Puget Sound Programs Conservation Coordinator
Watching the sunrise at Haleakala, riding bikes and climbing up a butte in a Canyonlands sunset, floating on air mattresses in Glacier Park’s Lake MacDonald, hiking in the gorgeous diverse Siskyou forest at Oregon Caves National Monument, wandering in a maple glade of enormous moss-draped trees in Olympic National Park, a hawk gliding close and silently by through the fall colors and mist on a November hike to a Mt. Rainier fire lookout. These are just a few of the most treasured experiences of my life, all of which took place in National Parks.
A lifetime native of Seattle, of all the National parks I have visited, Mt. Rainier is closest to my heart and soul, and I think of it as home. My memories there are countless, yet its draw for me continues. I have been there on two backpacks so far this month and the more I visit, the more I realize that there is more than a lifetime of beauty to explore in this park alone.
We have the work of visionaries like Muir, Roosevelt and many others over a century ago to thank for our National Park system, which is truly one of the treasures of this planet; drawing hundreds of millions of visitors each year from all over the world. A century later the ambition and impact of their vision has become more apparent, and this will no doubt be the case in another century.
This kind of long lasting impact is the reason I work for The Nature Conservancy. Looking back 100 years from now, I believe that the effect The Nature Conservancy has had on the landscape of Washington, the nation and the planet will be apparent. The innovative and far reaching projects we are working on are humbling and inspiring.
From working with major players in industry to implement sustainable and economically viable business practices, to working with communities, governments and First Nations to restore the floodplains of major rivers that flow into Puget Sound, to connecting and restoring dry forests across the west in order to reduce catastrophic wildfires, to a large fisheries project on the West coast that will have a positive impact on the fisheries and fishing communities along the entire West coast, to forming coalitions with Chinese dam builders and mining companies in Mongolia to influence siting decisions, The Nature Conservancy is tackling many of the world’s largest environmental challenges. I am continually inspired by the ingenuity and dedication of my colleagues and am fortunate to be a part of what will surely be an impact that reaches or exceeds the scale of our National Parks in the centuries to come.
More streams for fish, hiking trails for people and habitat for wildlife. That is just some of what we are getting after the newest purchase of land for people and nature .
The latest addition to the Heart of the Cascades project is 1,280 acres of timberland in the Manastash, west of Ellensburg. The decade-long effort to weave together a checkerbaordof public and private lands in the East Cascades takes another step forward, adding to more than 25,000 acres of private timberlands brought into public ownership.
In this case, The Nature Conservancy has purchased 1,280 acres of timberland from Plum Creek, and transferred it to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to be managed as part of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.
Working with partners including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Yakama Nation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Conservancy continues to secure public access and protect this vital resource for our communities. The Tapash Sustainable Forests Collaborative, which includes public, non-profit and tribal landowners, is working together across in this region to restore a much larger forest landscape.
Water for the Future
Why does it matter? These particular sections of forest are full of streams and tributaries that flow into the Yakima River. Conserving this forest will protect valuable river habitat for wildlife as well as ensure water downstream for people, fish, and the rich agriculture of the Yakima Valley. Protecting these forests is an important part of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan, a coordinated effort by farmers, conservationists, tribes, and governments to ensure water for the Yakima Valley as climate change threatens increasing drought.
Rich Wildlife Habitat
Washington’s Heart of the Cascades is a multi-phased project designed to protect, connect, and restore the most biologically rich forests in the Western United States.
From high mountain snowfields descending to the arid sagebrush steppe of the Columbia Plateau, the Cascade forests span rugged and beautiful country that supports a diverse variety of habitats and, in turn, a broad array of species. In addition to amazing abundance of birds, mammals, fish, trees, and flowers, these forests are home to federally protected populations of grey wolf, spotted owl, ferruginous hawk, northern goshawk, and Pacific salmon. People across the region prize these forests for their many recreational activities.
Today, we have a remarkable opportunity to invest in the future of this place and to protect what we love about it – lush alpine meadows, clean cold mountain streams, and the unfettered access that comes with a connected and protected landscape. We have this opportunity because tens of thousands of acres of private commercial timberlands are for sale. These lands, privatized in the 1800s to bring the railroads to the Pacific, disconnect our federal forestlands from our state Wildlife Areas. Their sale to development threatens access and opportunity for people and wildlife on this landscape.
The Heart of the Cascades project is a cooperative effort by conservation groups, tribes, residents, and public land management agencies to accomplish the following:
- Protect 110,000+ acres of forests that will reconnect a four million acre landscape
- Protect access and open space for people and wildlife
- Restore the natural functions and processes that sustain these forests, including reintroducing beneficial fire and restorative thinning where needed
- Support local economies working in a compatible way with the natural resources and values of the region
By: Julie Morse, Project Ecologist
That’s a first. Trust me, I’ve attended a lot of conferences with Floodplain Managers, Biologists, Engineers, City Planners, etc… And I have NEVER seen this kind of inspirational language show up in the middle of a PowerPoint presentation. Presentations at these kinds of workshops are generally pretty dry - lots of numbers, graphs and figures. Sometimes the creative speakers will throw in a video or pretty pictures to keep people awake. But let’s be honest, these workshops are generally pretty dry with lots of “Blah, Blah, Blah…”
Yesterday was different.
Yesterday, The Nature Conservancy in Washington convened a workshop for people working in Puget Sound as part of our Floodplains by Design Partnership. Despite the fact that it was a beautiful June day and plenty of people were off of vacation, despite the fact that Seattle was experiencing one of its epic traffic days, despite the fact that there were other big meetings happening in the area, despite all that, more than 150 people showed up to hear what’s happening with Floodplains by Design.
Representatives from five Congressional offices and one U.S. Senator’s office. Staff from seven counties were there along with representatives from four of Puget Sound’s tribes. Farmers, businesses that work in flood plains and agencies came. What’s more - people even came from across the state (Yakima) and even out of state (Oregon) to hear what was happening in Puget Sound.
There was a buzz in the room, and with good reason. Among the successes we celebrated:
- In 2013, over $44 million in state legislative were appropriated for integrated floodplain projects
- This funding has helped catalyze 15 big projects – providing multiple benefits to a number of communities including reduced flood risks, restored salmon habitat, improved water quality, agricultural infrastructure upgrades and enhanced public access and recreational opportunities.
Colonel Estok, outgoing Seattle District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers thanked everyone in the room for their efforts working collaboratively, and The Nature Conservancy for being the glue that pulls these different groups together. He reflected on three years of incredible progress.
But it was also time to look forward. Here are some huge opportunities for collaboration and getting Big Things Done in the coming year:
- A new capital budget request highlighting at least $50 million in compelling, ambitious, needed projects
- Potential ballot initiative to create an even larger, dedicated revenue source for multiple benefit floodplain projects
- Colonel John Buck was introduced as the new Seattle District Commander for the Army Corps of Engineers, an important partner in the FbD Partnership
The best presentation of the day was the last, given by our government relations director Mo McBroom. Through Mo’s talk I could see her spunky enthusiasm was going to battle with her more subdued professional side. Mo was clearly trying to contain her excitement about the potential for the legislature to help support, and be a leader nationally, in addressing water issues - whether it’s too much water (flooding), too little water (irrigation needs), or nowhere for the water to go (stormwater). I’m not sure trying to contain her enthusiasm was really working for her, in fact quite the opposite; I thought her enthusiasm was contagious.
Mo ended her presentation with reiterating the phrase of the day - Think BIG. Believe BIG. Act BIG. And the results will be BIG. There are BIG things happening in Puget Sound. Yesterday I felt incredibly proud to be part of it.
To hear more of what people are saying about Floodplains by Design, please visit our website – http://www.floodplainsbydesign.org/perspectives/
Climate change may feel like something that will impact us in the future, but local environmental scientists know it is already here causing noticeable changes and creating new challenges.
Jodie Toft, Senior Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in Washington answers some questions about how climate change is affecting us now, and what the Conservancy is doing to help.
Question: What kinds of changes is climate change already causing in our state?
Jodie Toft: There is clear scientific evidence that the impact of climate change is being felt in the Pacific Northwest.
- Sea levels are rising
- Rivers are peaking earlier
- The temperature in the Pacific Northwest is rising
- Snowpack in the Cascades has declined by nearly 25%
- Mountain pine beetles are attacking forests at record levels due to warmer, dryer conditions
- Western wildfires have increased significantly
- Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the water are causing the ocean to become more acidic, damaging marine life
Question: What do scientists predict will happen in the future?
Jodie Toft: Research shows the impact of climate change on our region will increase in the coming years:
- Air temperatures will continue to rise
- Severe flooding is predicted for western Washington, while eastern Washington will face drought, threatening agriculture, salmon and community safety
- Damage from wildfires will increase
- The ocean will become warmer and more acidic
- Beaches, tidal swamps and marshes will shrink, diminishing vital habitat for fish, birds and wildlife
Question: This feels overwhelming. What can, or is being done?
Jodie Toft: At The Nature Conservancy, our work is aimed at adapting to climate change.
- Active forest restoration including mechanical thinning and controlled burning are creating large forest landscapes that re more resilient to fire, drought, insects and disease.
- We’ve modeled and are implementing an innovative approach to manage the flood risk to Puget Sound communities through large scale projects that protect fish, habitats, farms and humans
- Along the Washington coast, we’re helping communities steward land and marine resources, and plan for the increasing impact of climate change
Virtually every challenge we tackle can be traced to changing climate. As we look to the future, our focus is on adapting to current and future changes to protect people and nature.