livingston bay

Volunteer Stories: Supporting the Pacific Northwest

Written by Jill Irwin, Volunteer
Photo Credit: Milo Zorzino

With explosive growth in the Pacific Northwest—especially in Seattle and Portland—more and more people are adding to the stresses on our rich and complex natural environment. How about pitching in to help keep this place beautiful and restore damaged habitats?

Recently a group I'm involved with spent part of a day volunteering with the Nature Conservancy at one of their sites in the Puget Sound region.  (One of the cool things about helping out the Nature Conservancy is that their sites are often scenic and rarely open to the public. Hence, no crowds.)

On a breezy Sunday morning, about 10 of us, an eclectic collection of Zen Buddhists, a retired teacher, father and son duck hunters, conservation biologists, and more, met up near  and carpooled to a private property to access the Livingston Bay Pocket Estuary site on Camano. Our goal for the day:  pull invasive Scotch broom, which changes the chemical composition of soil and crowds out native plants.

Our Nature Conservancy coordinater for the event, Lauren Mihel, gathered us in a circle for introductions before heading down through the woods to the beach.

"What's your name and what are you excited about for fall?" she asked as an ice breaker.Our responses varied from "making soup again", "fall colors," "cooler weather and rain," and mine: "hiking to see the golden larches." Then we headed down to the estuary with tools for uprooting the Scotch broom and big plastic bags for picking up trash.

We spent a few hours uprooting most of the Scotch broom we could spot, and some of us walked the beach looking for trash.  

On the outside of the pocket estuary, exposed to the ebb and flow of the tides, a lot of trash had washed up—plastic bottles, plastic lighters, plastic bags, a few stray shoes, old tires, bits of plastic, and even a big plastic trash can. 

I filled a big bag until it got too heavy to squeeze in anything else. Sadly, this much trash, predominantly plastic refuse, is now common, even on wilderness beaches and shorelines. So there are plenty of opportunities to help clean up on your own, too.

We finished up a bit earlier than the allotted time, and gathered for Lauren and fellow coordinator Joelene Boyd to talk a bit about the site, ongoing restoration efforts here that began in 2012, its value as refuge for juvenile salmon, and the Nature Conservancy's programs in general. It's all part of a larger restoration effort in the area.  

In a sweet gesture, Lauren passed around tins of excellent chocolate chip cookies she made for the group. And of course it was a beautiful, peaceful place to spend several hours on a sunny Sunday.

Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding day well spent.  I met good people, got better acquainted with people I already knew, felt a sense of accomplishment, was outside moving in fresh air, and learned more about our precious Salish Sea ecosystem. 

While there are many options for volunteering with the Nature Conservancy, there are lots of other organizations that could use your help too. Here are a few:

The U.S. Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest needs volunteers for many things such as trail maintenance and youth programs.Conservation Northwest has many volunteer needs for things like monitoring wildlife and planting native trees. EarthShare Washington and Oregon have a variety of volunteer and organizational needs. Portland Audubon and Seattle Audubon have active and well-organized volunteer programs. Sierra Club offers lots of ways to get involved. Washington Trails Association has regular work parties. The Portland-based Mazamas has lots of volunteer needs.

I could go on and on, although time doesn't permit it right now. Maybe you would like to suggest some ways to volunteer and your favorite environmental organizations by leaving a comment below! Or let me know if you'd like me to contact you with more ideas.  Because it's important!

The Volunteer Crew 

The Volunteer Crew 

Seattle-born Jill Irwin blogs about the environment and everyday adventures in the Pacific Northwest. Read more of her stories on her blog Pacific Northwest Seasons

Chuckanut Island Ivy Pull

Written by Ann Frost, Wild Whatcom’s Girl’s Explorer’s Club
Drawing by Clara Johnson, Wild Whatcom’s Girl’s Explorer’s Club

Photographed by Milo Zorzino, Volunteer Photographer

A mother goose sitting on a nest of eggs, brilliantly colorful starfish on the rocks, dozens of beautiful madrona trees, sandstone carved into patterns by the water, and heaps of shells from natives who lived hundreds of years ago. These are only a few of the amazing things we saw on an expedition to Chuckanut Island with my Girls Explorers Club group from Wild Whatcom, an organization devoted to outdoor exploration and service. We also saw some things that weren’t so great, that shouldn’t have been there: bird skeletons caught in fishnets, a bit of litter and garbage on the beaches, but most of all we saw invasive ivy, and that’s why we were there. The Nature Conservancy gave us a great chance to help preserve Chuckanut Island, an amazing little bit of the natural world.

Chuckanut Island is about five acres, a small island in Chuckanut Bay. Despite the fact that you can hear trains passing on the mainland and houses line the bay in most directions, it still feels like wilderness. A few unmaintained trails trace the edge of the island, and trees over 250 years old host the nests of eagles and herons. Cliffs of sandstone are covered in beautiful swirls and dips, and are dappled with honeycomb patterns sculpted by the sea over centuries of tides going in and out.The very first people on the island, tribes of native Americans, used it seasonally, and left behind are large middens of oyster shells.

We met with community volunteers and a few staff from the Nature Conservancy and took a small motorboat out to the island. We spent 4+ hours on the island, exploring and pulling invasive ivy. For years now, Wild Whatcom has taken groups out to the island, but there’s always more ivy to pull. Ivy and other invasive plants work against the natural biodiversity and can overwhelm native plants, so it’s very important that we devote some time and effort into pulling invasive plants like ivy.

The hours that we spent on the island helped all of us to connect to nature in a very rare and beautiful way. Knowing that we were making a difference and helping the world around us even in a small way was an amazing experience. I, and many others, walked away with a satisfaction and hope that had been lacking beforehand. Thank you so much to the Nature Conservancy for giving us such an amazing chance to connect with and help conserve nature.

In celebration of Earth Day, volunteers came to pull invasive ivy that has started to spread on the island, in order to maintain its nearly pristine conditions.  This preserve features intertidal habitat, a wooded trail, and beautiful madrone trees on sandstone cliffs. See more from the day in the slideshow above!


Livingston Bay: Remodeled by Nature

Written by Joelene Boyd Puget Sound Stewardship Coordinator /Interim Stewardship Director
Maps by Erica Simek Sloniker, GIS & Visual Communications

Three years later the change is remarkable! Wood has moved out of the pocket estuary, the channel network is expanding and a natural sand spit is forming.

In 2012 The Nature Conservancy set work to restore a 10 acre pocket estuary in Livingston Bay. In order to do this we hired contractors to repair the breach at the southern end of the pocket estuary, breach the dike on the north end and excavate a “starter” channel so that tidal exchange would return. The desire was for wood to be carried out of the site by wind and tides and a channel would grow. The major goals of the project were to restore tidal influence to the pocket estuary, improve access for juvenile salmonids and other fish and restore salt marsh habitat.

From aerial images we see that this is exactly what’s happened - wood is moving out of the site through this starter channel allowing a network of channels and salmon habitat to develop. Additionally the natural sand spit is continuing to extend. It is impressive to see nature’s forces working to restore this pocket estuary with a little helping hand.

A pocket estuary is a type of nearshore habitat that is used to describe an estuary that is protected from waves, wind and other forces. Pocket estuaries in Puget Sound provide critical rearing habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon and other fishes that depend on these partially enclosed estuaries to eat, grow and seek refuge from predators. Researchers estimate that in the Whidbey Basin approximately 80% of the pocket estuaries have been lost.

Historically the Livingston Bay pocket estuary had been diked in the early 20th century to allow for grazing. However, sometime in the 1980s a storm had breached the southern end of the dike causing the area to fill up with wood from strong winter windstorms and high tides. After purchasing the property the Conservancy set to work on designing and carrying out a restoration project to restore the daily tides and function of the pocket estuary necessary to provide juvenile Chinook habitat which was identified as a limiting factor for Chinook salmon survival (Beamer 2003). 

Learn More About Our Work in Puget Sound

Landslide at Livingston Bay

Written and Photographed by Julie Morse, Regional Ecologist and Joelene Boyd, Stewardship Coordinator, Puget Sound Program

Geology and topography make the
landscape vulnerable, but it is the
hydrology that pulls the trigger.
— Erkan Istanbulluoglu, UW CEE

We recently had a landslide on our Livingston Bay property. No major damage was done besides damaging the trail. See photos in the slideshow above!


Weed Warriors descend on Livingston Bay Preserve

Removing Invasive Scotch Broom

Photographed and Written by Joelene Boyd, Stewardship Coordinator for the Puget Sound Program

This past weekend four fabulous volunteers dedicated a Saturday to help remove Scotch broom at The Nature Conservancy’s Livingston Bay property. When we first arrived at the site the volunteers were somewhat overwhelmed by the Scotch broom to be removed. However they wasted no time at all rolling up their sleeves, putting on gloves and started working. With some hard work, sweat and good cheer the results were tangible and immediate.

What is Scotch broom? It’s a noxious weed / shrub that grows from about 3 to 10 feet tall (although I’m sure we removed some larger than that). It’s got bright yellow flowers this time of year and if you travel along Interstate 5 it would be hard to miss. 

Why is Scotch broom control necessary? It’s like most noxious weeds and invasive plants, it grows aggressively and prolifically choking out and outcompeting native plants that provide essential habitat of wildlife species. The seeds are long lasting and remain viable in the soil for 30 - 80 years.

Where is it from and how did it get here? Scotch broom is originally from the British Isles and Central Europe. It was introduced in the mid-1800s as an ornamental plant and planted in places that were prone to soil erosion.

What you can do to help control it? There are a variety of control techniques from herbicide to biological controls to manual removal. However as one of the fabulous volunteers pointed out this past Saturday, consistent and dedicated manual removal multiple times a year before plants set seeds will lead to successful results.

It is always a pleasure working with volunteers but these four were inspiring. One volunteer regularly patrols her neighborhood for weeds in Seattle removing ivy, blackberry and other weeds in common green areas as well as removes litter – taking care of her community. Another gentleman is a regular volunteer at The Conservancy’s Ebey’s Landing Preserve and has contributed so many hours that he is now keeper of The Conservancy’s weed wrench (special tool for removing Scotch broom). Their commitment and dedication to conservation is motivating! Thank you!