Beards Cove Community Organization and Newberry Hill Heritage
Park Stewards are this year’s winners of the Hood Canal
Environmental Achievement Awards.
The awards, sponsored by the Hood Canal Coordinating Council,
recognize people and groups that have taken actions and fostered
relationships to improve the health of the Hood Canal
The 500 property owners in the Beards Cove community were
credited with developing relationships with Great Peninsula
Conservancy and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to
restore an estuary near the Union River on the North Shore of Hood
The Beards Cove Restoration Project completes the final segment
of 1.7 miles of unbroken saltmarsh along the shoreline. The project
removed 45,000 cubic yards of fill, derelict structures and a
septic system. The work included reconfiguring the shoreline and
planting the area with native vegetation, all to enhance salmon
The Beards Cove project was described in a
Kitsap Sun story by Arla Shepherd Bull and in a
Water Ways blog entry I wrote about the history of the Beards
Cove development leading to the need for restoration.
Stewards working to improve Newberry Hill Heritage Park are
protecting fish and wildlife in the area, which includes the
Anderson Creek watershed, which drains to Hood Canal. The group
built a fence to protect a beaver dam, which provides habitat for
coho and other fish, along with a foot bridge that maintains access
to a flooded trail. The group helped develop a forest-management
plan to restore ecological health to the park. Members are known
for expanding their knowledge about forests, streams and
The awards will be presented Friday at a conference that will
celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hood Canal Coordinating
Council. Speakers will include Donna Simmons, one of the council’s
founders who will describe the history of the organization. U.S.
Rep. Derek Kilmer will discuss his Save Our Sound legislation and
how to move forward with ecosystem restoration. I will contribute
to the discussion by talking about my reporting career as it
relates to Hood Canal.
The event will be held at Lucky Dog Casino Event Center. Those
who would like to attend should contact Robin Lawlis at the
coordinating council, (360) 394-0046 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For
information, check the fact
sheet on the HCCC’s website.
The Hood Canal Coordinating
Council was established in 1985 to improve the water quality of
Hood Canal. It has expanded its mission to include improving the
ecological health of the canal. The group is made up of the county
commissioners in Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties along with
the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish tribes.
Preservation is cheaper than restoration. If you need proof, one
place to look is the Beard’s Cove estuary-restoration project on
Hood Canal, about a mile outside of Belfair.
The project, nearing completion, is re-establishing 7.3 acres of
saltwater wetlands by excavating and removing about 4,000 dumptruck
loads of old fill dirt from an area originally built as a private
park for the Beard’s Cove community.
It is a rare restoration project, because essentially the same
dirt used to fill the wetlands in 1973 is being taken out and put
back where it came from — across North Shore Road from the
development. The cost is estimated at $1.1 million, as reported by
Arla Shephard in a story in the
Filling in the salt marsh was part of the development plan for
the Beard’s Cove plat, approved by the Mason County commissioners a
few years before construction began. The voter-approved Shoreline
Management Act and other environmental regulations were just coming
on the scene.
Hood Canal Environmental Council, a fledgling group at the time,
testified against the Beard’s Cove project. Phil Best, a young
lawyer who would later become Kitsap County commissioner, was a
founder of that organization.
“We were concerned that this project would set a precedent,”
Phil told me. “If you start filling in all these marsh areas, you
would be destroying a lot of salmon habitat throughout Hood
Although scientists today know much more about the value of
estuaries, Phil said there was plenty of evidence at the time about
the damage that would be caused by this kind of project. Much of
the scientific information was provided by researchers at the
University of Washington’s Big Beef Creek Research Station. That
facility, near Seabeck in Kitsap County, is still used for salmon
In the end, the Beard’s Cove developer prevailed with the county
commissioners and the courts, and the fill was dumped into the
estuary to create a park. Today, of course, a project like this
would not even get off the drawing board.
“We’re finally getting to where things should be,” Phil said,
“but it is unfortunate that we have to spend millions of taxpayer
dollars, when the permit for this should have been denied in the
first place. There is a lesson to be learned here: It is better to
err on the side of caution when it comes to environmental
For every restoration project we know about, someone could have
avoided the cost by not doing the damage in the first place. We
must recognize that we are paying for many mistakes made by our
At the same time, we must face the fact that — despite all we
have learned — we are still doing damage to the ecosystem. Some
damage is inevitable, as more development is needed to accommodate
a growing population. But we should be as careful as we can, so our
descendants don’t have to undo what we have done.
The alternative, of course, is far more dreadful. If we cannot
turn the tide on our ecological destruction and find a way to live
within the natural world, Puget Sound is doomed to ecological
collapse. Future generations might live on a large, sterile pond
and wonder what it once was like. They might as well live on the
The 540 or more families who live in the Beard’s Cove Community
today had nothing to do with the mistakes that were made. Who could
blame them for using the park and swimming pool developed for their
use? People who grew up in Beard’s Cove cherish the memories of
that park. I would suggest that it is of little value to blame
anyone for past mistakes, since society as a whole sanctioned all
sorts of activities that we would not allow today.
The Beard’s Cove community should be congratulated for breaking
with the past and allowing the restoration to take place. It may be
true that the decision was easier after the park fell into
disrepair. Someone apparently destroyed the old swimming pool by
draining it during an extreme high tide, causing it to “float” up
out of the ground — or so the story goes, says Louena “Louie”
Yelverton, president of the Beard’s Cove Community
Louie says the community supports the restoration of the marsh
and looks forward to seeing a more natural shoreline.
“it is nice to be part of a restoration project, realizing that
this is a small part of a 700-acre project that is going to help
salmon,” she said. “As a society, we are starting to learn that we
need to give forethought to the future. It might not affect us, but
it will be there for our grandkids and future generations. I am
glad to be part of this.”
Louie credits Kate Kuhlman of Great Peninsula Conservancy for
helping to generate goodwill in the community. Her concerns for the
people as well as the steadfast promotion of the science helped get
the project to construction. GPC coordinated the grants to get the
work done with some land left for community use.
“She has been a trooper through everything,” Louie said. “Now we
are going to have a park, and the shoreline is going to be good for
salmon. I am super-excited that we are toward the end of this and
will get to see what all the hard work has accomplished.”
Wetlands along the North Shore of Hood Canal have been
undergoing protection and restoration for 30 years. This is where I
chose to write the opening chapter of the book
“Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk.”
The Beard’s Cove project, including a permanent conservation
easement, fills in the final gap in a full 1.7 miles of unbroken
estuarine habitat to be preserved in perpetuity, thanks to GPC and
its North Mason predecessor, Hood Canal Land Trust, along with
Pacific Northwest Salmon Center, Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife and the North Mason School District.
The project includes the construction of 2,530 feet of newly
formed tide channels, 1,200 feet of graveled beach and large woody
debris habitat structures.
Marsh areas like this are among the most productive places on
the planet, supporting a rich food web that includes salmon species
such as Puget Sound chinook, Puget Sound steelhead and Hood Canal
summer chum, all listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species
Death came early to Hood Canal this year, demonstrating just how
odd and unpredictable ocean conditions can be.
Fish kills caused by low-oxygen conditions in southern Hood
Canal usually occur in late September or October. That’s when
low-oxygen waters near the seabed are pushed upward by an intrusion
of heavier water coming in from the Pacific Ocean and creeping
along the bottom. Winds out of the south can quickly blow away the
surface waters, leaving the fish with no escape.
That’s basically what happened over the past month, as
conditions developed about a month earlier than normal. South winds
led to reports of fish dying and deep-water animals coming to the
surface to get enough oxygen, with the worst conditions occurring
on Friday. Check out the video on this page by Seth Book, a
biologist with the Skokomish Tribe, who found deep-water ratfish
swimming near the surface.
The story of this year’s strange conditions actually begins
about a year ago and involves a 1,000-mile-long “blob” of unusually
warm ocean water off the West Coast. State Climatologist Nick Bond,
who coined the term “blob,” explains its formation in an article in
Research Letters with a summarized description by Hannah Hickey
The warm, low-density coastal waters related to the blob came
into Hood Canal on schedule last fall, but they were not dense
enough to flush out the low-oxygen waters, according to University
of Washington oceanographer Jan Newton.
Hood Canal entered 2015 with the least-dense waters at depth
over the past 10 years. They remained in a hypoxic state, meaning
that levels were below 2.5 parts per million. Sea creatures unable
to swim away can be unduly stressed and unable to function normally
at that level. Conditions worsened into the summer, when the
hypoxic layer at Hoodsport grew to about 300 feet thick.
By then, the annual intrusion of deep seawater with somewhat
elevated oxygen levels was on its way into Hood Canal, spurred on
by upwelling off the coast. This year’s waters are more normal in
density, though their arrival is at least a month early. By August
9, the hypoxic layer at Hoodsport was reduced from 300 to 60 feet,
pushed upward by the denser water.
It’s always interesting to see this dynamic play out. The layer
of extreme low-oxygen water becomes sandwiched between the
higher-oxygen water pushing in from the ocean and the surface
water, which ordinarily stays oxygenated by winds and incoming
streams. Without south winds, the middle low-oxygen layer
eventually comes up and mixes into the surface layer.
If south winds come on strong, however, the surface layer is
blown to the north, causing the low oxygen water to rise to the
surface. Fish, shrimp and other creatures swim upward toward the
surface, trying to stay ahead of the rising low-oxygen layer. When
the low-oyygen layer reaches the surface, fish may struggle to
breathe in the uppermost mixing layer. Unfortunately, the fish have
no way of knowing that safer conditions lie down below — beneath
the low-oxygen layer and within waters arriving from the ocean.
Jan Newton reported that the low oxygen levels in southern Hood
Canal earlier this year were the most extreme measured over the
past 10 years. So far, however, the fish kills don’t seem as bad as
those in 2003, 2006 and 2010, she said.
The graph below shows how the deep layer coming in from the
ocean at 279 feet deep contains more oxygen than the middle layer
at 66 feet deep. The surface layer, which normally contains the
most oxygen, dipped to extremes several times near the beginning of
August and again on Friday, Aug. 28. These data, recorded from a
buoy near Hoodsport, are considered unverified.
The historic town of Port Gamble is about to get a new-fangled
sewage-treatment plant, one that will allow highly treated effluent
to recharge the groundwater in North Kitsap.
The old treatment plant discharges its effluent into Hood Canal,
causing the closure of about 90 acres of shellfish beds. After the
new plant is in operation, those shellfish beds are likely to be
reopened, officials say.
The new facility will be built and operated by Kitsap Public Utility
District, which owns and manages small water systems throughout
the county. The Port Gamble plant will be the first wastewater
operation to be managed by the KPUD, which views the project as a
step toward reclaiming more of Kitsap County’s wastewater by
putting it to beneficial use, said manager Bob Hunter.
The PUD already manages the Port Gamble water system, which will
undergo a future renovation, he said. Dealing with the community’s
sewage is the next logical step.
“Nobody can do reclaimed water without the sewage-treatment part
of the equation,” Bob told me, “and it seems potentially more
efficient to have one entity do it.”
In a related development, the district is expected to ask Kitsap
County voters for authority to own the plant as well as operate it.
Under its current authority, the district can own water utilities
but not sewer utilities.
A $2-million state grant to eliminate the discharge of sewage
into Hood Canal requires that a public entity own the sewer system.
To comply with that requirement, Mason County PUD 1 will take over
ownership until Kitsap PUD obtains the needed authority, Bob
The KPUD commissioners are expected to decide on Tuesday whether
to place a measure on November’s ballot. Hunter said he doesn’t
expect opposition, but he hopes to address any concerns people may
have. The commissioners meet at 9:30 a.m. in their Poulsbo
The new treatment plant will be a membrane bioreactor, a type of
filtering system capable of producing effluent close to the quality
of drinking water. The plant, which comes assembled, will treat up
to 100,000 gallons of sewage per day. That’s enough capacity to
serve the existing homes in Port Gamble. And if the town’s
redevelopment is approved
(Kitsap Sun, Jan. 24, 2013), as proposed by owner Pope
Resources, the plant could serve up to 350 homes — provided the old
sewer pipes are replaced to reduce the amount of stormwater that
The plant will be located on 1.3 acres near Carver Drive, south
of Highway 104. Effluent will be pumped to a new drainfield at the
top of a nearby hill. Eventually, water from the plant could be
used to irrigate forestland or else lawns and ballfields in the
Construction is expected to get underway soon, with the system
operational by May of next year. The entire project, including the
treatment plant, pumping system, pipes, drainfield and site work,
is expected to cost $5 million with most of the cost paid by Pope
The KPUD has no plans to operate other sewer systems at this
time, Hunter said, but the district hopes to be in a position to
respond to community needs, as it as done with failing water
systems. Small sewage-treatment plants could be feasible where a
lot of septic systems are failing, he noted, but state law
precludes the use of sewers in rural areas except during a health
emergency. Even then, the systems must serve only existing needs,
not future growth, he noted.
Without snowpack, Kitsap Peninsula is entirely dependent on the
amount of rain that falls on the peninsula. With limited storage,
future water supplies can be bolstered by recharging the
groundwater with high-quality sewage effluent or by using effluent
to replace drinking water used for irrigation and industrial
The Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant, which produces an
average 3.2 million gallons of water each day, is undergoing a
major upgrade to produce water that can be used for a variety of
uses in nearby Silverdale. In preparation, Silverdale Water
District has been installing a new piping network to bring the
reclaimed water into the community.
“We have been talking for a long time about getting water into
the ground instead of dumping it into Puget Sound or Hood Canal,”
said Bob Hunter. “With this project in Port Gamble, we can learn
and be prepared when other situations come along.”
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
The Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward on a $40-million
restoration program along the Skokomish River, as I mentioned in
Water Ways last week.
According to Rachel Mesko of the Army Corps of Engineers, two
major projects have been dropped from the “tentatively selected
plan” for the Skokomish, which flows into the south end of Hood
Canal. That leaves five major projects to advance forward for a
likely recommendation to Congress.
It’s hard to remember how long I’ve been writing about the Army
Corps of Engineers’ involvement in the Skokomish. So I looked it
up. The agency completed a flood analysis in 1988, considered
dredging options in 1995 and began work on the current “general
investigation” in 2000.
Before I talk about the projects being proposed, I’d like to
recall what is at stake in the Skokomish, often cited as the most
frequently flooded river in Washington state. Many people believe
that the restoration of Hood Canal, a gem of an ecosystem, cannot
be successful without first fixing the Skokomish, where individual
restoration projects have been underway for years.
“High sediment load, reduced flows and encroachment on the
floodplain by man-made structures are causing continued degradation
of natural ecosystem structures, functions, and processes necessary
to support critical fish and wildlife habitat throughout the
“The decline in populations has resulted in the listing of four
anadromous fish species under the Endangered Species Act — chinook
salmon, chum salmon, steelhead, and bull trout — that use the river
as their primary habitat.
“The impaired ecosystem has adversely affected riverine,
wetland, and estuarine habitats that are critical to these and
other important fish and wildlife species such as bears, bald
eagles and river otters to name a few.”
Let me list some of the specific problems:
Historical removal of large woody debris has simplified the
stream, wiping out pools, eliminating places for young fish to hide
and reducing nutrients, which feed aquatic insects and support an
entire food web.
Logging along the river has eliminated the supply of large
woody debris, the shade to cool the stream and the overhanging
vegetation, a key part of the food web. Logging also has increased
erosion which prevents new vegetation from taking hold, smothers
salmon eggs and fills in pools, where salmon can rest.
Levees built to protect farmland from flooding halted the
natural movement of the river, known as channel migration, and
prevented the formation of new habitats.
Logging upstream in the South Fork of the Skokomish River and
Vance Creek increased erosion and movement of sediment into the
lower river, cutting off fish access to side channels, wetlands and
other aquatic habitats.
The Cushman Dam Project blocked 25 percent of the mainstem
habitat and 18 percent of tributary habitat available for salmon in
the North Fork of the Skokomish River. Reduced flows below the dam
increased sedimentation in the lower Skokomish. As a result, about
a mile of the river dries up about two months each summer, blocking
Highways 101 and 106 disrupted natural floodplains that can be
used by fish to find food and to escape high flows and then find
their way back to the river.
Five projects designed to reduce these problems are being
proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers:
Car body levee removal: This levee was built
with old cars at the confluence where the North Fork flows into the
mainstem of the Skokomish. Some 5,000 feet of the levee would be
removed. A small channel would be created to allow water from the
mainstem to flow into the North Fork and return at the existing
confluence. Large woody debris would help direct water into the
channel. Estimated cost: $7.5 million.
Large woody debris: Upstream of the confluence
with the North Fork, large woody debris would be installed. Large
clusters of trees with root wads, as well as some single trees,
would be placed between river mile 9 and 11, as measured from the
estuary in Hood Canal. Estimated cost: $3.2 million.
Setback levee at river mile 9: The existing
levee would be breached in four locations, and a new levee would be
built some 200 to 300 feet farther away. The levee would allow for
minor over-topping but would not increase the flood risk. Estimated
cost: $2.4 million.
Grange levee: Larger breeches are planned for
the levee near the Grange hall at river mile 7.5 to 8, compared to
the levee at river mile 9. A new levee, up to 10 feet tall and
2,900 feet long, would be constructed 1,200 feet farther back with
no increase in flood risk. Locations are still under discussion.
Estimate cost $3.3 million.
Side channel connection near Highway 101: An
old remnant channel between river mile 4 and 5.6 would be restored
to take water from the mainstem at high flows. Woody debris would
help define the inlet and outlet to the channel, which would become
a ponded wetland at low flows. Estimated cost: $3.1 million.
The costs above were taken from the feasibility study and do not
include design, planning and related costs.
You might note that the River Mile 9 levee and the Grange levee
fit the concept of “Floodplains by Design,” an idea supported by
The Nature Conservancy and funded by the Washington Legislature
with $44 million. Check out the
Associated Press story.
After discussions with nearby property owners, two projects were
removed from the preliminary list. They involve excavation work on
both Hunter and Weaver creeks to restore the tributaries to more
Rich Geiger, engineer for Mason Conservation District, said the
Skokomish restoration program seems to have wide support among
landowners in the Skokomish Valley as well as among interest
groups, including the Skokomish Watershed Action Team. As a result,
he expects that the project will maintain momentum all the way to
“It is fairly rare to have a watershed working together,” Rich
said at the SWAT meeting. “The ones that are difficult are when you
have two parties, one saying ‘yes’ and other saying, ‘Don’t you
“There is support (for the Skok project) through the Corps chain
of command and all the way up to the national level,” he added.
If things go well, a final plan for the Skokomish could be ready
by late next summer, according to Rachel Mesko.
By the way, I would like to publicly thank the SWAT for the
“certificate of appreciation” I was given for my reporting on
Skokomish River through the years. It’s an honor to be associated
with this group of men and women who are fully committed to seeing
the Skokomish River restored to a healthy ecosystem.
I’ll never forget my visit this past summer to the Lofall dock
and nearby beach on Hood Canal in North Kitsap. It was a scene of
devastation, in which starfish of all sizes were losing their limbs
and decomposing into gooey masses.
My guides on the excursion were three women who had been
watching for changes in sea stars as part of a volunteer monitoring
program being conducted up and down the West Coast. The three were
shocked at what they saw on the trip, as I described in a story for
Kitsap Sun as well as in a blog post in
Many questions remain about the mysterious affliction known as
“sea star wasting syndrome.” For one, why were the sea stars
affected over such a wide area, all at about the same time?
As described in the report, the researchers went to museums with
sea stars preserved in alcohol and found that the virus was present
in specimens collected as long ago as 1942 at various West Coast
sites. Minor outbreaks of the wasting syndrome have been reported
through the years, but obviously something much bigger is taking
A change in the environment, such as ocean acidification, has
been suggested as one possibility. A change in the virus, such as
we see for the flu virus in humans, is another idea. It could also
be related to an over-population among the sea stars
Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant, who is leading the local
monitoring program in Kitsap County, said it is good that
researchers have found something to go on, but other causative
factors are yet to be discovered.
“Why and where; those are two of the things still on the table,”
Jeff told me. “What are the environmental factors that drove this
much larger die-off? Was it something that made the virus more
prevalent or something that made the sea stars weaker?”
Jeff noted that the cause of death may not be the virus itself
but rather opportunistic pathogens that attack the sea stars after
their immune systems are weakened by the virus.
“Density may have played a factor,” he said. “Sea star
populations have been thick and strong over the past 12 years. When
you get a lot of individuals in close proximity, you can get sudden
changes. Marine populations fluctuate quite a bit naturally.”
Jeff hopes to maintain the volunteer monitoring program for
years to come, not just to track the disease but to understand more
about the cycles of marine life. Of course, he would like to be
able to report on an ongoing recovery of sea star populations from
their current state of devastation. Will the recovery occur in
patches or uniformly at all monitored sites?
“Ideally, this will run its course, and we will start seeing
juveniles showing up over the course of the summer,” he said. “How
many of them will disappear?
“Ideally, we will be able to maintain some sites for much
longer. For me, as a naturalist, there are lots of questions about
natural historical cycles that have not been addressed. A lot of
critters are facing challenges (to their survival).”
In Puget Sound, these challenges range from loss of habitat to
pollution to climate change, and the predator-prey balance will
determine whether any population —and ultimately entire species —
Linda Martin, one of the volunteers who gave me a tour of the
Lofall beach, said she was glad that researchers have identified a
viral cause of the sea-star devastation, but it remains unclear how
that is going to help the population recover.
Because of the timing of low tide, the three women have not been
to Lofall since early October, when the population was “completely
depleted,” according to Linda. But they are planning to go back
“We are anxious to go out and see if there is anything there,”
she said. “We have not seen any juveniles for a long time.
Originally, when we started out, we were seeing uncountable numbers
As for the new findings, I thought it was interesting how the
researchers removed tissues from diseased sea stars then filtered
out everything down to the size of viruses. After that, they
exposed one group of healthy sea stars to a raw sample of the fluid
and another group to a heat-treated sample. The raw sample caused
disease, but the heat-treated sample did not.
They then used DNA techniques to identify the virus, which was
found in larger and larger concentrations as the disease
progressed. Check out the research report in the
Proceedings of the NAS (PDF 1.1 mb).
Jeff Barnard of the
Associated Press interviewed researchers involved in the study
and others familiar with the problem.
National Marine Fisheries Service has designated more than 1,000
square miles of Puget Sound as “critical habitat” for rockfish — a
colorful, long-lived fish decimated by over-fishing and
In Hood Canal, we know that thousands of rockfish have been
killed by low-oxygen conditions, and their populations have been
slow to recover because of low reproductive rates. Elsewhere,
rockfish are coming back with mixed success, helped in some
locations by marine protected areas.
The final designation of critical habitat was announced today in
Federal Register for yelloweye rockfish and canary rockfish,
both listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and
bocaccio, listed as “endangered.”
The critical habitat listing includes 590 square miles of
nearshore habitat for canary rockfish and bocaccio, and 414 square
miles of deepwater habitat for all three species. Nearshore areas
include kelp forests important for the growth and survival of
juvenile rockfish. Deeper waters are used for shelter, food and
reproduction by adults.
Potential critical habitat was reduced by 15 percent for canary
rockfish and bocaccio and by 28 percent for yelloweye rockfish.
Most of the excluded area was deemed already protected, either by
tribes near their reservations or by the military near Navy and
Army bases and their operational areas.
The designated habitat overlaps in large part with existing
critical habitat for salmon, killer whales and bull trout. The only
new areas added without overlap are some deep-water areas in Hood
Under the law, federal actions within designated habitat must
undergo consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Such actions — which include funding or issuing permits for private
development — cannot be approved if they are found to be
detrimental to the continuing survival of the species.
“Saving rockfish from extinction requires protecting some of the
most important places they live, and that’s exactly what’s
happening now in the Puget Sound. These habitat protections will
not only give rockfish a fighting chance at survival but will help
all of the animals that live in these waters.”
The three species of rockfish were placed on the Endangered
Species List in 2010, following a series of petitions by biologist
Sam Wright. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity notified
the National Marine Fisheries Service of its
intent to file a lawsuit over the agency’s delay in designating
Federal and state biologists are now working on a recovery plan.
I have not heard whether they still hope to get the plan completed
Rockfish are unusual among bony fishes in that fertilization and
embryo development are internal. Female rockfish give birth to live
young. After birth, the larval rockfish may drift in shallow waters
for several months, feeding on plankton. Among the listed
Canary rockfish can reach up to 2.5 feet in length. Adults have
bright yellow to orange mottling over gray, three orange stripes
across the head and orange fins. They can live to be 75 years
Bocaccio can reach up to 3 feet in length. They have a
distinctively long jaw extending to the eye socket. Adult colors
range from olive to burnt orange or brown. Their age is difficult
to determine, but they may live as long as 50 years.
Yelloweye rockfish can reach up to 3.5 feet in length and 39
pounds in weight. They are orange-red to orange-yellow in color and
may have black on their fin tips. Their eyes are bright yellow.
They are among the longest lived of rockfishes, living up to 118
“These declines have largely been caused by historical fishing
practices, although several other stress factors play a part in
their decline. Rockfish in urban areas are exposed to high levels
of chemical contamination, which may be affecting their
reproductive success. Poor water quality in Hood Canal has resulted
in massive periodic kills of rockfish as well as other species.
Lost or abandoned fishing nets trap and kill large numbers of
The plan identifies these objectives to restore the
Place the highest priority on protecting and restoring the
natural production of indicator rockfishes to healthy levels,
Promote natural production through the appropriate use of
hatcheries and artificial habitats,
Protect and restore all marine habitat types for all rockfish
Manage all Puget Sound fisheries to ensure the health and
productivity of all rockfish stocks,
Protect and restore existing functions of rockfish in the
complex ecosystem and food web in Puget Sound,
Conduct monitoring of indicator stocks to evaluate stock status
and management actions,
Implement new research to understand the diversity, biology and
productivity of indicator rockfish, and
Conduct a strategic outreach and education program to inform
Washington citizens of the value of rockfish stocks and to promote
It’s official. Kitsap County has become the proud owner of 535
acres of prime lowland forest, including 1.5 miles of shoreline on
Port Gamble Bay. See the story I prepared for
tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun (subscription).
This is prime property, both from an ecological and recreational
viewpoint. It is extremely rare to find a place where so much
shoreline belongs to the public, especially in a populated area
like Kitsap County. With restoration work and time for nature to
respond, this property could return to a near-pristine
This is the first property sale completed by the Kitsap Forest
& Bay Project. More than two years ago, I attended a kick-off
meeting to launch the fund-raising effort. It all began with an
option agreement to buy up to 7,000 acres of forestland from Pope
See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 19, 2012.
The effort followed a disbanded plan by the county to trade the
land for increased housing density near Port Gamble. (See
Kitsap Sun, Jan. 19, 2010.)
The new effort was spearheaded by Cascade Land Conservancy, now
called Forterra. CLC President Gene Duvernoy spelled out the task
ahead as he announced that Michelle Connor, a vice president of
CLC, would be put in charge. Duvernoy declared:
“This is probably the most important project we can accomplish
to save Puget Sound… Anytime we have a real thorny project, we hand
it to Michelle to make it happen… This option agreement is a reason
to celebrate, but now we need to get serious. Now, we can look at
all the financing and funding possibilities. Until today, we were
unable to do that.”
Other acquisitions are expected to be completed soon, but it
remains unclear how much of the 7,000 acres can be acquired from
In celebration of the completed sale, I would like to share the
statements made in a news
release by a variety of people involved in the project:
Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder:
“This acquisition has been years in the making and the beginning
of a series of great things to come in 2014. We are lining up
funding to protect additional lands from Kingston to Port Gamble as
part of this preservation effort.”
“Conservation of these lands will help sustain the cultural
heritage and health of our communities, the functioning of our
environment and diversity of our economy. Moving the whole effort
forward is a testament to the leadership of local residents, Kitsap
County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and
the state of Washington.”
Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman:
“The public purchase of the shoreline block at Port Gamble Bay
is an accomplishment worth celebrating. The Suquamish Tribe is
grateful that this critical marine habitat will be protected for
time immemorial and help in efforts to protect the water quality of
Port Gamble Bay.”
Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam
“One of my tribe’s ongoing priorities is to ensure that Port
Gamble Bay remains productive and healthy for future generations.
The conservation of this property furthers that goal by protecting
water quality, preventing development and limiting stormwater
runoff and other associated impacts.”
Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope
Resources’ real estate subsidiary:
“We are proud to be working with the community to protect these
forests, beaches and trails for future generations. This purchase
is a prize that has been earned through nearly a decade of
dedicated efforts by the local community.”
Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of Great
Peninsula Conservancy, a key player in the
“The many community partners involved in the Kitsap Forest &
Bay Coalition have dedicated countless hours to help achieve this
historic land purchase, handing out trail maps, speaking to
community groups and marching in parades. And when it came down to
the wire, the coalition raised over $10,000 in three days to fill
the final funding gap.”
Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of
“Restoring and sustaining the ecological systems that support
Port Gamble Bay is critical for Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and all of
us who call Washington home.”
UPDATE, Jan. 27
The Army Corps of Engineers published a
news release today about tentatively selected plan. It lists
the total cost of the projects at $41 million. This information was
not available when I wrote my story for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
Residents in and around the Skokomish Valley have demonstrated
incredible patience, along with some frustration, while waiting for
the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan to restore the
I was pleased to announce in
today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) that top officials in the
corps have now approved a “tentatively selected plan.” This plan
will now undergo extensive review inside and outside the agency.
Two public meetings are being planned, although they have not yet
I’ve been following the development of this plan for many years,
actually long before I wrote a four-part series in 2009 about the
past and future of the Skokomish River. See “Taming
the Skokomish,” Kitsap Sun.
As Rich Geiger of Mason Conservation District told me last
“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking
about a physical project moving forward and not just more planning.
We asked the Corps to produce a single integrated restoration plan,
and they did.”
Rich did not slam the Army Corps of Engineers for taking so
long. He and I did not discuss — as we have in the past — how
restoration of the Skokomish River plays an important part in the
restoration of Hood Canal as a whole.
But we did talk about dredging, which many area residents
believe is the only answer to cleaning the river channel, clogged
by sediment and flooded more frequently than any river in the
state. The corps has determined that dredging is too expensive for
the benefit provided and would require ongoing maintenance. I look
forward to reading the analysis by the corps and hearing the
discussions that follow. I’m sure there is plenty to be said.
Before the agency releases the tentative plan, a final check
must be made by corps officials to ensure completeness of the
documents, which will include a feasibility report and an
environmental impact statement, according to project manager Mamie
The plan includes these specific projects:
Car-body levee removal: Years ago, junk cars
were used to construct a levee where the North Fork of the
Skokomish flows into the main river. Although the course of the
North Fork has changed, the old levee continues to impair salmon
migration through the area, Brouwer said. This project would remove
the levee and restore the natural flows at the confluence.
Side channel reconnection: Restoring a
parallel channel alongside the Skokomish would give fish a place to
go during high flows and flooding. In recent years, migrating
salmon have been washed out of the river and into fields and
ditches, where they struggle to survive. A side channel, about 4
miles upstream from where the Skokomish flows into Hood Canal,
could provide refuge from the raging river.
Nine mile setback levee: A new levee is being
proposed nine miles upstream to allow an existing levee to be
breached, increasing the flood plain in that area. The new levee
would be several hundred feet back from the old one and would allow
for new pools and vegetation along the river.
Grange levee: Like the nine-mile setback
levee, a new levee would be built about 8 miles upstream near the
Skokomish Valley Grange Hall. The levee could be set back about
1,000 feet from the river, greatly expanding the flood plain in
Large woody debris: Creating log jams in the
river would increase the complexity of the channel, adding
meanders, gravel bars and pools. Such structure is considered
important for the survival of juvenile salmon. Several dozen log
jams are proposed in the initial plan, but that could change in the
Hunter Creek: Continual springs maintain
summer flows in Hunter Creek, a tributary of the Skokomish
considered excellent fish habitat. But with few side channels or
complexity, the stream has limited spawning habitat and fish can be
washed away during high flows. The project would alter the channel
for better function.
Weaver Creek: Similar to Hunter Creek, Weaver
Creek has great potential for increased spawning and rearing
habitat along with refuge from high flows. The project would alter
the channel to improve natural functions.