On the Big Quil
Big thanks to Heron House LLC for donating a conservation easement on 50 acres of restored estuary on the Big Quil River leading to Quilcene Bay.
Quilcene Bay in the 1880s was an estuary rich in vegetation and wildlife. Mountain snowfields melted into streams and rivers that flowed through ancient forests to the bay and ocean. The bay’s salt marshes and tidal flats were enriched by both the mountain waters and the cleansing tidal waves from the ocean side. Clams and oysters flourished in the flats and the marshes were filled with grasses and sedges rife with insects and seeds – a veritable banquet for fish and waterfowl.
But in the late 1880’s people saw the agricultural potential of the land adjacent to the bay. To cultivate the land, they had to control the water coming into it, so they straightened the rivers and installed dikes and culverts. The natural action of the rivers and the tides was curtailed and the unintended impact now is a bay filling in with silt where the diminished populations of native animals and plants struggle to survive.
Today Quilcene Bay is the focus of a major restoration project, spearheaded by the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group. Working with other organizations in the area, the HCSEG has, during the past 15 years, opened up over 250,000 acres of salmon habitat in the bay. Additional projects are in the works.
“Restoring an estuary such as this is a unique opportunity in this country,” said Neil Werner, Executive Director of HCSEG.
As restoration work removes barriers to the natural flow of the waters, the whole environment becomes more complex, native vegetation returns and the recovery of the riparian area becomes self-sustaining. The renewed tidal estuaries of the bay will provide habitat for a variety of species including all seven species of salmonids as well as shellfish, shorebirds, and migrating birds.
While much of the restoration work to date is on public land, one large restoration project took place on land owned by the Schinke family, and this is how Jefferson Land Trust became involved.
Work on the Schinke’s 50-acre property, which is adjacent to the Big Quilcene River, involved removal of a 3,000 foot saltwater levee. Nearly 3,000 tires and other debris were taken from the property in the process. The tidal channel network was reestablished and 38 acres of estuarine wetland habitat were reclaimed. To assure that the future changes to the land would be from natural causes only, the Schinkes turned to the Land Trust with its years of experience and expertise to set up a conservation easement in perpetuity.
Werner says many organizations are involved in the funding and work HCSEG undertakes. But he notes that all the partners involved in the restoration and preservation of the Schinke land worked especially well together. And Sarah Spaeth, Executive Director of Jefferson Land Trust, agrees that this is an excellent example of successful collaborative efforts.
“The Schinke family is so enjoyable to work with,” says Werner. “They truly care about the environment.”
As future restoration work in the bay involves more private land, the example set by the Schinke family is one to hold up as a model for collaboration and success.