Island Dispatch | February 2016
Sunday Afternoon on Zylstra Lake
If you are familiar with the Georges Seurat painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” perhaps better known as the basis for the Broadway musical “Sunday in the Park With George”, what comes to mind is recreation and relaxation at its best: strolling, picnicking, basking in the sun, fishing, rowing…
This idyllic vision has recently been imagined on San Juan Island’s Zylstra Lake, and if the San Juan Preservation Trust and San Juan County Land Bank are successful in their joint effort to acquire the 313-acre property, it will become a reality. A beloved place for people to relax and play is only one aspect of the vision. The success of this effort will also include the permanent protection of prime habitat for salmon and native cutthroat trout, and for overwintering Trumpeter Swans and other waterfowl. It will also expand the preservation of a sweeping valley viewscape that has historically been one of the most productive agricultural zones in the archipelago.
A CONSERVATION SUCCESS STORY
Shaking out their gorgeous feathers and honk-murmuring quietly in a language only they understand, a group of Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) grace the waters of San Juan Island’s Zylstra Lake. This large freshwater lake, with secrets that our current acquisition project is just beginning to unlock, is an important wintering area for these swans and other large waterfowl flocks. The swans counted at Zylstra Lake on this cold January day were part of a decades-long inventory coordinated by The Preservation Trust and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The average annual population of Trumpeter Swans in the San Juan Islands (between 50-100 individuals over the last 5 years) equals what was once the entire population of these swans in all of the lower 48 states, according to a 1930’s census. Once hunted for their feathers and poisoned by lead shot ingestion, these graceful birds have made a miraculous recovery.
The Preservation Trust works closely with WDFW, the Trumpeter Swan Society and other conservation groups each January on this swan count, which provides a snapshot of the wintering swan populations and valuable insight into recovery efforts.