We are excited to report good news about an innovative partnership between Friends of the San Juans and the San Juan Preservation Trust (Preservation Trust) that has been quietly gaining momentum over the past few years. Working with interested private waterfront landowners, the collaborative project brings much-needed attention and resources to the permanent protection of shoreline habitat to support salmon recovery.
While land conservation in the San Juans has typically focused on upland features such as farmlands, forests, or scenic views, it is equally important to focus on shorelines. That’s because the health of our nearshore habitats is directly connected to the health of marine species such as Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident orcas.
Development actions such as armoring beaches with bulkheads, vegetation removal, and docks can degrade healthy shorelines and cause permanent loss of resources critical to forage fish, salmon, and Southern Resident orcas. Conservation easements can protect coastal habitats from these harmful actions. Properties remain in private ownership and the easement can be applied to the full parcel, or just the shoreline features. In a community where 90 percent of waterfront parcels are privately owned, conservation easements provide an efficient way to preserve important habitat and give individual owners a unique opportunity to support the regional marine food web.
With more than 40 years of experience protecting lands in the San Juan Islands, the Preservation Trust is well positioned to implement strategic efforts focused on salmon recovery needs. And at Friends, we have over 20 years of experience with shoreline research, technical assistance, restoration, and monitoring work. Through connecting regularly with waterfront owners, we are able to help determine the priority areas to protect.
With funding from the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Friends and the Preservation Trust were able to take a fresh look at protection tools and adapted them to better meet the needs of private property owners and nearshore habitats. “Conservation easements are a powerful tool that can be custom-tailored to provide for individual landowners’ desire to protect the places they love, while also contributing to the long-term protection of the shoreline habitats that are the foundation of both our economy and environment here in the islands,” says Angela Anderson, Executive Director of the Preservation Trust.
“Marine shorelines in San Juan County provide important feeding and rearing habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon from across the Puget Sound region as they migrate through our waters on their way to the ocean,” says Sam Whitridge, Salmon Recovery Coordinator for San Juan County. “Juvenile salmon from 20 of 22 stocks of federally endangered Puget Sound Chinook salmon and struggling British Columbia stocks use our shallow waters to feed and grow, which is why it is vital that our shorelines are healthy.”
Results to date of this multi-year effort include the permanent protection of priority marine shorelines on Waldron and Lopez (800 ft.) Islands, as well as multiple projects nearing completion on Shaw (500 ft.) and San Juan Islands (1,400 ft.), at sites with key, intact habitat features.
Just this summer, the program closed on the purchase of a conservation easement at Lopez Island’s Mud Bay Tree Farm. The easement protects 800 linear feet of marine shorelines and 27 acres of intact uplands.
“The protected shoreline of Mud Bay Tree Farm provides critical habitat for forage fish spawning and a feeder bluff to sustain the beaches of Mud Bay, one of the most productive shoreline habitats in all of the San Juan Islands,” says Debby Clausen, former Conservation Director of the Preservation Trust. “For two generations the DeBruler family has stewarded this property with a long-term vision of conservation and sustainability. This conservation easement continues that commitment for the benefit of future generations.”
“Lopez Island has been part of our family’s history since my parents, Ralph and Frances DeBruler, purchased land on Mud Bay in 1943,” says Mary Ellen de la Pena, an owner (with other family members) of Mud Bay Tree Farm. “This new program of Friends of the San Juans and the Preservation Trust has allowed my family to increase our investment in the work of the Tree Farm while making a significant commitment to maintain the quality of our precious island environment. The Preservation Trust, which worked with us to draw up the conservation easement, is our partner in this endeavor for the long term, and we are forever grateful for their help.”
Friends and the Preservation Trust are continuing their work to improve protection of high-quality habitats for forage fish and marine food webs. Interested property owners can contact Tina Whitman at Friends ([email protected]) and the Preservation Trust’s Conservation Director ([email protected]) at the Preservation Trust for more information.