In 2001, the San Juan Preservation Trust received a conservation easement on 730 feet of tidelands directly east of the Orcas Ferry Terminal. The easement donation was made by “Save Orcas Bay,” a citizens group that worked for several years to purchase and preserve the marine property. Concurrent with donating an easement to the Preservation Trust, the group donated fee-ownership of the tidelands to the San Juan County Land Bank. With dual stewardship provided by the partnership of two local conservation entities, the preservation and protection of this inter-tidal area is assured.
An underwater biological assessment commissioned by the Land Bank found dense and healthy eelgrass throughout the lower tidelands and a variety of marine life including herring and breeding Dungeness crab. “What is unique about this survey is that it looks at a marine area that has just been protected,” explained Thor Hanson, who was on the Land Bank staff at the time. “Most studies of this type are conducted to evaluate the potential impact of a pending development project. In this case, the baseline information will be used to evaluate and learn more about the site over time.”
Under the terms of the conservation easement held by the Trust, the ecologically significant eelgrass beds are to remain undisturbed. Activities that would impact or alter this fragile inter-tidal environment–including placement of any structures on, above or below the water, the extraction of minerals, and the building of docks–are prohibited. Educational and scientific research use of the tideland is permitted with permission.
“The Orcas Bay project is a great demonstration of collaboration between a group of islanders and the conservation community,” commented Alan Davidson, president of the Board of the Preservation Trust at the time of the donation. “The ability to recognize opportunity, think creatively, rally support, and work effectively with organizations and agencies is what it takes to make conservation projects like this a success. At Orcas Bay, the result clearly benefits our local near-shore environment, and the Trust is delighted to be playing a key role in that accomplishment.”