Stretching from one side of Tarboo Valley to the other, the Tarboo Wildlife Preserve provided a rare opportunity to restore an intact stream and floodplain wetland system without the risk of flooding the neighbors.
American Dipper. Photo by Stephen Cunliffe.
The Tarboo Wildlife Preserve stretches from one side of the Tarboo Valley to the other – almost 400 acres of floodplain, wetlands and forested uplands. Three linear miles of meandering streams criss-cross the Preserve, including the lower main stem of Tarboo Creek and other tributaries that flow down the valley hillsides.
Draining through forest and pasture, Tarboo Creek and several of these tributaries provide important habitat for coho salmon, fall chum salmon, resident and coastal cutthroat trout, brook lamprey, crawfish and freshwater mussels. The forests above the valley are home to bear, bobcat, mink, cougar, deer, waterfowl, and other mammals and birds typically found in healthy Puget Sound wetlands and forests.
Historically, stream valleys have provided some of the most productive habitat for salmon in the Pacific Northwest, but by the 1890s, many stream valleys in western Washington had been cleared and drained for agriculture and, a century later, for residential development.
Today, Tarboo Creek and Bay are one of the few intact lowland stream and estuary systems in Puget Sound. Because the Wildlife Preserve extends from one side of the Tarboo Valley to the other, it provided a rare opportunity to restore a fully functioning stream and floodplain wetland system without the risk of flooding adjoining residential or farm properties.
In 2005, the Northwest Watershed Institute (NWI) purchased the 198-acre Daniel Yarr farm – now the core of the Tarboo Wildlife Preserve – and donated it as a conservation easement to the Jefferson Land Trust in 2007. Since then, the NWI has continued to purchase adjoining parcels with county, state, and federal grants, adding to the protected Tarboo Wildlife Preserve, now covering nearly 500 acres of restored valley bottom and upland forest.
Elsewhere in the Tarboo Valley, private landowners have sold and donated several conservation easements on their farms, forests and wildlife habitat properties, helping to build a mosaic of permanently rural, productive and healthy lands. The public also owns several hundred acres of lands in the watershed, including a habitat preserve owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife where the stream meets the sea.
Beginning in 2007, NWI began a major habitat restoration project along Tarboo Creek to bring back fish and wildlife and return the area’s floodplains and wetlands to a natural state. New stream channels were sculpted where Tarboo Creek and its tributaries had previously been straightened and ditched. Spawning gravels were added to provide habitat for spawning salmon and rearing areas for juvenile salmon. Large downed logs and standing snags were added for the 200+ species of amphibians, birds and mammals in the valley that use dead trees to feed, roost and nest.
NWI then began to plant native trees and shrubs along the creek and on nearby uplands where runoff feeds the creek. Every year, NWI’s field crew and volunteers from five local schools plant native trees and shrubs on the Preserve. Today, these nearly 100,000 trees are beginning to revitalize and enhance the biodiversity of the valley streams and wetlands.
Protecting and restoring the Tarboo Valley has also helped to restore tribal traditions. The valley and surrounding hills have historically been important hunting grounds for local tribal members, and today, four tribal nations reserve treaty rights under international law to fish, hunt, and gather throughout their territory of Hood Canal, including the Tarboo watershed.