Local Conservation Organizations and Private Landowners Take Action to Support Recovery of Salmon and Southern Resident Orcas

An innovative partnership between Friends of the San Juans (Friends) and the San Juan Preservation Trust (Preservation Trust) has been quietly gaining momentum over the past few years. Working with interested private waterfront landowners, the collaborative project brings much-needed attention and resources to the permanent protection of shoreline habitat to support salmon recovery.

“While land conservation in the San Juans has typically focused on upland values such as farmlands, forests, or scenic views, it is equally important to focus on shorelines,” says Tina Whitman, Science Director at Friends. “That’s because the health of our nearshore habitats are directly connected to the health of marine species such as Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident orcas.”

Development actions such as armoring beaches with bulkheads, vegetation removal, and docks can degrade healthy shorelines and cause permanent loss of resources critical to forage fish, salmon, and Southern Resident orcas. Conservation easements can protect coastal habitats from these harmful actions.

“Conservation easements are a powerful tool that can be custom-tailored to provide for individual landowners’ desire to protect the places they love, while also contributing to the long-term protection of the shoreline habitats that are the foundation of both our economy and environment here in the islands,” says Angela Anderson, Executive Director of the Preservation Trust.

In a community where 90 percent of waterfront parcels are privately owned, conservation easements provide an efficient way to preserve important habitat and give individual owners a unique opportunity to support the regional marine food web.

With more than 40 years of experience protecting lands in the San Juan Islands, the Preservation Trust is well positioned to implement land conservation efforts focused on salmon recovery needs. And Friends, with over 20 years of experience with shoreline research, technical assistance, restoration, and monitoring work, connects regularly with waterfront owners and is able to help determine the priority areas to protect.

With funding from the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Friends and the Preservation Trust were able to take a fresh look at protection tools and adapt them to better meet the needs of private property owners and nearshore habitats.

Results to date of this multi-year effort include permanent protection of priority marine shorelines on Waldron (1,400 waterfront ft.) and Lopez Islands (800 waterfront ft.), as well as multiple projects nearing completion on Shaw (500 waterfront ft.) and San Juan Islands (1,400 waterfront ft.), at sites with key, intact habitat features.

Just this summer, the program closed on the purchase of a conservation easement at Lopez Island’s Mud Bay Tree Farm. The easement protects 800 feet of marine shoreline and 27 acres of intact uplands.

“Lopez Island has been part of our family’s history since my parents, Ralph and Frances DeBruler, purchased land on Mud Bay in 1943,” says Mary Ellen de la Pena, an owner (with other family members) of Mud Bay Tree Farm. “This new program of Friends of the San Juans and the Preservation Trust has allowed my family to increase our investment in the work of the Tree Farm while making a significant commitment to maintain the quality of our precious island environment. The Preservation Trust, which worked with us to draw up the conservation easement, is our partner in this endeavor for the long term, and we are forever grateful for their help.”

Friends and the Preservation Trust are continuing their work to improve protection of high-quality habitats for forage fish and marine food webs. Interested property owners can contact Tina Whitman at Friends (tina@sanjuans.org) and the Preservation Trust’s Conservation Director (conservation@sjpt.org) at the Preservation Trust for more information.