This year, Jefferson Land Trust is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Our work is guided by a five-year strategic plan, a 100-year conservation plan, and a commitment to “forever” stated in our mission of “helping the community preserve open space, working lands and habitat forever.”
That’s a lot of different time frames. As preserve manager, my work focuses on the forever aspect of our mission. I get to work with amazing people - volunteers, neighbors, partner organizations and others - to keep our forests, farms, open spaces and waterways healthy and resilient.
The Land Trust protects critical habitat, farmland, and forestland in a variety of ways. Most commonly, we partner with private landowners to permanently conserve their properties through legal agreements. We also own 23 preserves that we manage for a mix of ecological, economic, and community benefits.
Neither intentions nor legal documents ensure that places stay healthy far into the future. Caring for the land is a long-term commitment, one that we undertake with the help of many dedicated volunteers, some who make multi-year pledges to help manage a preserve and others who attend our twice-monthly work parties. A variety of partners, neighbors, contractors and others also help.
The tasks range from simple to complex and from easily accomplished to those requiring years of patience. Occasionally, they’re daunting. But over the years we’ve witnessed positive changes.
Along the banks of Snow Creek is one of the places where, together with our volunteers and partners, we’ve seen this transformation happen. Snow Creek flows from the foothills of the Olympic Mountains down to the head of Discovery Bay, where it joins with Salmon Creek to form the Snow and Salmon Creek Estuary.
These waters and shorelines provide a wealth of habitat for the Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed Hood Canal summer chum salmon, coho salmon, Puget Sound chinook salmon, steelhead, multiple species of forage fish, Olympia oysters, and other shellfish.
The Land Trust has been working with our Chumsortium partners in Snow Creek for almost two decades. Using funding designed to conserve and improve salmon habitat, the Land Trust has protected more than 300 acres along the creek. Almost half of those acres make up four Land Trust preserves.
We strive to protect places that have the potential to become or to remain ecological strongholds. We then work to care for and improve them. In the case of Snow Creek, this means keeping the forest and the creek healthy by removing and keeping out invasive weeds and planting new trees and shrubs where they’re needed.
The land we’ve protected along Snow Creek is on its way to becoming a diverse forest that provides shelter and nourishment to salmon and other wildlife. A multi-aged forest rich with shrubs and understory plants not only provides a variety of habitat areas, it also creates resiliency and redundancy. It buffers the creek that flows into the ocean from roadway runoff, provides food and shelter across the seasons, and keeps Snow Creek delightfully cool.
Much work to improve the forest, creek and estuary habitat along Snow Creek has been accomplished by North Olympic Salmon Coalition, Jefferson County Conservation District, and the Land Trust with the help of volunteers and others.
Currently, the uppermost spawning extent of the ESA-listed Hood Canal summer chum salmon lies within the gravel beds at Snow Creek Uncas Preserve. Historically, they have made it to Upper Snow Creek Forest Preserve (more than a mile further upstream). The work we’re collectively doing is so that someday salmon numbers increase enough to reach upstream again, where the nutrients the fish carry continue to feed plants and wildlife far out into the surrounding forests.
Lend a hand and see our Snow Creek Uncas Preserve by attending our stewardship work party from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 28. Get details at www.saveland.org/events.
Carrie Clendaniel is preserve manager for Jefferson Land Trust (www.saveland.org). She works with volunteers, neighbors, contractors, organizational partners, and local youth to help care for the lands that Jefferson Land Trust has promised to protect. She also shares her passion for the land through place-based learning partnerships, helping to develop the next generation of people who care about and for wild places and wildlife.
Jefferson Land Trust’s column relating local stories of the land appears monthly in The Leader.