Eelgrass, home for sea life, is holding its own in Puget Sound

Some news from the bottom of Puget Sound: The total area of eelgrass beds hasn't changed much in the past 40 years. When other habitat areas have declined, this is encouraging — especially considering the number of aquatic species that use eelgrass beds, from young salmon to crabs. Eelgrass beds are common in tidal zones and along shorelines. 

“Eelgrass meadows can grow so thick that when you’re swimming through them, you can’t see anything else,” said co-author Tessa Francis, of the Puget Sound Institute at UW Tacoma, in an interview with The Seattle Times. Watch the video for a diver's-eye view of eelgrass beds off the south coast of Whidbey Island. (Video courtesy of Ole Shelton, NOAA).

The report, co-authored by our lead scientist Phil Levin, was published in the Journal of Ecology. Another promising find was that significant changes in eelgrass beds occurred on a very small scale — meaning local action may likely lead to positive results. 

"Our human population has exploded, we have all kinds of increasing impacts on Puget Sound, and yet eelgrass is resilient," said Phil. "It gives us hope about the ability to restore eelgrass. It tells us that what we do at the neighborhood scale matters, and we can have a positive impact."

Phil added that one of the largest increases in eelgrass is near our Port Susan Bay Estuary Restoration Project. The Stillaguamish River spills into the bay, mixing freshwater and saltwater to create extensive estuarine marshes that produce a vast quantity of decaying organic matter, helping the offshore habitat. 

The data that have been collected and used in this analysis are incomplete and several of the findings beg further research — such as how adjacent areas have very different trends and nearby population density doesn't seem to have a strong correlation with negative impacts on eelgrass beds.

Read The Seattle Times' Article
About the Analysis  

Nature on Your Table

Salmon from the Skagit River. Mushrooms gathered from the forest. A heritage turkey or pasture pork. Winter kale, acorn squash, ripe red apples and sweet golden pears.

Hungry yet?

You can set the table for a Thanksgiving feast with the yield from Washington’s farmers, fishermen, foragers and shellfish growers. This rich resource depends on nature—healthy land and air, and clean water in the right quantities at the right time.

“A teaspoon of soil has more than a billion organisms in it,” says Jack Toevs, who grows organic apples on his family farm near Quincy. “One of the big reasons I went organic was learning about the soil—it’s a living thing.” As a farmer, Toevs values clean water and healthy soil, and he works to protect the wild sagelands nearby. “Those wild lands are important as a reservoir for a diversity of flowers, of pollinators, of life.”

Bill Taylor likes oysters raw, fried, barbecued, sautéed, smoked—any way they can be prepared. He has a simple message: “You need clean water to have healthy shellfish that are safe to eat.” His great-grandfather started farming shellfish more than 120 years ago, and today Taylor Shellfish is a leading advocate for clean water and Puget Sound. “Ensuring that the rivers that flow into marine waters and the land around them are healthy is vital.”

Food producers like Taylor and Toevs, who serves on the Conservancy’s Washington Leadership Council, are vital partners as we work on innovative solutions to protect our lands and waters and assure strong resilient farms and abundant seafood. They understand the value of nature in protecting our food supply.

Here come the Chum!

Written and photographed by Dave Ryan, Field Forester

On Thursday, October 20th four hopeful adventurers wended their way down to Ellsworth “Beach”, that small, rocky shore at the terminus of our old growth trail.  The hope was that the recent rains and some applied positive mental attitude could summon the Chum salmon to make their annual run up Ellsworth Creek that day.  Alas, our intrepid adventurers found no salmon that day; although a walk in the forests of Ellsworth is never wasted. 

On Friday, October 21st a sole wanderer ventured back to the beach and welcome to Ellsworth Creek Chum Run 2016!  At some point in the intervening 24 hours, the salmon made their push several miles up Ellsworth Creek.  It is always a powerful experience seeing a salmon run; whether in Alaska, The Bonneville Dam fish ladders, at Klickitat Falls, or anywhere else in the world. However, there is a solitude, a solace, and an intimacy to the Ellsworth Creek Chum run that is especially powerful to me.  Perhaps it is due to, rather than in spite of, the small scale.  It is a favorite time of year in what is one of my favorite places in the world. 

View the photo slideshow above to see the impressive chum run!

Learn more about Preserves like Ellsworth

Celebrating Fir Island Restoration

By Jenny Baker, Senior Restoration Manager
Photos by Jeanette Dorner;
 Alison Hart, Washington department of Fish and Wildlife

The Fir Island Farm ribbon cutting was a wonderful event celebrating project completion with the large community of folks who have helped usher the project to the finish line over the last seven years.

This 131-acre project restores habitat for salmon, improves flood protection and drainage infrastructure for agriculture and provides public access at the intersection between the fertile farms of Fir Island and the salty marsh beyond.

See the breaching of the dike that let the tide back in after 100 years.

A new dike keeps neighboring farmland dry, while we still make room for thousands of juvenile salmon. Read more about the project here.

Honoring Our Floodplain Champions

Natural resource leaders honored at first Floodplains by Design celebration

Written by Bob Carey, Strategic Partnership Director

Agencies and tribes recognized for their leadership in improving river management to improve flood protection, restore salmon habitats, improve water quality, and enhance outdoor recreation. More than 150 people came together to celebrate the Floodplains by Design Partnership and honor seven floodplain champions and project partnerships at a dinner Monday, September 12, in Seattle.

The Floodplains by Design Partnership, led by the Washington Department of Ecology, The Nature Conservancy, and the Puget Sound Partnership, identify and support large-scale projects that are built from the ground up by local governments, tribes and community stakeholders. Collectively the partnership is pursuing a vision of collaborative, integrated management delivering results to help Washington’s communities and ecosystems thrive.

In four short years, with the support of $80M in new state funding, the Floodplains by Design partnership has reduced flood risks to hundreds of families in 25 communities while restoring habitat along 10 miles of salmon-producing rivers, protecting 500 acres of farmland and creating new river access and trails.

“Floodplains by Design is not just a grant program, it’s a movement!” Bob Carey from The Nature Conservancy told the celebrants. “It’s a movement to put our shoulders together to make our communities safer from flooding, to make our salmon runs stronger, and to ensure future generations have local food, clean water, and recreational opportunities.”

Three locally-driven river management partnerships were recognized as 2016 Floodplain Luminaries, for their steadfast pursuit of an integrated, resilient river management program and delivering results in support of a prosperous community and healthy environment:

·       The Yakima River Floodplain Project

·       The Dungeness River Floodplain Partnership

·       Puyallup Floodplains for the Future Partnership

Four organizations were honored as 2016 Floodplain Champions for their steadfast support of integrated, resilient river management programs that deliver results for a prosperous community and healthy environment, include:

·       Washington State Department of Ecology

·       US Environmental Protection Agency

·       Tulalip Tribes

·       Puget Sound Conservation Districts

Award presenters included Washington Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, King County Executive Dow Constantine, NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Will Stelle, Puget Sound Partnership Executive Director Sheida Sahandy, and Washington Department of Ecology Program Manager Gordon White.

Presenting sponsors for the Floodplains by Design conference were Anchor QEA, ESA, HDR Inc. and Northwest Hydraulic Consultants. Dinner sponsors were Watershed Science & Engineering, Northwest Regional Floodplain Management Association and WEST Consultants. Funding for the Conservancy’s engagement in Floodplains by Design has been provided in part by the Boeing Company and The Russell Family Foundation.

Learn more about Floodplains by Design






Forest Restoration Spotlight

Photographed by Chris Crisman

Restoring our forests, streams and all the habitat in between.

Our work making Washington’s forests and streams healthier is spotlighted in two vastly different landscapes – the temperate coastal rainforest of Ellsworth Creek, and the dry ponderosa forests of the Central Cascades.

These two stories highlight the restoration work taking place on the ground, as well as paint a picture of the long term vision for these very special places.

From the Chinook Observer, a beautiful story that captures the breadth and depth of the work we’re doing in Ellsworth Creek. Link below. 

Chinook Observer - Towering Titans: Nature Conservancy Restoration Breathes Life Into Forest Stream

And a front page spread on the Yakima Herald that showcases our work with the Yakama Nation on the North Fork Taneum Creek. Link below.

Yakima-Herald: Creek Restoration Vital to a Healthy Forest.