puget sound

Puget Sound Science - A Human-Centered Approach

Puget Sound Science - A Human-Centered Approach

We are all the end users of science for the Puget Sound. No amount of money or science alone is going to protect and restore the Puget Sound. But, people changing their behavior will. Design the right tools that connect people to what they care about in to the Puget Sound each day and people will change. Design thinking starts with learning what they care about.

Making a Difference One Rain Garden at a Time

October 22nd was a successful (and sunny) day for communities and Puget Sound! Make a Difference Day (MDDAY) is a one of the largest annual single-days of volunteer service nationwide. With the help of hundreds of volunteers and dedicated partners, we truly witnessed the difference happen right before our eyes. Check out the amazing outcomes from a few of the MDDAY projects and see the photos from each event. 

MDDAY Project Outcomes

8 Rain gardens
1 Green Wall (Seattle’s longest at 136 feet in length!).
4,000 sq. ft + of depaved space planted with native plants.
150 Rain Barrels
Around 3000 plants planted
Around 300 volunteers

A rough estimation of the combine impacts of these MDDAY projects will be able to reduce about 473,000 gallons of polluted runoff that enters Puget Sound each year. That’s a half a million gallons of harmful pollution being redirected to attractive, healthy garden spaces that was made possible by hard working volunteers and dedicated staff from many organizations! 

 Read more about the success of a few these projects below


After removing 4,000 square feet of unsightly pavement from two asphalt islands in Tacoma, staff from Pierce Conservation District and City of Tacoma led a group of 90 volunteers, including staff from Lowes and KING5, who planted hundreds of trees and shrubs to beautify this space.  By removing this impervious pavement the site will allow 86,400 gallons of rainwater to naturally infiltrate into the ground, water the plants, and reduce the amount of pollution each year.  

Photos by Christin Hilton, Conservancy Urban Partnership Director


Around 40 volunteers helped Kitsap Conservation District and the Conservancy to plant 6 residential rain gardens complete with native and edible plants! These rain gardens will help clean Liberty Bay by reducing the amount of polluted run off that flows into this body of water. 

Photos by Emily Howe, Conservancy Aquatics Ecologist

Mill Creek

Volunteers from Lowes Heroes, KING5 News, and Phillips Law Firm participated in some friendly competition while building rain barrels for MDDAY.  The barrels used were re-purposed from containers for fruit juice concentrate, complete with a fruit punch aroma. After a demonstration from Snohomish Conservation District staff, these fast working volunteers built 150 rain barrels in less than 2 hours! Rain barrels help the environment by capturing rain water that flows off of rooftops before it runoffs onto roads and driveways, where it picks up pollutants and eventually flows into Puget Sound. 

Photos by Kat Mogan, Puget Sound Communication Partnership Manager

Learn More about our work in Cities

Take Action for a Cleaner Puget Sound

With all this talk about the negative affects polluted run off has on Puget Sound, here are a few things you can do to make a positive difference. Actions like capturing rain, building rain gardens and driving less can all help reduce the impacts of polluted run off and move towards creating a cleaner and healthier Puget Sound. Explore the infographic below to learn more about what you can do. 

Infographic Created by Erica Simek Sloniker

Rolling Back the Pavement

Written by Tammy Kennon
Photographed by Melissa Buckingham, Pierce Conservation District

Pavement does not have to be permanent. The Puget Sound Conservation Districts, a collaboration of the Puget Sound’s 12 districts, reminds us that it’s possible to bring nature back into our urban landscapes.

Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood has reclaimed a derelict, crumbling parking lot and gained a multi-use green habitat. The project, completed in June, now serves dual use as a community gathering space and a natural filtration system for otherwise polluted runoff. The transformed space now filters on-site more than 130,000 gallons of polluted runoff a year.

Thanks to its natural beauty, economic growth and the thriving tech industry, the Puget Sound region is one of the most rapidly urbanizing areas in the nation. Our population grows by more than 200 people every day and by some estimates will top 7.5 million by 2030. Often, this growth puts our green spaces in a losing tug-of-war with urban development. Sprawling pavement, rooftops and roadways send increasing levels of polluted runoff into our vital waterways, creating one of our most urgent environmental challenges.

Reclaiming even small patches of pavement and restoring nature’s filtering systems can have a significant effect in mitigating stormwater pollution, while at the same time reenergizing urban neighborhoods and improving quality of life within our communities.

For the Tacoma Hilltop project, the Pierce Conservation District (PCD) enlisted more than 100 members from the community to help select a site and participate in its transformation.

“We partnered with Tacoma’s Healthy Homes Healthy Neighborhoods program to identify unfunctional space,” said Melissa Buckingham, Water Quality Improvement Director of the Pierce Conservation District. “Feast Art Center was moving into the area and wanted to create an outdoor community space. It just all came together.”

With funds from Boeing and The Nature Conservancy, the Feast Arts Center, an art school and gallery, converted 4,500 square feet of derelict pavement at south 11th and south Sheridan into a vibrant community gathering space featuring an outdoor silent movie theater, rain garden and a green multi-use lawn for events. The perimeter includes a drivable area to accommodate a variety of community events that might utilize food trucks or blood drive vehicles.

“The building and the lot had been a vacant eyesore for many years, so many in the community are grateful for the change,” said Todd Jannausch, co-owner of Feast Arts Center. “We use the space to host a variety of free events, classes and performances for the community.”

Bringing nature back into our urban environment can do more than just energize the neighborhood. A growing body of research suggests that living near green space inspires physical activity, improves neighborhood safety, boosts the economy and helps children learn. The bottom line: It’s easier being green!

From pavement to grass! The end result of the project.

From pavement to grass! The end result of the project.

The success of the Feast Arts Center depave project is a welcome reminder that we can reclaim a natural habitat in the urban environment, proving that humans and nature can thrive together in the same space.

The Truth About Puget Sound

Written by Stephanie Williams, Program Coordinator

The Pacific Northwest is known for its good looking bodies… of water, that is.

If people don’t know much about Puget Sound, they tend to at least know that this region has a wealth of gorgeous views of blue lakes, tree-lined rivers, waterfalls, and meandering creeks, not to mention the Sound itself. While this is something to boast about, it is also quite deceptive. These breath-taking views are hiding a serious problem that can only be seen with an up-close look. The water in Puget Sound looks healthy and is often described as pristine, but the truth is that it is in very bad shape.

What isn’t easily visible in the picturesque Elliot Bay, Skagit River, or Lake Washington is polluted run-off from our urban and suburban areas. While it may not be a floating plastic bag or a six-pack ring, the poster children of aquatic litter, polluted run-off is having a severe impact on salmon, marine mammals, and the entire ecosystem (humans included). It is the number one threat to water quality in Puget Sound.

But what is polluted run-off? What is this ghostly and invisible thing?

Polluted run-off, which is also referred to as “stormwater,” is rain water that rushes over pervious surfaces, such as buildings, roads, and sidewalks collecting dangerous oil, bacteria, chemicals and other pollutants along the way. Unlike sewage, which passes through treatment facilities, polluted run-off ends up in the nearest body of water dirty and untreated.

Imagine what your city or town looked like before humans built there. It was most likely a rich forest, lush with vegetation and healthy soils. Back then, the rain would catch on trees and be absorbed into the forest soils, which both slowed and cleaned the water as it made its way toward Puget Sound. Over time people greatly changed the landscape by erecting tall buildings, houses, and roads, all with hard surfaces that left nowhere for the rain water to go. To avoid flooding, storm drains were built to pipe the rain water away from the city to streams, lakes and the Sound. Water that used to soak into soils and groundwater, supporting a healthy ecosystem, now runs off and causes more frequent erosion and flooding in addition to its devastating impact on salmon and other species.

The problem of polluted run-off is not as simple as sea turtle caught in a six-pack ring. It is very complex and its inconspicuous nature only makes it more difficult to bring to people’s attention. Check out cityhabitats.org and washingtonnature.org/cities to see what The Nature Conservancy and its partners are doing to raise awareness of polluted run-off and affect change for salmon and for ourselves. 

Bringing Nature into our Cities

We're looking to nature to solve our stormwater problems! By bringing nature into our cities, we can reduce the amount of polluted run off that travels into Puget Sound and protect our iconic marine life. See the infographic below to learn more. 

The Fir Island Farm Project

Written by Beth Geiger
Photographs by Jenny Baker, Senior Restoration Manager

A tiny juvenile salmon swims down the Skagit River toward Puget Sound. The finger-sized fish finally arrives in the tidal reaches of the lower Skagit. It’s a big world of water and fields. Saltwater is just a splash away.  

Next to the river, on Fir Island, farmers work some of the world’s most fertile agricultural land. In winter, thousands of migrating snow geese arrive in noisy white clouds. The scene is framed by snowy vistas of Mt. Baker to the east and verdant islands of Puget Sound to the west. It’s a beautiful place.

Yet for this little salmon, something critical is limited: a shallow estuary where it can grow, feed, and hide before entering the deep, exposed waters of Puget Sound. Century-old dikes built to keep floods and tides off the land to make farming the Skagit delta possible eliminated much of the estuarine marshes this young fish needs. Science tells us that restoring tidal estuaries is key to helping revive Chinook salmon populations in the Skagit watershed.

In a partnership with TNC, the Fir Island Farm project, managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), aims to do just what science tells us is needed for salmon, but in a collaborative way that also pays homage to the current agricultural productivity of this great place.

Most food is produced hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from where it is consumed. That requires significant energy consumption, and it leaves communities at risk if the food supply chain becomes challenged. Preserving and enhancing farm productivity means preserving our ability to have local, sustainable fruits and vegetables now and in the future.

This is a complex system, in a critical landscape with lots of public and private interests at play – which is exactly The Nature Conservancy’s wheelhouse. No wonder this project is a balancing act. Balance estuaries for juvenile salmon with improved protection for farmland. Balance nature with community, farmers, and recreation.

The Conservancy is a critical partner in navigating this complex task. We contribute our expertise and “lessons learned” from projects that set the stage for this project, including nearby Fisher Slough. That project was managed by the Conservancy and completed in 2011.

This experience and others have taught us the importance of partners such as Consolidated Diking and Drainage District 22, which helps keep Fir Island’s farms dry. “The Conservancy was instrumental in encouraging us to talk to the Diking District early in the process,” says Jenna Friebel, Fir Island project manager for the WDFW. The Diking District, Friebel says, brought essential ideas to the project planning table, such as what type of tide gates and pumping station would work best.

In 2015 the Fir Island Farm project constructed 5,800 feet of brand new dike inland from the old dike, on a parcel of former farmland now owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. This summer the old dike will be removed, tides will flood in, and 131 acres will become a new tidal marsh.

By spring of 2017, tens of thousands of tiny Chinook salmon coming down the Skagit will find a safe haven, and a better future. “If the habitat is there, they can grow bigger and ready for the ocean,” says Friebel.  At the same time, the future of farming here is preserved as well. 

Floodplains: Revisited

Written & Photographed by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager

I revisited two Floodplains by Designs sites on the Puyallup River – the Calistoga Reach project in the town of Orting, and the South Fork project a few miles north and downriver from there.

These were both projects designed to re-connect the Puyallup River with its historic floodplain, provide more salmon habitat, and reduce the threat of flooding to people.

The Calistoga Reach project was completed in November of 2014—a week later the river hit a flood stage that previously had sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes. This time, Building Official Ken Wolfe said, “We didn’t have to deploy even one sandbag.” The river rose again in 2015, and again the town stayed dry.

Today, you can see the reclaimed natural areas that in times of flood give the river room to rise, and also offer refuge to juvenile salmon and other wildlife and walking paths for people.

The South Fork project is a new side channel for the river, again giving the water places to go when the volume is high, along with great salmon habitat. It’s being completed in stages, and by the time it’s finished, it will be a mile-long side channel, the longest on the Puyallup River. Engineers Jeffrey Davidson and David Davis helped me scramble all over the site, Pointing out new channels created by the river, engineered logjams that are evolving as the river runs through, and new gravel bars and sediment deposits brought down from Mount Rainier by the power of the river. Salmon are using the site, and they’ve seen black bear and deer out there as well.

It's remarkable to see how nature can come back and revive when you give it a chance!

Yellow Island Time: Third ‘Peak Bloom’

Written and Photographed by Phil Green, Yellow Island Steward

Early May saw the rapid disappearance of camas across the island but even as the camas was fading new species were blooming across the meadows and rocky balds.

Oregon sunshine, aka wooly sunflower, (Eriophyllum lanatum) finally came into its own after a couple false starts in mid March and mid April. There are now large patches of what may be the brightest yellow flower Yellow Island has to offer.

Broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) is about tied with the Eriophyllum for brightest yellow flower. My absolute favorite place on the island is the rocky area atop Hummingbird Hill that is covered with frilly reindeer lichen that forms a nice bed for the stonecrop. The combination of colors and textures cannot be beat.

A third bright yellow flower is Puget Sound gumweed. It appears across the meadows and rocky outcrops but is particularly thick on the south side of Hummingbird Hill.

Three non-yellow species that occur individually or in small groups are California broomrape (Orobanche californica), Hooker’s onion (Allium acuminatum) and harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria). These cheery spots of color brighten an otherwise meadow that is rapidly turning to brown.

When all these species start fading, there are at least three species that have will bloom in June into July. Can you name them?



Celebrating Earth Month & Clean Water in Puget Sound

Written and Photographed by Stephanie Williams, Project Coordinator

Earth Month is already over! It feels like it rushed by as fast as stormwater over a downtown Seattle sidewalk. In order to draw out Earth Month and make it last, The Nature Conservancy participated in two recent launch events that will lead to slowing down that same urban stormwater, allowing it to pass more slowly over trees, plants and soil so it’s cleaner and healthier for Puget Sound and its communities.

King County's One Million Trees Campaign launch on April 14th and the City of Seattle's Equity and Environment Agenda Announcement on April 22nd marked the beginning of The Nature Conservancy’s increased collaboration with local communities to improve water quality in the region. 

King County's One Million Trees Campaign Launch

King County has ambitiously committed to planting 1 million trees between now and 2020 as part of their larger Strategic Climate Action Plan. They smartly partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help get the job done. Although it would have been easier and cheaper to plant all the trees in existing forests and rural areas, our Puget Sound Conservation Director, Jessie Israel, got King County decision-makers enthusiastic about putting a good portion of those trees back into our cities.

After County Executive, Dow Constantine, reminded the multi-generational audience at White Center Heights Park of the gravity of climate change and the importance of partnerships to get big jobs like these done, Jessie spoke about how planting trees connects to our Nature Conservancy work with WATER and CITIES.

Addressing the dozens of wide-eyed primary school children sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of her, Jessie explained that nature in cities is the remedy for stormwater that runs through dirty streets and off parking lots, polluted by oil and chemicals and then ends up in our streams and rivers. She created the imagery of trees acting as a giant umbrella that protects the community and ensures the water coming down from the sky is slowed and cleaner when it reaches Puget Sound.

Planting and maintaining urban trees helps to value our land in cities that is already covered in nature so that it doesn’t get paved over - making stormwater impacts worse. Trees give us habitat corridors, keep our stream banks strong, help us to preserve intact ecosystem function in urban forested park lands like we have right here. As these trees grow up and get bigger, their canopy will grab water that falls as rain, intercepting it, and helping us to solve the stormwater problem, to solve our Puget Sound problem, a little at a time. Each tree we plant of this million trees will get us closer.

One of our major partners for stormwater projects was also present to celebrate the start of this campaign. Steve Shestag, Boeing’s Director of Environment, Health, and Safety, followed Jessie's remarks by adding, "It's events like this and groups like [The Nature Conservancy and others] that do an amazing job to inspire us at Boeing Company to go out and do great things not just for technology and science, but for the environment."

Using their golden shovels, the County Executive, Jessie, Steve and some eager kids took turns packing soil around a young douglas fir to kick off this five-year campaign.

It may seem that tree planting is cliché and outdated. This event, the beginning of a project of epic proportions, was a reminder of how planting trees is still very relevant and a crucial part of tackling stormwater issues and improving the livability of urban neighborhoods.

Seattle's Equity and Environment Action Agenda

A week later, on Earth Day, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray revealed his new Equity and Environment Agenda, developed by over 800 local community participants. Standing in front of the greenish gray water of the Duwamish and surrounded by local community leaders, Mayor Murray passionately spoke about how environmental degradation and poor water quality disproportionately affects low income areas and communities of color. "Seattle’s environmental progress and benefits must be shared by all residents no matter their race, immigration status, or income level." His blueprints for action include offering low-priced fruits and vegetables to families enrolled in the city's preschool program, environmental positions for city's youth summer employment program and having a full time environmental justice advisory committee, among others.

Nature Conservancy team members were eager to be present at Duwamish Waterway Park as the Mayor rolled out his plan to incorporate strong economic justice policy to affect change. The announcement of this agenda opens up more opportunities for The Nature Conservancy to partner on urban clean water initiatives in these very important communities.

Shelina Lol, a bright-eyed 16-year sophomore at Chief Sealth High School spoke about what this equity and environment initiative means for her as a multi-lingual immigrant from Fiji and also for her South Park community. With frustration and heartbreak in her voice, she spoke about not being able to safely play in the river and despite contamination risks, many of her neighbors still fish in the Duwamish because they can’t afford other sources of food.

Despite the disadvantages they face, Shelina and her fellow Duwamish Valley Youth Corps members have already done projects like installing raingardens, to improve water quality in their area. The City of Seattle's Equity and Environment Action Agenda means raingardens are just the beginning for improving water quality in marginalized communities. The Nature Conservancy is proud to be part of this inclusive movement that will help make clean water for all Puget Sound communities a real possibility. We are excited by the initiative demonstrated by the Mayor and City of Seattle because it aligns with our organizational priorities to accelerate action on stormwater, water quality issues and environmental justice.

Earth Month is over but The Nature Conservancy is energized by these two new opportunities to continue connect people with clean water!

Watch our stormwater video to learn more about how water quality is affecting Puget Sound

Sign up for our upcoming Depave volunteer event in Tacoma

Yellow Island Time: Mid-April Flower Report

Written and Photographed by Phil Green, Yellow Island Steward

It's been over a month since the last post and a lot has changed. The early individual blooms of fawn lilies (Erythronum oregonum) exploded into large patches of stunning white flowers. This species peaked around April 1 and as of today there are just scattered blooms on the north side of the island. Shooting star, (Dodecatheon pulchellum), also peaked around April 1 and is now mostly going to seed. This is a normal bloom pattern for fawn lilies and shooting stars.

Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida), western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis), and chocolate lilies (Fritillaria lanceolata) were also blooming a month ago. However, these species have persisted and now cover large areas of the island with their reds, yellows and shades of brown. Again, this is a normal pattern for these species which should persist into May.

One species that isn't showing a normal pattern is great camas (Camasia leichtlinii). Camas first bloomed March 24. The earliest bloom date over 30 years of record keeping was March 10, the latest April 20, with an average of April 4. March 24 is well within the normal range.  However, instead of showing a normal bell shaped curve of a gradually increasing bloom, peaking in late April, within ten days camas covered the island. Already many are starting to go to seed. We have had a stretch of unseasonably warm weather so this may be why.

One other major surprise was the first bloom on Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana). The average for Nootka rose is May 10. The previous earliest date was April 26. This year it was a week earlier, April 19. It should also be noted that Nootka rose was one of the species fooled last fall. About a quarter of the roses bloomed in the fall of 2015 due to unseasonably warm weather.

People always ask, well, how does this compare to other years. All years are different but for me, this was/is another five star year. Spectacular! Here's a sampling from the past week. Enjoy!



Heading North – Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, Here We Come!

Written by Jenny Baker, Senior Restoration Manager
With Contributions by Julie Morse Senior Ecologist; Jodie Toft, Senior Marine Ecologist

The 12th offering of Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference is just around the corner and a cadre of us from TNC are ready to head north and dive in. Next week, over 1,000 indigenous knowledge-holders, scientists, policy-makers, students and other stakeholders from the US and Canada will collect in Vancouver, B.C. for 3 knowledge-packed days. The conference is a wonderful opportunity for interdisciplinary and transboundary collaboration and networking for those of us dedicated to the protection and recovery of the Salish Sea region.

The team is excited to share our work in the Salish Sea through three presentations and a poster. In the Toward Coordinated Resilience Planning Where People and Ecosystems are Being Squeezed by Climate Change session, a range of speakers will explore the complexity of addressing climate change in systems where past and current land use influence how climate change will affect people and nature, and some of the considerations that are needed as we plan for the future. We have two talks in this session. We will talk about our work to incorporate climate change considerations into floodplains project funding and marine shoreline planning, and our work to identify projects that have benefits for flooding, farms and fish in the Skagit river delta.

In the Local Stories and Results session, we will describe monitoring results from TNC’s Port Susan Bay project in an Ignite presentation, sure to be an informative and engaging crowd-pleaser. And we will present a poster titled New Tools for a United Front to highlightseveral new ideas and projects that TNC is working on. These include: TNC’s and the University of Washington’s “Outside Our Doors” publication, which synthesizes 40 years of research on benefits of nature in cities; tools for exploring flood risk and coastal resilience; a spatial assessment that answers the question how much agricultural best management practice implementation is needed and where is the best place to put it to get the strongest environmental outcomes; and the effects of polluted stormwater on coho salmon and promising solutions for treatment.

In addition to sharing our work and hearing from others, we look forward to the inaugural Billy Frank Jr. plenary, the keynote by Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut and the world’s first neurologist in space, the art show, a reception at the Vancouver Aquarium and the First Nations/Tribal Dinner.

For me, this will be my third time attending this conference.  Every year I find it recharges and inspires me.  All day for three days, there’s non-stop presentations, poster sessions and great conversations over coffee with my colleagues, many that I’ve known for years but don’t see on a daily basis. Our work is often messy, and so complicated that I often get lost in the details… but this conference always reminds me of the big picture and how lucky I am to live and work in the beautiful Salish Sea.

Look for tweets from the team next week as we share highlights from the meeting!

On the Lookout for Charismatic Mini-Fauna

Written by Jodie Toft, Senior Marine Ecologist
Photographed by Jason Toft

Here in downtown Seattle, residents are dusting off sunglasses and sandals, in hopes that the mercury finds its way past 65. Let's not kid ourselves, 60 degrees is completely shorts-worthy. The market is full of tulips and daffodils and nature's perfume of choice is part cherry blossom, part salty smelling water. 

One of the best parts of this aptly named season is what's going on with one of the Pacific Northwest's biggest icons. Yes ma'am, it's baby salmon time. Millions of tiny salmon are springing - actually just swimming - through Puget Sound towards the big ocean. Over the next few months, pulses of hatchery and wild juvenile chum, Chinook, coho, and pink salmon will be out migrating. They'll make the journey from fresh to salt water, looking to feed themselves and also serving as food for other members of the marine food web. And after a few years - how long depends on the species of salmon - those who've endured life in the big blue will run home. 

Seeing the big salmon return is a powerful experience for locals and tourists alike; seeing the little ones set out, however, also definitely strikes a chord. If you find yourself in downtown Seattle, head towards water's edge and you'll find yourself next to a baby salmon highway (aka, a migratory corridor). Take a moment to peek into the water. This year, three species in particular – Chinook, pink and chum salmon - are your best bet for baby salmon viewing. These three use nearshore habitats more than the other species of salmon. Accordingly, as natural shorelines in Puget Sound were hardened, or armored, over the last century and a half, Chinook salmon bore the brunt of that habitat loss. That habitat loss and myriad other factors, landed Puget Sound Chinook with a listing of threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Yet with creative restoration can hopefully come recovery.  Efforts right here in downtown Seattle are benefiting salmon, from creation of habitat during construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park, to habitat enhancements associated with replacement of the aging seawall along Seattle's central waterfront.  Other efforts, such as those that we at The Nature Conservancy are taking, are aimed at finding innovative solutions that tackle pollution caused by toxic stormwater run-off.

In coming weeks and months, if you’re on the lookout for nature in cities, don’t forget to look to the salty environs.  See if you can catch a glimpse one of Seattle’s best kept secrets - our very own charismatic mini-fauna.

Learn More about Our Marine Work


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

Bird Boxes at Port Susan Bay

Photographed by Joelene Boyd, Puget Sound Stewardship Coordinator /Interim Stewardship Director and Lauren Miheli, Volunteer Coordinator

This past weekend, volunteers joined us at our Port Susan Bay preserve to put bird houses up!  The bird houses were taken down for our restoration project there and our amazing volunteers came to re-install them, before the birds come to nest!  The bird houses were put on the old pilings that remain around the site. See more in the slideshow above!



Integrating Climate Into Floodplain Planning

Written by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager
Photographs by Chris Hilton, Grant Fundraising Director

Floodplain leaders from around the Puget Sound region gathered today for a workshop on advancing floodplain restoration, including a new focus on integrating climate change data.

“There’s a big gap between what we know and what we’re doing about it,” says Julie Morse, the Conservancy’s regional ecologist. 

It’s not unique to Puget Sound, we find it all over the country.

At today’s workshop, floodplain leaders will begin to develop strategies for including climate impacts into the work they’re already doing.

The Conservancy has been working with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group to take its recent Puget Sound Climate Synthesis Report and turn it into information that is really useful to city, county and state leaders grappling with these issues on the ground. Today’s workshop is a chance for floodplain leaders to work hands on with this information.


Searching for Bald Eagles

Written by Joelene Boyd, Puget Sound Stewardship Coordinator
Photographed by Stephanie Crow, Volunteer

The Nature Conservancy has a long history of Bald Eagle conservation along the Skagit River from preserving critical Bald Eagle habitat in the 1970’s to leading and coordinating Bald Eagle surveys along the Skagit and Sauk Rivers beginning in the winter of 1982-1983. In 2010, the National Park Service took over coordinating the winter surveys however The Nature Conservancy and our dedicated volunteers continue to support the effort.

Every year Conservancy staff and/or volunteers canoe down the Sauk River from Darrington, Washington to the confluence with the Skagit River, approximately 20 miles as part of the state wide mid-winter eagle survey. In early January 2016, two Conservancy volunteers took to the waters again canoeing down the Sauk River counting 45 Bald Eagles along the way. Earlier in the week volunteers canoed down the Nooksack River counting 491 Bald Eagles over a 9 mile stretch of river.  The Conservancy is fortunate to have long time volunteers (14 years!) who are committed to these conservation efforts as well as having fun on the river.



A Whidbey Island Getaway

Written and Photographed by Nathan Hadley, Northwest Photographer

One of my favorite pastimes while living on Whidbey Island three years ago was to run to Nature Conservancy’s Ebey’s Landing, taking a rural road north from the old barracks of Fort Casey. The road rises over a hill and drops down into a small farmed valley. The valley—which would make many inclined toward the earth want to quit their job and start farming—opens into Ebey’s Landing State Park, facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Along the shoreline, the bluffs drop down towards a small gravel parking lot and then rise again. The Nature Conservancy’s land begins as the bluff nears its climax to the north. 

I hiked up that bluff recently, for the first time since my time on Whidbey a few years ago. It was a beautiful December day, splendidly dressed in thousands of shades of grey, earthen green and blue. The wind was as wild as I had felt it in awhile—louder and stronger than my last day climbing high in the North Cascades in early fall. It was invigorating. My friend, Joel, and I didn’t bother with talking. It wasn’t worth it, so we turned inward. 

I was struck by the wind-stunted and twisted Douglas firs. It didn’t seem like they were the same species as those lining tall along many Pacific Northwest roads. Of course I knew wind could turn and twist trees in such a way, as I was a proper naturalist, according to myself. “Are you sure these are Douglas firs?” I asked Joel. He pulled a clump of needles to his face, examined some identifying characteristic I didn’t know about, and reassured me that they were. 

I think it’s fair to say that the same wind that shaped these trees, shaped me as well, though only for a short time three years ago. 

And yet, as I walked along those trees high on the bluff on that blusterous day, I felt the wind’s imprint and realized the course that it had set in my own growth.


Climate Change on the Radio

Audio provided by KOMO News Radio

Climate change is here in Puget Sound. The more we can help restore nature along our waterways and communities, the more resilient our communities and ecosystems will be in the future. Our Director of the Puget Sound Program, Jessie Israel, had the great opportunity to talk with Herb Weisbaum at KOMO radio about climate change here in the Sound. Listen to the interview above!


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