Following the adoption of the 1968 National Environmental Policy Act, states began to adopt similar policies as their citizens became more aware of conservation issues. Many of these new policies were controversial, and in San Juan County, as elsewhere, many were strongly opposed.
At that time, San Juan County had no effective zoning, much less a master plan. Suggestions that the County exercise more control over development were shouted down. There was a deep distrust of environmental organizations.
In the mid 1970’s, Linda Henry, then County Commissioner for Orcas Island, talked with me about establishing a land trust modeled after those in New England. To avoid creating a short-lived political casualty, our organization needed to avoid controversy and be governed by locals. The first few years were quiet, and then one day the Trust received a gift of land. It was in business.
Moving incrementally and consensually, the Trust has since demonstrated its mission “by doing.” It has become a respected and effective partner. First untrusted, the San Juan Preservation Trust is now the steward of land that many islanders value most.
Last fall, we introduced the newest addition to our collection of sportswear – a cap embroidered with the silhouette of a broad stately tree. But not just any tree. It is the Garry oak (Quercus garryana) which has become for us somewhat symbolic of our island conservation efforts.
The Garry oak, once abundant from southern California to southwestern British Columbia, has been diminished to 1% of its historic range in our islands due to development, encroachment of other tree species, and fire suppression. It is Washington State’s only native oak, and serves as a keystone species for a diminishing savannah ecosystem in our islands that includes such lovely wildflowers as camas (Camassia sp.). The Western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) often nests in and around Garry oaks. Some of our most beloved preserves, including Turtleback Mountain Preserve on Orcas and Waldron Island’s Bitte Baer Preserve, host notable stands of the species.