Island Dispatch | Summer/Fall 2021

PATIENCE PAYS OFF

Protecting Richardson Marsh has “been a lot of years in coming, but it’s exciting.” –Linda Hoedemaker

View over Richardson Marsh toward Richardson Bay | Staff Archive

Sitting on the broad wooden porch steps of her family’s 108-year-old farmhouse on a hot July afternoon, Linda Hoedemaker gazes out across a flat, wide-open expanse of reedy grass known as Richardson Marsh. “It’s dry now,” Linda says. “But last winter, there was so much water in the marsh that we could paddle a canoe around the whole area.”

Richardson Marsh spans some 80 acres—an area the size of 60 football fields—near the coast of southwestern Lopez Island, immediately inland from Davis Bay. This expansive wetland is one of only two in San Juan County (along with Beaverton Marsh) to merit a Category I rating, due in part to the large, intact habitat it provides for trumpeter swans and many other species of migratory waterfowl.

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Golden Paintbrush on San Juan Island | Staff Archive

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

Golden paintbrush, a showy yellow wildflower, once thrived throughout coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest, including here in the San Juan Islands. By the 1990s, however, the plant faced extinction, as most of its prairie habitat had been converted to agriculture or cleared for human settlement. In 1997, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed golden paintbrush as a threatened species.

Thanks to restoration efforts by an array of conservation partners in Oregon and western Washington, many populations of this golden beauty have bounced back. Its prospects have improved to the point that, earlier this summer, USFWS announced that it’s proposing to remove golden paintbrush from listing under the Endangered Species Act.

While this may sound like great news, the plant’s local prospects are far less golden. Here in the San Juans, Castilleja levisecta remains in precipitous decline. Without continued plantings and possibly more intensive management of the islands’ shrinking populations, we could see this species wink out entirely. Nearly all of the few remaining naturally occurring local populations are on SJPT-protected land. Our stewardship staff will plant more golden paintbrush plugs this fall.

One ray of hope glows from the thriving golden paintbrush plantings at the Salish Seeds nursery at SJPT’s Red Mill Farm Preserve. The Salish Seeds Project, a joint program of the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank and the Preservation Trust, produces seeds and plugs of locally adapted prairie-plant species for restoration projects on both public and private lands.

To keep up with demand, the Salish Seeds Project is now looking to expand—and you can help! Visit sjpt.org/SalishSeeds to learn more and donate to support this vital work.

A BOOSTER SHOT FOR SALMON RECOVERY

We received a nice shot in the arm in August that had nothing to do with COVID. Rather, it was a powerful booster in the form of final approval of a grant from the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board Program (aka the SRF Board). The $308,602 grant (all that’s available for this year’s funding cycle) will partially fund the bargain-sale purchase of a conservation easement to protect a strategic shoreline property on McArdle Bay, near the southeastern tip of Lopez Island.

Next year, we will receive another healthy injection from the SRF Board of $107,648, thus fully covering the $416,250 needed to complete the project.

The funds will go toward permanent protection of an 11.77-acre property that includes 346 feet of shoreline on McArdle Bay. Protection of the forested upland portion of the property provides wildlife habitat with close connection to hundreds of acres of other protected lands in the area. The upland vegetation also serves as a filtration buffer for the large amount of freshwater that drains via this property into the bay. The beach (with a naturally eroding feeder bluff) and eelgrass beds just offshore contribute to the high-quality habitat for juvenile salmon and forage fish (such as Pacific herring) that thrive throughout McArdle Bay.

We are grateful to the four owners of the subject parcel, who came together to purchase the land last year so it could be protected from residential development. They are making a generous donation to help offset the cost of the conservation easement and its future stewardship.

Go to sjpt.org/McArdle to see more photos and take a virtual visit to this remote, beguiling bay.

McArdle Bay
Shoreline on McArdle Bay, Lopez Island | Aaron Vliet