Large woody debris to shade young salmon to improve the riparian habitat along Donovan Creek as it flows into Quilcene Bay
Quilcene Bay on the Hood Canal is the scene of a resurgence of aquatic life thanks to a coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to returning it to the thriving ecosystem it once was.
During the last hundred years the land on the bay has been altered to make it suitable for agricultural uses. The rivers were straightened and confined with dikes or culverts, and the ground made level. The natural flow of rivers and tidal waters was curtailed, and the native salmon could no longer reach their spawning ground.
Twenty years ago people with the goal of restoring the bay to its natural state formed a coalition of conservation groups, spearheaded by the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group (HCSEG). Today that goal is becoming a reality. Critical habitat has been restored, and much of the land permanently protected with a combination of easements and ownership by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, local governments, and non-profit conservation groups.
“We recently acquired one of the last unprotected pieces, a 30 acre parcel in the upper bay,” says Mendy Harlow, HCSEG Assistant Director of Projects. The Jefferson Land Trust bought another 27 acres on Donovan Creek in the same area.
To restore the HCSEG property, 200,000 cubic yards of fill will be hauled out, buildings taken down, and a large dike removed. The Big Quilcene River will be freed to follow a natural course, and native riparian vegetation will flourish.
The JLT’s land includes over 3400 feet of Donovan Creek, at the time a straight channel. Now workers have remeandered the creek to its natural pathway, put in thousands of native plants, and restored it as a safe and habitable place for salmon and other wildlife.
“This fall, chum and coho returned to Donovan Creek to spawn for the first time in 20 years,” says Sarah Spaeth, JLT Executive Director.
Quilcene Bay is home to seven species of salmonids, some threatened and endangered. As a healthy bay, it supports other fish and shellfish, including the Olympia oyster, as well as beavers, river otters, harbor seals, and thousands of resident and migrating water and shore birds.
“The people of Quilcene have been very good to work with,” says HCSEG’s Harlow. “They understand the importance of salmon to the community.”
The whole Hood Canal ecosystem will benefit as the salmon return to a vibrant Quilcene Bay.
“A strong salmon population in Quilcene Bay will spill over to populate other areas of the Hood Canal where we are restoring the aquatic habitat,” said Harlow.
Funding for the acquisition and restoration work has come from federal and state grants: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Wetlands grants, Washington’s Department of Ecology and the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board.
“The story here is one of a big partnership of private and governmental agencies and cooperative landowners,” says Erik Kingfisher, JLT Stewardship Director. “And the return of the salmon shows we are making major strides toward the goal of restoring this aquatic ecosystem.”