Category Archives: Land use

Floodplains by Design solves problems through careful compromise

Water

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Floodplains by Design, a new program that combines salmon restoration with flood control, is a grand compromise between humans and nature.

I got to thinking about this notion while writing a story for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound regarding the need to protect and restore floodplains in order to improve habitat for salmon and other species. The story is part of a series on Implementation Strategies to recover Puget Sound. Check out “Floodplain projects open doors to fewer floods and more salmon.”

Floodplains by Design is an idea born from the realization that building levees to reduce flooding generally causes rivers to rush faster and flow higher. Under these conditions, the rushing waters often break through or overtop the levees, forcing people to rebuild the structures taller and stronger than before.

Flooding along the Snoqualmie River
Photo: King County

Salmon, which have evolved through untold numbers of prehistoric floods, were somehow forgotten in the effort to protect homes and farmland built close to a river. Absent the levees, floodwaters would naturally spread out across the floodplain in a more relaxed flow that salmon can tolerate. High flows, on the other hand, can scour salmon eggs out of the gravel and flush young fish into treacherous places.

Floodplains by Design offers a compromise, recognizing that it is often not practical to restore the landscape to its original condition. But loosening some of the man-made controls on a river can lead to multiple benefits. Providing a river with room to roam not only improves habitat but also reduces the need to continually rebuild the eroding levee system. Improved habitat can increase fish and wildlife populations and enhance recreational opportunities for people.

Floodplains by Design is the right name for the program, because it brings members of a community together to work out a specific design for their reach of the river. Compromises must be made with folks upstream and downstream and with nature itself. Should houses and roads be protected or relocated? Can farms accommodate occasional flooding? Will fish and wildlife flourish within a restored floodplain where new levees are set farther back from the main channel?

I’m not sure if we need to entirely abandon our human impulse to “fight the floodwaters,” but I like the idea that we should understand water’s natural tendencies and try to work out a fair compromise.

Hood Canal nominated as Sentinel Landscape with ties to military

Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both the natural resource values and the national defense mission of special areas across the country.

USS Henry M. Jackson, a Trident submarine, moves through Hood Canal in February on a return trip to Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith

If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense supporting the protection of Hood Canal.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where their priorities overlap, according to the 2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).

Priorities for the Department of Agriculture include protecting working farms and forests by providing technical and financial assistance. The Department of Interior is mostly interested in protecting natural resources and in restoring important habitats for fish and wildlife. The Department of Defense would like to reduce land-use conflicts with surrounding communities while maintaining maximum flexibility for testing, training and operational activities.

“This is really an exciting thing,” said Richard Corff of The Trust for Public Land, who put together the application proposing Hood Canal as a Sentinel Landscape. “The Pacific Northwest is an incredible area, and within that incredible area, Hood Canal is really, really special.”

Hood Canal is one of the few places in the country with intact forests from the marine waters to the high mountains, he said, and few places in the Northwest have healthy salmon habitat stretching up from saltwater into the higher reaches of the streams.

“It’s pretty magical in a lot of ways,” Corff said.

Source: Sentinal Landscapes 2016

The Sentinel Landscape Partnership was launched as a pilot program in 2013, when Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma became the first area in the nation to be so designated.

The JBLM Sentinel Landscape encompasses the base’s 63,000-acre training area, which contains 90 percent of the remaining native prairie habitat in South Puget Sound. Protecting that habitat while maintaining military objectives is the highest priority. Other goals include working with landowners to implement pastureland conservation plans and protecting natural habitats that are home to several threatened and endangered species.

In 2015, two more Sentinel Landscapes were approved, Fort Huachuca in Arizona and Middle Chesapeake, associated with Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. In 2016, three more landscapes were designated: Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida, Camp Riley in Minnesota, and Eastern North Carolina, which includes Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and other military facilities.

Funding includes REPI money before Sentinel designation
Source: Sentinel Landscapes 2016

Designation as a Sentinel Landscape requires that an area contain a military installation with surrounding lands suitable for conservation and/or working lands, such as farms and forests. These priorities must be recognized by government agencies, nongovernment organizations and other partners in the community.

Designated areas are required to develop a coordinated implementation strategy or plan designed to provide incentives to landowners who adopt or sustain land uses compatible the Sentinel Landscape program.

Corff stressed that designating Hood Canal as a Sentinel Landscape would not bring any new regulations or automatic land-use changes. In fact, any private lands involved in the program would require the consent of willing sellers, he said.

In a special meeting last week, the Hood Canal Coordinating Council agreed to coordinate interested parties within a Hood Canal Sentinel Landscape, provided funding is available. The designation is supported by state agencies as well as Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties and the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

Boundary of proposed Hood Canal Sentinel Landscape (click to enlarge)
Graphic: Trust for Public Land, Naval Base Kitsap

With local approvals in hand, Corff submitted the application yesterday to the Federal Coordinating Committee overseeing the Sentinel Landscape program. New additions to the program are expected to be announced this summer.

Lands proposed for inclusion in the Hood Canal region include Naval Base Kitsap with facilities at Bangor, Keyport, Bremerton, Indian Island and Dabob Bay, as well as surrounding federal, state and private properties.

Scott Brewer, executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, said he believes the Sentinel Landscape Partnership is consistent with the council’s mission of coordinating efforts to protect and restore the Hood Canal watershed. In 2014, the council adopted a Hood Canal Integrated Watershed Plan — a shared vision that suggests how humans can live and work sustainably within a healthy Hood Canal ecosystem.

Another existing program is the Navy’s voluntary Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program (PDF 876 kb), which has preserved about 5,200 acres surrounding the Navy’s Dabob Bay Range Complex on the west side of Hood Canal in Jefferson County.

Partners in that program include the Navy, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land. Lands and conservation easements have been purchased with more than $13 million under that program, although I’m told that funding may be shifting toward the newer Sentinel Landscape program.

In the first three years of the newer program, more than $85 million has been invested in the first three Sentinel Landscapes, including about $18 million from state and local governments. More money has been proposed for the newly designated areas.

In addition to the REPI program, funds can be provided to Sentinel Landscapes through these programs of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service:

  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which offers technical assistance to producers and landowners,
  • Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to farmers for management practices that promote soil and water quality along with wildlife habitat.
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides funding to farmers through 10-year contracts for protecting natural resources.
  • Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to conserve cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, wetlands and nonindustrial private forest land.

Other successful grant programs include:

  • The U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which protects ecologically and economically important forest lands by purchasing development rights and other methods.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants, which go for increasing wetland habitat and bird populations while supporting hunting, fishing, family farming, cattle ranching and bird watching.

Learning to create small habitats in Kitsap, Thurston, Pierce counties

Marianne Jackson, a personal trainer and yoga teacher, lives in a fairly typical residential neighborhood in Des Moines, about halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. Marianne has been interested in gardening for years. Recently, however, she decided to up her game by creating a backyard wildlife habitat.

A flowering currant in Marianne Jackson’s garden is a native plant that is good for birds. She says hummingbirds love it.
Photo: Marianne Jackson

That’s when Sarah Bruemmer, a habitat steward coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, entered Marianne’s life. Sarah knows how to turn small outdoor spaces — or large ones, if available — into functioning habitats. She coordinates a training program that addresses issues from soils, gardening and invasive plants to birds, butterflies and water quality.

Sarah’s month-long program, which includes weekly classes with two Saturday field trips, is scheduled for April in Kitsap and Thurston counties and May in Pierce County. Only a few seats remain for the Kitsap training to be held in Silverdale.

Marianne, 56, took the course last year and came away with a much deeper knowledge of the ecosystem. She had already ripped out her grassy lawn years ago to create what became a series of connected gardens, but the classes taught her how native plant species and water features can help native birds and butterflies.

“I already had the interest,” she said. “Now I have a lot more knowledge that I can put to use. I’m planning to get my yard certified.”

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Amusing Monday: Eco-Comedy competition includes sharp parodies

Entries in this year’s Eco-Comedy Video Competition seem to reflect an anxiety over what will happen to the environment under President Trump’s administration — although the winning video was among a few finalists that stayed clear of an overt political message.

This is the eighth annual competition sponsored by the Center for Environmental Filmmaking and The Nature Conservancy. A total of 48 videos were submitted with this year’s theme: “Conservation and Environmental Protection.”

To qualify, the original videos, three minutes or less, must be humorous, communicate a clear message and appeal to a broad audience. A panel of five judges chose the finalists and grand prize winner, who will be honored in a ceremony next week at American University in Washington, D.C.

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Congress authorizes five restoration projects throughout Puget Sound

Five major Puget Sound projects have been given the provisional go-ahead by Congress in a massive public works bill signed yesterday by President Obama.

It seems like the needed federal authorization for a $20-million restoration effort in the Skokomish River watershed has been a long time coming. This project follows an extensive, many-years study of the watershed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which winnowed down a long list of possible projects to five. See Water Ways, April 28, 2016, for details.

In contrast, while the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNRP) also involved an extensive and lengthy study, the final selection and submission to Congress of three nearshore projects came rather quickly. In fact, the Puget Sound package was a last-minute addition to the Water Resources Development Act, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Reps. Rick Larson, D-Lake Stevens, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, along with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

The three PSNRP projects moving forward are:

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Kongsgaard departs Puget Sound Partnership; Manning assumes chair

Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, has always spoken with a voice of both reason and passion while guiding the Puget Sound Partnership in its efforts to restore Puget Sound to health.

Martha Kongsgaard
Martha Kongsgaard

Yesterday and today, Martha attended her final meeting as a member of the Leadership Council, the governing body of the Partnership charged with coordinating Puget Sound ecosystem recovery.

While listening to presentations on technical and financial issues, Martha always seems to quickly focus discussions on the key issues of recovery while asking how to help average people understand the complex problems.

As a reporter, I’ve enjoyed speaking with Martha, who not only answers my questions in a direct and revealing way but also indulges my curiosity. Our discussions often take tangents onto other interesting subjects, sometimes leading to new stories or old stories told in a new way.

Nobody doubts Martha’s love of Puget Sound, expressed by her willingness to spend countless unpaid hours working for a better future.

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What comes next under water-quality standards imposed by the EPA?

The Environmental Protection Agency approved new water-quality standards for Washington state this week, overriding a plan approved by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Ecology.

It was a rare posture for the EPA. Now the state will be pressured to appeal the EPA standards to federal court. Cities and counties as well as some industrial organizations are clearly unhappy with the EPA’s action, while environmental and tribal representatives got most of what they wanted.

The basic structure of polychlorinated biphenyls, where the number and location of chlorine atoms can vary.
The basic structure of polychlorinated biphenyls, where the number and location of chlorine atoms can vary.

The EPA action is especially unusual, given that this state is known for some of the strongest environmental regulations in the country. After much dispute, Ecology finally agreed to much higher fish-consumption rates without increasing the cancer-risk rate, leading to more stringent standards for many of the chemicals. But Ecology had its own ideas for the most troublesome compounds with implications for human health. They include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and mercury. For background, see Water Ways, Oct. 18, 2015.

Some news reports I saw this week said EPA’s action will lead to salmon that are safer to eat. But that’s not at all certain, and opponents say it is unlikely that the revised limits on chemical pollution will have any practical effect on compounds that affect human health.

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Rainfall records are beginning to fall across the Kitsap Peninsula

Water Year 2017, which began on Oct. 1, got off to a rip-roaring start this month in terms of rainfall, and now records are falling for October rainfall totals across the Kitsap Peninsula.

holly

As shown in the three charts on this page, the graph started climbing steeply above the lines shown — including the green lines, which denote the highest annual precipitation recorded for the past 25 to 33 years.

So far this month, 19.5 inches of rain have fallen at Holly, which has averaged about 7 inches in October for the past 24 years. As you can see in the annual rainfall map at the bottom of this page, Holly lies in the rain zone on the Kitsap Peninsula — the area with the greatest amount of rainfall in most years. With four days left in the month, Holly has about an inch to go to break the record of 20.5 inches going back to 1991.

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Foot by foot, shoreline bulkhead removal outpaces construction

It’s always nice when I can report a little good news for Puget Sound recovery. For the second year in row, we’ve seen more shoreline bulkheads ripped out than new ones put in.

Graphic: Kris Symer, Puget Sound Institute
Graphic: Kris Symer, Puget Sound Institute / Data: WDFW

After officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife completed their compilation of permit data for 2015, I can say that 3,097 feet of old armoring were removed, while 2,231 feet were added.

Scientific evidence is mounting that bulkheads cause considerable harm to the shoreline environment, affecting salmon and many other species integral to the Puget Sound food web.

As I pointed out in a story published this week in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, we cannot say whether the armoring removed has restored more valuable habitat than what was destroyed by new structures. But we can hope that’s the case, since state and federal governments have targeted restoration funding toward high priority habitats. They include shorelines used by forage fish, such as surf smelt and sand lance, as well as feeder bluffs, which deliver sands and gravels needed for healthy beaches.

One problem with the data, which officials hope to improve in the future, is that we don’t know whether the new bulkheads being built are the standard concrete or rock bulkheads or the less-damaging “soft-shore” projects. Unlike hard armor, soft-shore projects are designed to absorb wave energy by sloping the beach and placing large rocks and logs in strategic locations. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is a reasonable compromise where armoring is truly needed.

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New protections planned for Devils Lake and Dabob Bay natural areas

In 1991, accompanied by botanist Jerry Gorsline, I visited Devils Lake for the first time. I remember being awestruck — in part by the beauty of the place but also because of the many unusual native plants that Jerry raved about. Not one invasive species had reached this place.

“Visiting Devils Lake,” I wrote, “is like stepping back in time, perhaps 200-300 years, to a period when civilization had not yet carried the seeds of foreign plants to the Pacific Northwest. At one end of the lake lies an enchanted world — a rare bog, where the sound of distant bubbles accompanies each footstep in the spongy moss.”

Proposed expansion of Devils Lake Natural Resources Conservation Area Map: DNR
Proposed expansion of Devils Lake Natural Resources Conservation Area // Map: DNR

Jerry worried that telling the story of Devils Lake would bring irresponsible people to the lake, people who could destroy the fragile ecosystem. But he also worried that not telling the story would lead to a massive clearcut on this state-owned land and that this wonderland would slip away. You can read this story online in Chapter 10 of the book “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk” (PDF 5.2 mb).

Jerry and others were successful in limiting the logging, in part because of increasing environmental awareness and a new program called the Timber, Fish and Wildlife Agreement. In 2002, 80 acres containing the lake were permanently set aside as a natural resource conservation area.

Now Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark wants to add another 415 acres to the NRCA before he leaves office. The added property, now held in trust for state school construction, would extend the protected habitat to the western shore of Quilcene Bay. To gain special protections, the land would need to go through a process to compensate the trust for the loss of land and timber values.

Proposed expansion of Dabob Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area. Map: DNR
Proposed expansion of Dabob Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area. // Map: DNR

Nearby, the 2,771-acre Dabob Bay natural area — which includes the highly valued natural area preserve and the surrounding NRCA — would increase by 3,640 acres under the expansion plan. About 940 acres is held by the state in trust status. Private lands, totaling 2,700 acres, could be purchased by the state but only from willing sellers.

Basic details are provided in a fact sheet from DNR (PDF 318 kb). Peter Bahls, executive director of Northwest Watershed Institute, wrote an article about the plan for Olympic Forest Coalition.

Two public meetings have been scheduled at Quilcene High School to discuss the plan:

  • Informational discussion: Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Public hearing for comments: Thursday, Oct. 13, from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Written comments: Information available at the link above.

Information on the previous Dabob Bay NRCA expansion and request for related funding can be found in the DNR publication “Dabob Bay Coastal Conservation” (PDF 12.3 mb).