Preserving creeks and rivers is about more than just fish, and conserving farmland and forests is about more than just saving scenic views. From providing wildlife corridors for eagles and elk to keeping family farms in the family, supporting local forestry jobs and injecting life into our towns, everything we do at Jefferson Land Trust is connected.
We think of our work as a journey up our watershed. Come with us as we follow a stream up from the shores and estuaries where we protect salmon and wildlife habitat, through the farm valleys where we help to keep farmland in production and in local hands, to the headwaters in upland forests where we work with our partners to restore forest lands and promote sustainable industries that keep communities thriving.
Our journey begins at the estuary. We have been working to recover salmon runs for a long time. In the late 1980s, soon after the Land Trust was founded, a blown culvert filled lower Chimacum Creek with so much sediment that the summer chum run was completely wiped out.
This local tragedy galvanized community volunteers and conservation organizations to turn the tide for salmon in Chimacum Creek. Salmon were restocked from nearby streams, and Land Trust supporters powered the work to protect and restore land along the creek and create healthy habitat for the fish to survive and thrive. A big push is currently underway to protect more summer chum habitat at the estuary and lower main stem of Chimacum Creek.
Waterways are also crucial habitat corridors for the majority of wildlife in our region. 87% of birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals in western Washington rely on stream zones at some point in their lives, or seasonally. At least 22 species are known to feed on salmon carcasses, including bald eagle, bear, bobcat, coyote, crow, deer mice, dipper, stellar and gray jay, mink, pacific wren, raccoon, river otter, red-tailed hawk, shrew, skunk and squirrel. Only mole, beaver, cougar and elk abstain. Even deer may nibble.
Moving up the watershed, we reach some of the largest farmland parcels left in east Jefferson County. Here, salmon creeks like Chimacum Creek wend their way through rich agricultural valleys where vibrant farming communities grow our food.
Jefferson Land Trust works with farmers and funding agencies to preserve farmland by purchasing agricultural conservation easements that keep the land available for agriculture while compensating the landowner for the loss of development potential. This ensures prime farmland is not developed, helps to keep it affordable for the next generation of farmers, and provides a capital boost to local farm businesses.
Through the LandWorks Collaborative, a partnership with Washington State University, Jefferson County Conservation District, the Food Co-Op, the Farmers’ Market, Craft3 and others, we are supporting local producers with education, access to capital and stronger markets in our community and region.
In Jefferson County, protecting farmland is not at odds with protecting habitat. Many of the farms we work with have set aside areas for habitat protection, such as buffers along the salmon creeks that run through their properties. In fact, funding for salmon habitat recovery has been a great source of conservation support for local farmers, and much of the best farmland in the county have protections in place to preserve and restore salmon habitat.
Today we are at a turning point: long-term landowners are nearing retirement and land transfer to the next generation is imminent. Together with our LandWorks partners, we have an opportunity to help ensure local farmland remains affordable, that thriving and sustainable local agriculture is at the center of our area’s economy, culture and landscape, and that farmers are supported through greater demand for local food.
At last we reach the top of our watershed, where we are working to preserve the upland working forests and the headwaters where it all begins.
Chimacum Creek’s headwaters originate in the heart of Chimacum, on Chimacum Ridge. This beautiful 850-acre forested ridge between Center and Beaver Valleys is a central feature of the rural Chimacum landscape and a visible icon of the changing local timber economy.
Forests are part of Jefferson County’s identity, economy and way of life. Forests not only provide native habitat for plants and wildlife, but recreational trails, scenic beauty and a natural refuge for local residents and visitors. While helping to keep the air and water clean and sequester carbon, the working timberlands also create jobs and support our local economy.
But all of this is at risk. Jefferson County has seen a 13% population increase in the last decade, and high demand for housing has meant selling forest land to convert to residential development can be more financially rewarding than growing and harvesting trees, at least in the short term.
To address this issue, we are working with our partners, Ecotrust Forest Management, the Trust for Public Land, federal, state and local grant programs, and our local community, to conserve forested Chimacum Ridge forever as a community forest. The vision is a forest managed sustainably through selective, ecological timber harvest that brings in revenue while allowing a healthy, mature forest to continue to grow. The forest could be a community resource, providing wildlife habitat, clean air, clean water, community green space, recreational trails and local timber products. Tiny homes? Specialty furniture? Longer rotation harvest to supply the wooden boat industry? Honey? Some very creative ideas are being discussed with our partners, and the concept of community forests is taking hold in the conservation conversation across the nation.
The future of the vast working forests that are the backdrop of our lives and landscape are in transition. But conservation organizations, timber companies, and local communities are working together and making a difference, right now, to benefit our entire community and watershed.