The beautiful and powerful brown bears have arrived at Brooks
Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and everyone
in the world can enjoy the convenience of watching these giant
bears and other amazing wildlife live from the comfort and safety
of their home.
Lots of people have been going out to falls this year to watch
the bears from nearby viewing platforms, but I get the feeling that
far more people have been watching them from home via the
live webcams. I say that because of the number of
comments generated on the website. More than a few commenters
seem to know the area well and even call the bears by their
nicknames. (Park biologists use a numbering system, identifying
each bear by coat and claw colors, scars, body size and shape, ear
size and shape, sex, facial features and disposition.)
Brooks Falls is one of the first streams in the region where the
bears have easy access to bright salmon soon after they leave the
saltwater and before spawning. The falls provide a partial barrier
to their travels, making fishing easier for the bears. By sometime
in August, the fish runs will dwindle and the bears will be
Operators of the multiple live webcams do a good job of zooming
in when something interesting happens. Occasionally, so much is
going on that they don’t know what to show. Other times, we wait
and watch the beautiful scenery, which is especially dramatic at
sunrise and sunset.
When the bears are actively fishing for salmon, I find it hard
to break away and get back to daily life. One video trick I’ve
learned: If you don’t see anything interesting in the live view,
you can use your cursor to scan across the timeline to see what has
happened for the past few hours and watch that instead.
Park officials have identified the various fishing methods used
by the bears in an interesting
Q&A section on the national park’s website.
Birds and marine mammal cams
Besides watching bears, it’s a good time of year to watch other
wildlife as well via live webcam. Birds are typically active on
their nests, raising their young.
Chesapeake Conservancy is featuring the osprey couple,
Tom and Audrey, who perennially nest on Kent Island in
Maryland. Audrey has taken up with a new “Tom” this year and
produced three babies. They also received two foster chicks from
nearby Poplar Island, according to information on the website.
Another good osprey cam was installed this year in Belwood Lake
Conservation Area near the Great Lakes in Ontario, Canada. Three
eggs reportedly hatched, but I see only two chicks in the nest.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also has an osprey
cam that updates still photos every 12 seconds.
cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine shows a
fuzzy chick tucked into a burrow where its mother comes and goes to
feed her baby. Other views shows puffins on a ledge where they
often hang out. Wildlife biologists are trying to establish a new
colony at this location after hunters wiped out the puffins in the
If you would like to see a colony
of walruses, (also in video player below) check out the live
camera installed on Round Island, Alaska. Sometimes only a few of
the large mammals can be seen. Other times, like this morning,
large numbers were pushing and shoving each other for space. The
comments are often entertaining.
Two members of the Washington’s congressional delegation — Reps.
Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and Dave Reichert, R-Auburn — are
expressing confidence that the Land and Water Conservation Fund
will be reauthorized.
But with so many dollars on the line for conservation purposes,
many supporters are growing nervous about when it will happen and
what the final bill will look like. After all, what could possibly
go wrong in a Congress famous for getting nothing done, with less
than 100 days left to go before the law expires?
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a major source of money
for recreation and habitat-protection projects across the country,
ranging from building local swimming pools to buying land for
national parks. Since 1965, more than 41,000 grants have provided a
total of about $4 billion, divided among every state and five U.S.
territories. For a list of completed projects in Washington state,
check out “50 Years of
Success” by the Washington Wildlife and Recreation
The current law places $900 million a year into the fund, but in
recent years only a fraction of that ever gets appropriated —
roughly between one-fourth and one-half. If not appropriated, the
money disappears into the general Treasury for other spending.
Revenues put into the fund come from royalties paid by energy
companies for drilling for oil on the outer continental shelf, so
no tax dollars are involved. As President Obama and others have
stated, the program allows money coming from the extraction of
natural resources to go into protecting natural resources.
In a conference call yesterday, Kilmer recounted how the fund
has helped bring businesses to Washington state, as employers look
for places with natural beauty and recreational opportunities. He
noted that in his previous life he worked for the Pierce County
Economic Development Board helping employers site their
“Just like in real estate, location matters,” Kilmer said.
“Access to natural beauty matters. Something our region has is a
natural environment that you won’t find anywhere else, and
innovators and employers are attracted to the Pacific
Kilmer said it is “hard to overstate the importance” of the Land
and Water Conservation Fund. He promised to work hard to have it
Reichert delivered a similar message, saying he helped gather
signatures in support from more than 200 representatives from both
“I want to reassure everyone… we are going to continue to fight
this fight back here,” he said. “We think it is absolutely critical
to invest in the LWCF … and support public land conservation
I did not get a clear picture of how the political battles are
shaping up, nor whether reauthorization is likely before the fund
expires at the end of September. But we can get some clues from
remarks by key leaders in the House and Senate, as well as
testimony in public hearings.
At one end of the spectrum, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell has
proposed legislation, S. 890,
that would not only reauthorize the law but require permanent and
dedicated funding at the full amount of authorization. If Congress
fails to appropriate the funds, presumably the money would stay in
the fund unless redirected to another program.
Separate bills in the Senate and House (S.
338 and H.R.
1814) would not go as far. They would make the fund permanent
but would not change the appropriation process. A provision would
be added to the law to require that 1.5 percent of the
appropriation, up to $10 million, would be set aside for opening up
public access to recreation.
In the Senate, an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill,
which would do what S. 338 proposes, nearly passed with 59 votes,
one vote shy of the required 60 votes to pass in today’s Senate.
That is seen as decent support in the Senate, but nobody is
predicting what will happen in the House.
Republicans, who are in control of the committees, could shape
any bills that they decide to bring to a vote and move to
Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican from California, chairs the
Subcommittee on Federal Lands Oversight of the House Natural
“This 50-year old act expires in September, offering the 114th
Congress an opportunity to thoroughly examine its mission and
impacts and to make adjustments accordingly,” McClintock said in a
hearing in April on the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
McClintock raised objections about buying more federal land when
there is a serious backlog of maintenance projects needed to meet
standards for fire prevention, fire suppression, wildlife
management and facilities maintenance. Money that goes to states,
on the other hand, comes under greater accountability because of
the funding match provided at the local level, he said.
The funding is entirely discretionary, he noted, so it is
“incumbent upon Congress” to decide whether to support additional
funding for the purchase of federal lands.
Similar views were expressed by Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski,
Republican chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural
“I fully support reauthorizing this act, this year, in a way
that reflects changing needs and evolving viewpoints about
conservation in the 21st century,” Murkowski said during a
hearing in April.
“As we look to reauthorize LWCF, I believe that it makes sense
to shift the federal focus away from land acquisition, particularly
in Western states, toward maintaining and enhancing the
accessibility and quality of the resources that we have,” she said.
“This is the best way to put our nation’s recreation system on the
path of long-term viability.”
She stressed her support for state programs and for increasing
public access to federal lands.
In that same hearing, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell, the
Democrats’ ranking minority member on the committee, said it is not
necessary to choose between maintenance and purchase. Maintenance
is already authorized, she said, and Congress decides how much to
spend on maintenance.
“Nearly half of the National Park Service’s estimated backlog is
attributed to needed repairs for roads and highways within the
national parks,” she said. “The single biggest improvement we could
make in reducing the maintenance backlog would be to increase the
funding level in the transportation bill for park roads.”
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is flexible, she argued. It
provides money for states to buy and develop local recreation
projects and to protect habitat for endangered species.
The fund also provides money for the Forest Legacy Program to
purchase development rights from private timberland owners to keep
the property in a forest condition.
On that point, more than 2,100 acres of forestland adjacent to
both Green Mountain and Tahuya state forests in Kitsap and Mason
counties were protected from development in 2009 with a $3.3
million purchase of development rights from Pope Resources. See
Kitsap Sun, Aug. 12, 2009.
In the latest round of funding, an effort is moving forward to
protect 20,000 acres of forestland between Shelton and Allyn in
Mason County. The plan is to take up to 10 years to buy the
development rights from Green Diamond Resource Company, which will
continue to manage the land under a federally approved habitat
As for extra money for state projects, Cantwell pointed out that
a relatively new program, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act,
provides a dedicated source of funding for state grants. Money from
drilling in the Gulf of Mexico places up to $125 million a year in
the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
In a column published by the
Kitsap Sun, Washington State Sen. Christine Rolfes,
D-Bainbridge Island, said the Land and Water Conservation Fund is
important for protecting public property in every corner of the
state, including a land purchase to improve degraded water quality
in Lake Quinault near the coast.
Rolfes said she worries that in this “highly charged political
climate,” opponents of public lands could block spending from the
fund by failing to authorize its renewal.
“If they succeed,” she said, “the loss won’t be abstract — it
will be real and immediate.”
The video below, produced by The Nature Conservancy, makes an
argument for continuing the purchase and protection of public
Last week, while looking into some early research findings about
Puget Sound rockfish (Water
Ways, June 18), I found an amusing video, one created to
encourage anglers to save the lives of rockfish when releasing the
The video begins with a talking rockfish (puppet) sitting at a
desk and watching a music video. That leads into a conversation
about barotrauma, a type of injury to rockfish that results when
the fish are caught and brought to the surface from deep water.
Barotrauma can be reversed — and the lives of fish saved — by using
a device to get the fish back down deep.
If you fish in deep water, you probably already know about this
device, but I think everyone can be amused by this video and
appreciate how humor can help introduce people to a serious
The first couple minutes of the video introduces the viewer to
the problem of barotrauma in simple terms, followed by about five
minutes of product reviews showing various devices to reduce the
effects on fish. If you are not interested in the technical side of
things, you can skip over this part and go to 6:55 in the video.
There you will hear the funny rap song about fishing for rockfish,
including a line about “sending them back to where you got
The music video, “Rockfish
Recompression,” was written and sung by Ray Troll and Russell
Wodehouse. Wodehouse is the musician appearing in the video. Those
two and others have long performed as the group Ratfish Wranglers,
creating funny tunes about fish and related issues.
If you’d like to hear more from this group, check out these
Unique clouds at the edge of space appear to be showing up in
spring and summer more often than ever before, according to NASA
scientists, who speculate that climate change could be playing a
role in cloud formation.
I like the term “noctilucent clouds” for these night-shining
clouds glowing with a tint of blue — although NASA researchers
formally call them “polar mesospheric clouds.” That’s because they
show up at the poles in the mesosphere at about 50 miles up — the
outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere. If you are a scientist with a
perspective from satellites, you don’t really think about day or
The clouds are actually ice crystals about the size of particles
in cigarette smoke, according to an interesting article by NASA’s
Tony Phillips, who interviewed cloud-researcher and astronaut
Don Pettit in 2003. Because the clouds are so high up, they are
seen shortly after the sky turns dark at sunset, a time when
sunlight can still bounce off the crystals. Years ago, they were
seen only in the far-north latitudes in our part of the world, but
more recently they have been seen as far south as Colorado and
The temperature in the mesosphere is about -125 degrees Celsius,
or nearly 200 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Conditions up there
are extremely dry — far dryer than any place on Earth.
Like common clouds in the lower atmosphere, noctilucent clouds
need water vapor and a “nucleus” upon which the water can attach.
In the lower atmosphere, called the troposphere, ordinary dust and
many other particles are common enough as a result of winds. Cirrus
clouds can form in the highest layers of the troposphere, about 12
miles up. But until data came back from the AIM project, nobody was
sure what was happening at 50 miles up. Now, researchers believe
the nuclei are mostly space dust pulled in by Earth’s gravity.
The first reports of noctilucent clouds came in 1885 after the
eruption of the volcano Krakatoa. Researchers aren’t sure if
volcanic dust made it high enough into the atmosphere to form the
clouds, but that potential source disappeared long ago.
Noctilucent clouds are observed in late spring and summer when
upwelling winds carry water vapor up into the atmosphere. The
increasing frequency of cloud formation may be the result of
climate change. It turns out that when greenhouse gases warm the
Earth’s surface, the upper atmosphere actually gets colder as heat
escapes, helping the tiny crystals to form.
Another factor in climate change could be the increasing amount
of methane gas in the atmosphere. A complex series of reactions can
oxidize the methane to form water vapor, which can then form ice
One of the unexpected results of the AIM mission has been
unusual “teleconnections” between the north and south poles via the
mesosphere. It turns out that a slowing of stratospheric winds over
the Arctic affects circulation in the mesosphere, causing a ripple
effect around the globe. The southern mesosphere becomes warmer and
drier, leading to fewer noctilucent clouds.
These high-level connections were not even suspected when the
AIM spacecraft was launched, but they are revealing how weather on
one part of the globe may be connected to relatively rapid changes
in other far-flung regions. (Check out last year’s video below.)
Further studies of the upper atmosphere can be expected to bring
This week’s announcement that the coastal population of canary
rockfish had dramatically rebounded got me to wondering what new
information might be coming from research on the threatened and
endangered rockfish of Puget Sound.
Dayv Lowry, research scientist at the Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife, shared some intriguing new information about
Puget Sound rockfish that could link into the coastal population.
In fact, if limited genetic findings hold up, a delisting of one
type of Puget Sound rockfish could be in order.
On Monday, the Pacific
Fishery Management Council reported that West Coast populations
of two groundfish species — canary rockfish and petrale sole — have
been “rebuilt” some 42 years earlier than expected. Canary rockfish
were declared “overfished” in 2000, and a rebuilding plan was put
in place a year later. Strict fishing restrictions were imposed,
and experts expected the stock to rebound successfully by 2057.
“This is a big deal,” former council chairman Dan Wolford said
news release. “We now have six times more canary rockfish than
when we scaled back so many fisheries. This shows the Pacific
council’s conservation policies work.”
Meanwhile, WDFW and NOAA Fisheries are researching the three
species of Puget Sound rockfish listed under the Endangered Species
Act. They are canary
rockfish and yelloweye
rockfish, both listed as threatened, and bacaccio,
listed as endangered.
Underwater surveys with a remotely operated vehicle in 2012 and
2013 looked for all sorts of bottomfish across a grid laid down on
Puget Sound. Researchers found a greater abundance of quillback and
copper rockfish (not ESA listed) than in the past, and young
juvenile quillbacks were seen on muddy substrate — not the place
you would normally look for rockfish.
While that was encouraging, nearly 200 hours of video at 197
grid points revealed just two canary and five yelloweye
“That was quite distressing to us,” Dayv said.
This year and next, surveys are more focused on rocky habitat,
including locations where fishing guides say they have had success
catching rockfish in the past. The results are more encouraging,
locating somewhere around 40 canary and 40 yelloweye and two
bacaccio, Dayv said.
“We’ve caught some big fish and some little fish, so the
population demographics have not entirely collapsed,” Dayv told me,
and that means there is still hope for recovery.
Rockfish don’t typically reproduce until somewhere between 5 and
20 years old, so over-fishing places the future of the entire
population at risk. Some rockfish are known to live as long as 100
Finding juvenile yelloweyes — “bright red with ‘racing stripes’”
— is especially encouraging Dayv said.
Genetic work so far is offering some intriguing new findings, he
noted. While yelloweye rockfish from Puget Sound and the Strait of
Georgia seem to be distinct from those on the coast, the same
cannot be said for canary rockfish.
In fact, the limited samples taken so far suggest that the
coastal population of canary rockfish — those found by the PFMC to
be “rebuilt” — may not be genetically distinct from canary rockfish
living in Puget Sound.
If that proves to be the case, it could have a profound effect
on what we understand about canary rockfish and could even lead to
a de-listing of the Puget Sound population.
Kelly Andrews, a genetics expert with NOAA Fisheries, cautioned
that the sample size is small and more results are needed before
anyone can draw conclusions. New samples are soon to be examined to
see if there are any differences between canary rockfish on the
coast and those in Puget Sound.
“What initially may seem to be the same could change
dramatically with all these new samples we just got,” he told me.
“Still just finding them is good news.”
When the Puget Sound rockfish were listed in 2010, researchers
did not have the genetic data to define the populations in that
way, so they used reasonable assumptions about geographic
isolation. Now, the genetics can be factored in.
A five-year review is due to be completed this year for the
listed rockfish in Puget Sound. If the new genetics information
holds up, then the technical review team could propose a delisting
of the canary rockfish.
For that reason, a long-awaited recovery plan for rockfish is
being completed for the most part, but its release will be delayed
until the genetic information is conclusive and the five-year
review is completed. It would not make sense to come out with a
recovery plan for canary rockfish, if the plan is to delist the
Meanwhile, small areas of Quilcene and Dabob bays have been
reopened to fishing for some flatfish. (See earlier news release.)
Bottom fishing is generally closed in Hood Canal because of the
ongoing low-oxygen problems and its effects of bottom fish.
As in other areas of Puget Sound, targeted bottom fishing must
take place in less than 120 feet of water, and all rockfish caught
must be released. Experts strongly advise using a “descending
device” (see video) to get rockfish safely back to deep water, no
matter where they are caught. Without that, many of the fish die
from barotrauma caused by the ballooning of their swim bladder as
they are brought to the surface. See
“Bring That Fish Down” by California Sea Grant and “Protecting
Washington’s Rockfish” by WDFW.
The ongoing drought in the West, especially California, is a
serious problem, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t enjoy a
few jokes. I’ve located some “It’s-so-dry …” jokes going back 25
years and covering areas including Arizona, Texas, Georgia and even
I’ve tried to pick the best jokes I could find. But if you want
to see even more, click on my sources in parentheses, not to say
that these are the original inventors of these jokes.
The first joke is a little longer than the others:
“I really need to share with y’all how bad the drought is here
in Georgia. It’s so dry here that the Baptists are starting to
baptize by sprinkling; the Methodists are using wet-wipes; the
Presbyterians are giving out rain-checks; and the Catholics are
praying for the wine to turn back into water.”
It’s so dry that …
… the birds are building their nests out of barbed wire.
Hood Canal Coordinating Council is made up of county
commissioners from Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties, along with
leaders from the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.
When planning efforts began five years ago, the idea was to
create an “integrated” plan that would recognize all the ecological
functions taking place in the Hood Canal watershed and create a set
of strategies for addressing all the various problems.
The effort got off to a good start by identifying many of the
problems, ranging from declining fish populations to fragmented
upland habitats. But the complexity of those problems, the
variability of conditions and the numerous agencies responsible for
data and decisions eventually overwhelmed the planners. It was as
if they were trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle containing a
The coordinating council decided to refocus the effort on issues
that are under its purview while maintaining the long-term vision
of a sustainable Hood Canal ecosystem that benefits humans in a
variety of ways.
“Ideally, we will eventually get to all the issues,” said Scott
Brewer, the council’s executive director. “The board decided it
wanted to focus on something that would be the first strategic
priorities and then pick up the other things over time.”
In this context, the plan identifies five focal components:
Commercial shellfish harvesting,
Also, four major “pressures” are called out for special
Commercial and residential development,
Transportation and service corridors,
Climate change and ocean acidification, and
Wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff.
These are issues that the county and tribal leaders were already
addressing in one way or another, either through local actions or
through the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, which is recognized
under state law.
The new website OurHoodCanal.org highlights the connections
between human well-being and natural resources. The first findings
focus on three natural resource indicators — one each for
shellfish, forests and salmon — plus five indicators for human well
being — positive emotions, communication, traditional resource
practices, communities, natural resource industries and access to
last year, for example, showed that Hood Canal generates
positive emotions (at least most of the time) for the vast majority
of respondents, yet most Hood Canal residents say they don’t often
work together to manage resources, prepare cultural events or solve
“This is a work in progress,” Scott said about the planning
effort and related website. “We can start by telling a really good
story about what is happening in Hood Canal, then going on to make
connections and asking whether we are doing the right things.”
The first strategies identified in the plan involve:
Working together on local land-use planning,
Identifying failing septic systems and other sources of
Continuing projects to restore healthy runs of salmon,
Furthering a mitigation program to fully compensate for the
effects of development,
Finding ways to adapt to climate change, and
Developing a regional plan to reduce stormwater problems.
Meanwhile, the coordinating council has developed a new ranking
system for setting priorities for salmon restoration. Refinements
will come later, Scott said, but the system is currently being used
to identify restoration projects to be proposed for funding later
Under the Salmon
Recovery Prioritization (see “guidance” document) projects will
be given more consideration if they help highly rated salmon
stocks, such as fall chinook in the Skokomish River, summer chum in
the Big Quilcene and so on. Projects are given points for
addressing specific habitat types and restoration actions deemed to
be the most important.
If successful, this approach will result in funding the most
important restoration projects, as determined through a more
precise ranking process than ever used before, although it does
leave room for judgment calls.
While the Hood Canal Coordinating Council works on projects in
Hood Canal, other groups continue with similar efforts in other
“Everyone is prioritizing one way or another,” Scott told me,
“but they haven’t looked at it like we have.”
Scott said agencies and organizations that grant money for
salmon recovery or ecosystem restoration could call for an improved
ranking process throughout Puget Sound.
“A lot of money gets spread everywhere,” he noted, “but there
are some key spots throughout Puget Sound that need it more than
A series of seemingly silly videos, called “Gombby’s Green
Island,” is designed to stimulate the imaginations of preschool
kids. Themes focus on creativity, knowledge, friendship, humor,
discovery and respect for the environment, according to notes on
YouTube channel (English version).
I’ve chosen a sampling of three videos from the 46 available on
YouTube. Stories often come in a package of three videos, so each
one has two related videos you can find and view with your
children, if you are so inclined.
which distributes children’s videos, purchased the rights to the
original Portuguese series from Big Storm Studios in 2012,
according to a new
release. The videos were recently posted to YouTube.
In the series, the main character, Gombby, a boy with a knack
for baking, explores Green Island with his friends Strawy and
Celeste. Other characters include Gadget Man, who invents all sorts
of useful equipment, and the Professor, a wise man who continually
explains the ways of the world to Gombby and his friends.
“Gombby’s Green Island is all about discovery: discovering the
world, others and ourselves,” states the YouTube notes. “In every
episode, Gombby and his friends will also learn about the
importance of making healthy lifestyle choices and respecting the
environment, about friendship and respecting others.”
The three videos I’ve posted on this page all deal with water
issues, but there are plenty of other topics as well. The first one
addresses concerns about drought, the second about saving a beached
whale, and third about solving a mystery involving a recurring
event on a beach.
I guess we can forgive the writers for posing simple and often
technical solutions to complex problems, since some of these issues
would be difficult to explain to a preschooler with a short
attention span. At least the young viewer can begin to get a sense
of how to solve a problem. And maybe it’s OK to wait until
elementary school or later for a more complete explanation of the
science and social values.
In any case, I think most people will find some amusement in
“Gombby’s Green Island.”
I was eager to find out if a 32-foot fiberglass replica of a
killer whale could scare off a huge number of sea lions crowded
together on the docks in Astoria, Ore.
I kept telling my wife Sue, “It’s not going to work” — and I had
not the slightest idea that the motorized orca might capsize during
its attempt to frighten the persistent sea lions.
About 1,000 people were on hand last night when a human operator
drove the orca toward the sea lions, according to Associated Press
reporter Terrence Petty. A passing cargo ship created a wake that
rushed toward the shore and capsized the fake killer whale. And
that was that for now. You can read the story in the
I understand that the fake killer whale might be deployed again
against the sea lions in August, when their numbers are expected to
be high again. I still doubt that it will work — unless the
operators can find a way to aggressively approach the sea lions and
stay with the effort for an extended time. It might help to play
recordings of transient killer whales — the kind that eat marine
mammals. But my understanding is that transients don’t make many
sounds when they are in their hunting mode.
I readily admit that I’m not a killer whale expert, but let me
tell you why I believe that any sort of limited effort with fake
orcas will fail. It’s not that sea lions don’t fear transients. In
fact, if sea lions can be convinced that they are being approached
by a real killer whale, their fear level could be quite high.
I’ve heard from homeowners who live on Hood Canal, Dyes Inlet
and other shorelines that when transient killer whales are around,
seals and sea lions head for shore, climb up on docks and even
attempt to board boats to get away from them.
So I don’t know if the fiberglass orca will fool the sea lions
in Astoria, but does anyone think that these marine mammals are
crazy enough to jump into the water if they believe a killer is
there waiting for them?
These are the days of near-perfect growing conditions for plants
in Western Washington. If you are battling noxious weeds, it might
seem as if the weather is working against you, favoring these
destructive invaders along with other plants.
But one team of weed warriors, hoping to eradicate an invasive
plant called spartina, sees this growing season another way.
Instead of hindering the eradication effort, this rapid growth of
spartina — also known as cordgrass — makes it easier to locate and
eliminate the last of the invaders.
“The bad thing is you get a lot more plants than you expect,”
said Chad Phillips, spartina coordinator for the Washington State
Department of Agriculture. “The good thing is that a lot of the
plants you might not have seen (in a normal year) have germinated,
so you can get rid of them.”
Over the past 12 years, the total estimated acreage occupied by
spartina in Washington state has been reduced from 9,000 acres to
just eight acres. It has been a coordinated effort involving local,
state and federal agencies; tribal governments; universities;
private landowners; and many volunteers.
The search-and-destroy mission will continue, because the plants
have a way of coming back, sometimes showing up in new
Left unchecked, spartina spreads rapidly, crowding out native
vegetation while converting ecologically important mudflats into
meadows choked with a hardy marsh grass. Besides wrecking shellfish
beds, spartina wipes out shoreline habitat for shorebirds and
waterfowl while increasing the risk of flooding, experts say.
Those involved in the spartina effort this year are expected to
look for spartina plants — and eliminate any they find — over more
than 80,000 acres of saltwater estuaries and 1,000 miles of
shoreline in 12 counties.
After working for years in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor,
spartina crews turned their focus last year to Puget Sound, where
about 90 percent of the remaining spartina-infested acreage can be
found. The map on this page uses black triangles to depict areas
where spartina has been eradicated.
When crews go into an area, they remove all the plants they can
find. Individual plants or clusters of plants can be dug by hand,
whereas larger infestations may be treated with herbicide.
Crews typically return to a given site twice in a year. A site
is considered eradicated if no plants are seen for at least three
years with a minimum of six surveys. After that, they will
typically return once a year to make sure the plants don’t come
The crews are scheduled to visit every shoreline at least once
every five years to look for any new infestations of spartina.
The workers obtain permission from property owners before
removing or killing plants. But often the neighbors are unaware of
what they are doing. Chad said it is not unusual for neighbors to
approach crew members to ask why they are there. Sometimes, the
crews are suspected of being shellfish poachers.
“If you see us working, feel free to come over and say ‘hi,’”
Chad said. “We’ll be on a beach in knee boots with a shovel.”
In Kitsap County, the largest infestation has been at
Doe-Kag-Wats, an estuary on the Port Madison Indian Reservation
north of Indianola in North Kitsap. After years of removing
truckloads of vegetation, the total infestation there was down to
61 square feet last year.
Another infested area has been Foulweather Bluff near Hansville,
where 24 square feet of spartina were removed.
Areas considered active because of recent infestations but where
no plants were found last year are Manzanita Bay on Bainbridge
Island and Coon Bay near Manchester.
Mason and Thurston are the only counties that have never had an
infestation, but beaches in those counties remain part of the
ongoing five-year survey cycle.
In Puget Sound, most of the spartina found has been identified
as the species Spartina anglica, or common cordgrass. This
species was introduced to Snohomish County in 1961. The largest
infestation in the state today is an area in South Skagit Bay and
Port Susan near Stanwood.
Bays on the Pacific Ocean contain primarily Spartina
alterniflora, known as smooth cordgrass or saltmarsh
cordgrass. It was introduced to Willapa Bay in the late 1800s,
eventually spreading to 8,500 acres. Since 2003, about 99.9 percent
of that spartina acreage has been killed or removed, making it one
of the largest eradications of an invasive species anywhere in the
Spartina patens, known as saltmeadow cordgrass or salt
marsh hay, is a native of the Atlantic Coast. It was discovered in
the 1990s at Dosewallips State Park on Hood Canal. Dosewallips held
the only known infestation of S. patens in Washington
state until 2013, when a survey crew found the plant on Navy
property on the Toandos Peninsula across from the Bangor submarine
base. After receiving permission, the site was treated in 2014.
Ongoing efforts will be necessary, as the invasive plant blends in
well with native marsh plants.