News & Events

Building Climate Resilience on the Olympic Peninsula: Land Resilience Study

Author: Lilly Schneider | 05/25/22

Olympic Mountains

View of the Olympic Mountains from the top of Chimacum Ridge. Photo by Kerry Tremain.

The Olympic Peninsula has been known for millennia as a place of extraordinary natural beauty and abundance. Today, its forests, farms, and wildlife habitat are facing stresses from a changing climate. Fortunately, there are responsible steps we can take right now to support the safety and wellbeing of the ecosystems, habitats, and communities on which we depend.

Grant Street Elementary School first and second graders come to Chimacum Creek with us every year. They release the coho salmon fry they have been raising in school and have a blast learning and playing out on the land! Photo by Wendy Feltham.

The Land Resilience Study will help us protect our natural lands and resources for the benefit of future generations. Photo by Wendy Feltham.

That’s why, in 2020, Jefferson Land Trust partnered with Clallam County’s North Olympic Land Trust to conduct a Land Resilience Study, which is helping both organizations with land protection and management decisions.

“We know that land trusts have a role to play in mitigating climate change, and this study gives us another tool that helps us prioritize the work we’re doing to keep our communities sustainable and resilient,” explains Richard Tucker, Executive Director of Jefferson Land Trust.

We partnered with North Olympic Land Trust because we both work to protect the North Olympic Peninsula, and it made sense to take a landscape versus a county-by-county approach. Working with an expert GIS contractor Core GIS, along with the best available spatial planning data and science, we looked deeply at our land base to identify the places likely to retain features that suggest continued resiliency as our summers become hotter and drier, and our winters become warmer and wetter. For example, we looked closely at forested and agricultural lands that sequester carbon and retain moisture, other natural lands that have particularly diverse topography and are within known wildlife corridors, and open space near our population centers.

“In order to adapt to the changing climate, we need to focus on protecting those areas that will help us build a resilient community now and into the future,” Richard says. “We can target areas for protection based on information gleaned from this study.”

Cliff and bay, mountains beyond.

View of Dabob Bay.

We were glad to learn that there are many areas on the Olympic Peninsula with diverse features that suggest resilience, including land Jefferson Land Trust currently cares for and protects. A significant part of our landscape on the Peninsula is Olympic National Park — over a million acres of public land managed as wilderness and functioning as an ecological reserve that retains much of its ancient ecological heritage. The clean water that runs from the mountain slopes still supports populations of salmon, people, and wildlife.

But while there is much federally and locally protected land on the Olympic Peninsula, given the scale of the challenges we face, it’s clear that more must be done to prepare for and reduce the impacts of a changing climate in our region — and land trusts are uniquely positioned to help with this shared responsibility.

Photo of an Anna's Hummingbird by Wendy Feltham

Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo by Wendy Feltham.

Now, equipped with this data, and a list of priority opportunity areas (which we plan to update over time as new data becomes available), our two land trusts are able to focus even more precisely on the Olympic Peninsula lands that can build ecological, economic, and social resilience, like protecting and stewarding the habitat areas that have the best chance of preserving the some of the biodiversity that has existed here for thousands of years. We also have a new opportunity to take collective action and work together to identify cross-county projects and share the study’s findings throughout our communities.

We’re grateful for the support of the Land Trust Alliance, Sustainable Path Foundation, and generous community donors that made this project possible, as well as the foundational work and effort undertaken by other agencies upon which our spatial analysis is built.

Learn more about the Land Resilience Study and our findings by clicking here.