Partnership puts pressure on DNR for expansion of Dabob Bay Natural Area

Posted 12/10/20

Conservation groups, Tribes, community members and shellfish farmers are banding together to press the state to expand the Dabob Bay Natural Area.

If approved, the expansion of the protected lands …

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Partnership puts pressure on DNR for expansion of Dabob Bay Natural Area

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Conservation groups, Tribes, community members and shellfish farmers are banding together to press the state to expand the Dabob Bay Natural Area.

If approved, the expansion of the protected lands on the Toandos Peninsula would be the preserve’s third since 2009.   

In a letter addressed to Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the consortium — spearheaded by the Northwest Watershed Institute — called for an expansion of the southern boundary of the Dabob Bay Natural Area to include a series of recently-discovered rare forests. 

Some of the land has been eyed for timber harvests in recent months by the state Department of Natural Resources.

But a survey by DNR vegetation ecologist Tynan Ramm-Granberg in the area of the planned timber sales found forests that would be classified as “imperiled” using  the Global Conservation Status Ranks.

Forests that are at high risk of extinction or elimination earn the “imperiled” rank.

According to a DNR heritage report, only 121 acres of globally imperiled rhododendron forests are protected in Washington. The protection of the forest on the Toandos Peninsula would pose a significant increase, given that at 936 acres, the forest is the largest known in existence.   

Peter Bahls, executive director for the Northwest Watershed Institute, said that on their own the present species inside the forests — Douglas fir, western hemlock, Pacific rhododendron and evergreen huckleberry — were not particularly significant or rare.

But the way in which they are growing together is what’s unique, he said.

“All these species are common throughout this area, but that forest plant association … when it occurs in older native forest with very few impacts, but very high-quality stands, there’s very little of that left,” Bahls said.

“These are not tree plantations or tree farms; these are biologically diverse native forests that most of us have taken for granted for a long time and they’re becoming increasingly rare,” he explained. 

WOODS WORTH SAVING

Bahls said these heritage forests aren’t exactly old growth, given that the area was plagued by fires in the 1920s, but the forests did regenerate naturally, making them a unique example for how Washington forests regrow naturally, in the absence of human intervention or silvicultural alteration.

“What we’re talking about is the least disturbed examples of native forest left,” Bahls said. “Most [native forests] have been cut down and converted to tree plantations with fewer species.”

Old-growth trees are present in the area, Bahls said, with some scattered in a stand of older forest on the shoreline of Dabob Bay. Some of the old-growth trees, he noted, appeared to be more than 400 years old.

The group is calling for the halt of three proposed DNR timber sales: “Coyle Sorts,” “Silver Lining” and “Thorndyke Junction.”

An environmental review of the “Coyle Sorts” sale was pulled back for another look by DNR in April and multiple public comments were received on the proposal.

The coalition pushing for the protection of the heritage forest said the expansion of the boundary would allow for DNR to transfer the lands to permanently protected status, as well as seek reimbursement for the timber trusts.

The group that hopes to move the land into an expanded Dabob Bay Natural Area said logging will not only impact at-risk forests, but also the adjacent shoreline habitat.

TRIBES SPEAK IN SUPPORT

Tribes in the area also oppose logging of the land.

“The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe objects to DNR’s preliminary logging plans for the Coyle Sorts, Silver Lining and Thorndyke timber sales because they would destroy globally rare forest types and impact intact shorelines along the east side of Dabob Bay and Toandos Peninsula,” wrote Paul McCollum, natural resources director for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, in his letter to state officials. 

Others agreed.

“The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe respectfully requests DNR to consider an expansion of the Dabob Bay Natural Area to protect the forests and shorelines along the east side of Dabob Bay and the Toandos Peninsula,” wrote Hansi Hals, natural resources director for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. “The expansion boundary should include all the areas DNR plans to log … as well as Unit 4 of the proposed Coyle Sorts timber sale, which appears to have some of the highest quality older shoreline forest left in Hood Canal.”

Kenny Ocker, spokesperson for DNR, said in a Monday email that DNR remains committed to working with local Tribes and community partners throughout the Hood Canal region “to find solutions that provide wildlife habitat and clean water while meeting our legal obligations to support school construction and critical local services through sustainable forestland management.”

DECISION RESTS IN OLYMPIA

Expanding Dabob Bay Natural Area would require the Legislature’s approval, he noted.

“DNR-managed trust lands come with constitutional fiduciary obligations to be managed for the highest and best use for their beneficiaries,” Ocker added. “It takes funding from the Legislature or other sources to buy out the trust interests and allow us to acquire replacement properties elsewhere to support those beneficiaries. We have a legal obligation to preserve the corpus of the various trusts. That’s why we can’t simply expand the borders of the [Natural Resource Conservation Area].”

IMPACTS TO SHELLFISH

It’s not just forests that stand to benefit from the expanded protections; multiple letters sent to state officials highlighted the critical importance of shoreline areas to businesses whose products rely heavily on a healthy shoreline habitat.

Three shellfish companies — Taylor Shellfish, Baywater Shellfish Company and Rock Point Oysters — stressed the importance of preserving the shoreline near planned logging operations at the northern end of the bay. One of the companies, Rock Point Oysters, has been in business since 1921 and has farmed oysters and clams on the tidelands of Dabob Bay since 1945.

Baywater Shellfish Company owner Jonathan Davis cited previous successful attempts at expanding the protected area in a letter to DNR officials.

“The successful expansions of the Dabob Bay Natural Area in 2009 and 2016, and subsequent land acquisitions and Trust Land Transfers, have been an inspiring success story in the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound,” Davis recalled. “DNR’s partnership here has helped keep this remarkable area and its diverse habitats, water quality, and shellfish businesses healthy. However, critical work remains to be done and your leadership is essential.”

“DNR is obligated to protect these rare older types of forests under their Sustainable Forestry Initiative certification,” Davis’ letter continued. “In addition to preserving imperiled plant communities, these heritage forests have many benefits that would be destroyed by converting them to tree plantations: their ability to support a high diversity of species dependent on older forests, store carbon, resist wildfire, and protect downstream water quality in streams and Dabob Bay.”

“Dabob Bay supports two of the largest shellfish hatcheries in the world, and is the largest employer in the rural south part of East Jefferson County,” added Bill Taylor of Taylor Shellfish.

The Dabob Bay Natural Area was established in 1984 to protect the coastal saltmarsh spits between Tarboo Bay and Dabob Bay. The area originally encompassed 350 acres, but now includes 7,656 acres of saltmarsh, shoreline and forested slopes along Dabob and Thorndyke bays.

Within its current boundary, about 4,265 acres have been protected through property purchases from private landowners.

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  • hastingsnews

    Interesting and concise overview of this story. The practices and priorities of people must change and adapt in order to begin to correct for short-sighted damage done. It's good to read statements from both sides, as both are "conservative" in that they want to preserve and protect something with historic precedence and systemic importance. It's the motivations that must be weighed, and a compromise made that is best for future generations. money made via environmental destruction isn't the kind of human development that will benefit in the long run. We now know some, but not all of the consequences, and they are dire. I'm grateful to these folks who are doing their best to create a wise plan for us all, for the forest and the water, and to journalists who tell the story.

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