2016 JBLM Day of Service – Nisqually Shoreline Transformation

by Charly Kearns | November 2016

Charly Kearns

For the past three years, we’ve had the chance to partner with Joint Base Lewis-McChord on their October Day of Service. This program matches groups of volunteers from JBLM with nonprofit organizations in the community.

From a land stewardship perspective, it is hard to top a group of 25-30 young men and women who have been through basic training! Every time that we host this event, I am amazed at the energy, respect, and efficiency shown by the volunteers – this year was no different.


We spent the day at the Land Trust’s newest property in Yelm, a ten acre Nisqually River shoreline property. I had a long list of tasks identified, including: removal of several small, dilapidated sheds; invasive plant control, and fence installation. I was sure that would keep us busy for the day.  After providing an introduction to the site and overview of the day’s activities, I turned the group loose. It was all I could do to keep up with giving out new assignments as tasks were completed – I hardly had time to pick up a hammer or pry bar!

By lunch time, two sheds were on the ground, with salvageable materials separated from the trash, and all the nails removed. Another group had cleared all the Scotch broom on the property, and had put a big dent in the blackberry population. My biggest challenge for the day was harnessing all that energy and not run out of things to do!

As our initial task list neared completion, I ran back to our plant nursery and grabbed some salvaged Douglas fir seedlings. By the end of the afternoon, the entire site that had been cleared was also filled with baby trees. This was one of those days on the land that I like the most. It isn’t often one gets the chance to watch a site transformed so quickly. To see the result of hard work change the future of even a tiny piece of the planet is so rewarding.

Many thanks to this group for all their service, both on duty and off!


Public Information Meetings – Road to Rainier Scenic Byway Corridor Management Plan

The public is invited to any one of three informational meetings in mid-November to review the Corridor Management Plan (CMP) for the proposed Road to Rainier Scenic Byway:

  • Monday, Nov. 14, 7pm Mineral School
  • Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7pm Eatonville Public Library
  • Thursday, Nov. 17, 7pm Whittaker’s Mountain Haus, Ashford

The plan outlines the scenic, recreational, cultural and historical/archeological attributes that define the Road to Rainier Scenic Byway and establishes a plan for marketing, public outreach, funding, and oversight. Communities in the Scenic Byway corridor are Ashford, Alder, Eatonville, Elbe, La Grande and Mineral.

The route is from the intersection of WA Highway 7/Eatonville Cutoff Road on the western end to the entrance of Mount Rainier National Park on the eastern end. A portion of the route forms a loop to include both Highway 7 (Mountain Highway) and Eatonville. Travelers could use one route eastward and the other going west. A spur from Elbe on Highway 7 South incorporates Mineral. For more information and a map, visit roadtorainier.com.

The goals of the Road to Rainier Scenic Byway as created by its committee are:

  • Introduce visitors to the rich experiences (scenic, recreational, cultural, historical/archeological) unique to the Scenic Byway and help them fully enjoy their experiences.
  • Protect, preserve, and enhance the Road to Rainier Scenic Byway’s natural habitat, scenic beauty, and cultural heritage.
  • Promote the Scenic Byway with a dual focus: as a worthwhile travel experience on its own and as the main link to Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Strengthen the economic foundations and tourism activities of local Scenic Byway communities.
  • Increase tourism during non-summer months when traveler accommodations and attractions are underutilized.
  • Provide effective support and oversight to the Scenic Byway organization.

Download the Road to Rainier Corridor Management Plan (27MB) here or visit roadtorainier.com website. Public comment period closes Nov. 19.

The Road to Rainier Scenic Byway is a project of Nisqually Land Trust (nisquallylandtrust.org). The developer of the Corridor Management Plan is Sarah Scott of Ashford. Project partners are Mount Rainier Visitor Association, Mount Rainier National Park, Nisqually River Council, Pierce County, Puget Sound Regional Council, and Town of Eatonville.

A Cease-Fire in the Blackberry Wars

by Charly Kearns | October 2016

Charly Kearns
I will try not to get too deep into military analogies, but as those of you who have spent any time controlling Himalayan blackberry can attest, it often feels like a battle. This is one of our most fierce invaders, not submitting quietly to control. Rather, this plant fights back.

We tend to spend a lot of time controlling blackberry in the summer and early fall. It is too dry to plant trees, ivy control is best saved for winter when the native understory plants are dormant, and spring is the perfect time to pull Scotch broom before it blooms. For our regular weekly volunteers, they understand that summer is filled with scratched arms and tiny thorns stuck in their hands. It is really a wonder that anyone volunteers to help with such a task. We salute everyone who is willing to help!

I actually really enjoy the struggle of blackberry control. The outcome is never known – some days we win, and others we lose. This plant is truly a worthy opponent! And there is a certain satisfaction that can only come from getting into the thick of it and emerging victoriously.

This year, our all-star volunteers have helped us to clear blackberry from 13.5 acres of Land Trust property! In many cases, we’ve removed these invaders from sites where restoration plantings were getting overwhelmed. We’ve freed young plants from the constricting canes and they are able to see the sun again.

Of course, the job is not done, and the blackberry will be back, but so will we! Over time, as our native trees begin to mature and the canopy closes in, the blackberry will die from lack of sunlight. Our native shrubs and shade tolerant species will have a chance to thrive.

This is the long term perspective, but it is one that gives me a great deal of hope. I know that there is an endgame, and that we can win.

For now though, as fall makes itself abundantly present, we will hang up our loppers for a sort respite. We’ll call a truce, and allow our wounds to heal. But we’ll be back at it next summer. Come join us!


Progress Is Afoot: Innovative Solutions to Sustainability Challenges

Unfortunately we’ve received notification that this Town Hall has been cancelled.
We’ll let you know if it is rescheduled in the future!

Seattle Town Hall | Sep 14, 2016 | 7:00 PM

Our world is changing fast—from climate conditions, to population growth, to technological advances. Managing these changes in ways that minimize impact to our environment is a daunting challenge. Come hear about innovative lab and field work being done to protect, restore, and improve the well-being of the natural Puget Sound ecosystem and our human environment. This work goes beyond simply trying to slow the damage being done. These innovators endeavor to observe things realistically and work to find new paths to the future, never abandoning a sense of optimism.

Joe Kane, Executive Director with Nisqually Land Trust
Eileen Quigley, Deputy Director with Climate Solutions
Matt Eldridge, Founder and General Partner of Aviary.vc

View event information here

Sometimes You Have to Poke the Bear

Headshot photo of Candi Tobin

Candi Tobin, Philanthropy Coordinator

by Candi Tobin | August 2016

Administrative Assistant, Land Steward, Philanthropy Coordinator – I’ve worn many hats at the Land Trust. This story is from my days as a Land Steward in the spring of 2013. I was doing what I thought was a routine monitoring visit at the Wilcox Flats Protected Area when I was reminded that the properties that we protect and restore can be wild and unpredictable places.

As I was skirting the river to check for invasive plants, a large, narrow hole came into view about 15 feet inland from the river. This hole was directly in the path that I was taking along the river and after considering my options I decided to leap over it to avoid thick shrubs on one side and the undercut bank along the river. I was mid-leap across the opening when I was startled by movement below and I suddenly started to think about the wildlife that might be using this hole as a burrow. By the time I landed on the far side of the hole, I was convinced—to my horror—that there was a flesh-and-blood, teeth-and-claws black bear asleep beneath me!

The shoreline has a fair amount of large woody debris at this stretch of the river.

The shoreline has a fair amount of large woody debris at this stretch of the river.

As soon as my feet hit the ground I flew, stumbling, through the woods, not stopping until I was some 50 feet away. By some stroke of luck the bear was still asleep. I couldn’t see the bear itself, but the steady rise and fall of the clumped vegetation that covered it told me it was there alright. I stood there for awhile gawking at the rhythmic rise and fall of the bear’s breathing and waiting for my heart to slow down.

I don’t know if it was courage or stupidity – more of the latter, I suppose – but whatever I had I mustered it and after several long minutes decided that I needed to see the bear for myself. I picked up a very short, rounded stick and chucked it toward the hole because in life, sometimes you just have to poke the bear.

Beaver activity at the Tatrimima property is hard to miss!

Beaver activity along the Nisqually River is hard to miss!

I braced myself to flee for my life through the woods or jump into the cold river to escape an angry, groggy bear, but my little piece of raining debris hadn’t fazed it. I crept closer to the burrow, adrenaline pumping, to get a better look. The bear didn’t stir; it’s breathing wavered only slightly as I approached. Finally, hovering on the edge of the den, I peered in… and it dawned on me that what I had spent the last twenty minutes panicking over wasn’t a bear.

It was the remnants of one of the massive cottonwood trees that pepper the shoreline! There is significant beaver activity on the property and the tree had been wrenched from the earth by the river and was wedged beneath the undercut bank. The “breathing” that had scared a solid five years off the end of my life was a gently rocking subterranean log; the protruding end of which was my “sleeping black bear”. Well played, Nature. Well played!

This property encompasses a beautiful riparian forest along the Nisqually River on the outskirts of Yelm – you should join us for a Nature Walk there sometime.








Wildlife at Mount Rainier Gateway Protected Area

by Charly Kearns | July 2016

Charly Kearns

Charly Kearns, Land Steward

Many people are surprised to hear that summer is a bit slower for land stewardship activities. Once the weather turns hot and dry, our task list dries up a bit as well. Tree planting takes place in the wet fall and winter months and the bulk of our weed control activities occur in the spring and early summer. Of course, our volunteers’ bloody arms and legs tell you we are in the middle of blackberry control, but overall we have a little more time for fun projects. This involves some wandering in the woods, and some time at my favorite swimming holes. Another one of the projects I am really enjoying this summer is documenting wildlife presence and use of our Mount Rainier Gateway Protected Area.

Deer at Mount Rainier Gateway Protected Area

Deer at Mount Rainier Gateway Protected Area

Over the years that I have been exploring this protected area, I have been astounded at the amount of animal signs visible along the roads and trails. I have had my share of close encounters on the property as well. I was snowshoeing a few years ago, and surprised a sleeping herd of elk, bedding in the deep snow. I have seen a half dozen black bear and cubs, usually foraging on distant slopes or high tailing it down the road as I approach in my truck. I even got to see two bobcat kittens playing in the ditch. When they noticed me, they leapt nearly 6 vertical feet into a tree and scrambled away. Nearly every time I visit the property, I flush a ruffed or sooty grouse. It is apparent that animals use these roads much more than people and now we have an opportunity to get some images of these forest residents. The Nisqually Indian Tribe has graciously allowed us to borrow several motion sensor wildlife cameras. So now the hunt begins.

Elk at Mount Rainier Gateway Protected Area

Elk at Mount Rainier Gateway Protected Area

I installed the cameras in places where I have observed wildlife signs in the past, mostly on decommissioned forest roads. The Land Trust has been abandoning unnecessary roads on this property in order to reduce habitat fragmentation and the need for maintenance. These roads are quickly becoming forested, but they are still used by the animals. The cameras have been up for close to two months, and I recently collected them and downloaded the photos.While there are no big surprises, we did get a few good photos of some of our common residents. One camera location in particular seems to be a regular hang out spot for deer and elk. We also captured some pictures of two different black bears.

Black bear at Mount Rainier Gateway Protected Area

Black bear at Mount Rainier Gateway Protected Area

I’ve moved the cameras into some new spots to see if we can document any other species, so stay tuned for more pictures in the coming months!


Historic Ohop Valley farm getting new life as school campus

Eatonville School District will turn historic Ohop Valley homestead into ag-based STEM campus

Nisqually Land Trust Executive Director Joe Kane gives a June 21st tour of the former four-generation Burwash family farm in Ohop Valley. The Eatonville School District is considering turning the historic homestead and its remaining structures into an ag-based, STEM campus. Steve Bloomsbloom@theolympian.com

Nisqually Land Trust Executive Director Joe Kane gives a June 21st tour of the former four-generation Burwash family farm in Ohop Valley. The Eatonville School District is considering turning the historic homestead and its remaining structures into an ag-based, STEM campus.
Steve Blooms bloom@theolympian.com


“The Scandinavian farmers who came to the Ohop Valley in the 1880s used their horses, shovels, dynamite and any other means necessary to turn the landscape into farmland.The valley 30 miles south of Tacoma, just outside Eatonville, was swampy, thick with brush and prone to flooding from the shallow, meandering Ohop Creek. But the land was cheap, and with a little sweat equity, it was home.

The traces of their work disappear a little more every year, as conservationists work to restore the habitat they molded. But a small corner of their world will live on, thanks to a project to save the Kjelstad-Burwash farm.

Norwegian dairy farmer Henrik Kjelstad arrived in the valley in 1890 and married Olava Hansen, another Norwegian immigrant in the valley, not long after. With the other families who lived in the valley, they cleared the swamp and trenched the creek, deepening it to reduce flooding and rerouting the bed along the east end of the properties. On their own homestead, the Kjelstads built a barn, filled it with cows, and went about raising their two children and running their farm.

The 114-acre property stayed in the family until four years ago, when the Nisqually Land Trust purchased it for $750,000. By then, the Scandinavian farmers in the area had largely moved on. The salmon that once ran in Ohop Creek were long gone, and the century-old Kjelstad-Burwash barn, the centerpiece of the last fully intact farm in the Ohop Valley, hadn’t housed cows in decades.

But soon, the Kjelstad Homestead will find new life when the Eatonville School District turns the historic barn and the 3.8 acres that surround it into a hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) campus focused on agriculture.

Eatonville School District Superintendent Krestin Bahr said she was surprised when Rich Williams, president of the Eatonville Community Foundation, approached her to ask whether the school district would be interested in using the farm.

Williams said the foundation tasks itself with preserving the history of Eatonville, and especially the Eatonville School District. He said many of those involved in the foundation had grown up with the Kjelstad family and watched the farm with interest.

Joe Kane, executive director of the Nisqually Land Trust, said the trust has been buying properties in the Ohop Valley since the 1990s in an effort to restore the salmon habitat destroyed by the farmers when they trenched the creek. When they bought the Kjelstad-Burwash property, they planned to tear down all its structures, a stipulation of the funding they received from the Washington State Salmon Recovery Board.

But then the Eatonville Community Foundation stepped in.

“Our primary focus was to convince the land trust to save the farm,” Williams said.

Kane said Bahr met the idea with enthusiasm, and about 18 months ago the land trust donated the 3.8 acres occupied by the homestead to the school district. The donation includes the 103-year-old barn, which was placed on the Washington State Heritage Barn Register in 2007.

The barn itself likely won’t be ready when the campus opens, because it still needs to be renovated to be safe for student use. The school district is looking for a grant for the project. Instead, she said students will work on the surrounding land and in other structures on the property, as soon as January.

When they do renovate the barn, Bahr said they plan to make it a STEM research center, complete with green technology and a commercial kitchen.

Bahr said the program also will partner with Pacific Lutheran University to house student teachers on the property. She said it’s an excellent opportunity to get teachers into a rural area, where they’re needed.

She said she hopes to involve not only traditional students, but at-risk, special ed and home-schooled students as well, and hopes the marriage of STEM and agricultural fields will be inspiring.

“That’s a whole field students could get into,” said Bahr. “Agriculture and agribusiness — that’s a really up-and-coming marketable job.”

Stephen Burwash, the last owner of the Kjelstad-Burwash property, can attest to how agriculture is evolving. He arrived on the farm for the first time in 1936 when he was 14, and never really left until he moved to a Tacoma retirement community four years ago.

During that time, he said he watched the business change. No longer do farmers sow their seeds by hand, walking back and forth across every acre of their property as he once did.

“It’s all computerized now,” he said. “All you have to do is sit in an air-conditioned cab with the radio and power steering. A tractor will practically steer by itself.”

That kind of mechanization has dramatically increased on farms, especially in Eastern Washington and the Midwest, said Brian Bodah, Pierce County director for Washington State University extension. Bodah, who has a degree in agricultural engineering, said STEM in agricultural fields has never been so big.

“Self-driving tractors are developed by engineers and driven by computer programmers,” Bodah said. “The development of some of these pesticides, that’s all science, all chemistry.”

Bahr said students at the planned STEM campus might grow their own crop to learn about sustainable agriculture, catalog and observe wildlife, work with the Nisqually Tribe to study indigenous plants, or help with the conservation efforts of the Nisqually Land Trust.

“This is how we build the next generation of conservation advocates,” Kane said. “You get kids out there in the dirt — they’ll remember that. That will live with them. That’s how you build that sense of, ‘This is our land. This is our resource.’ We’re excited about that.”

Source: The News Tribune, June 26, 2016; The Olympian, June 27, 2016

Related: Salmon Project Spawns New High School Campus (2016 Summer Newsletter)

Nature Walk Shows Off Restoration Efforts

Nisqually Land Trust Guides Group Though 452-Acre Powell Creek Complex Protected Area

BY ANDREA CULLETTO, Nisqually Valley News

“Nisqually Land Trust Executive Director Joe Kane stands near a grassy field beneath a thick covering of trees. A group of eager explorers forms a semicircle around him. He holds up a map and traces a route with his forefinger. “Today we get to see something special,” Kane announces with a smile. “There’s not a lot of access, so it’s not always easy to see the Nisqually River.” The Nisqually Land Trust is steadily engaged in…”  View the complete story here (PDF).

(Source: Nisqually Valley News, Thursday, June 23, 2016)



Creating the “Wild” for Wildlife

Wildlife monitoring equipment installation in the Ohop. Photo: Nisqually Indian Tribe Natural Resources Department

Wildlife monitoring equipment installation in the Ohop. Photo: Nisqually Indian Tribe Natural Resources Department

(Source: 2016 Summer Newsletter, page 14)

by Cris Peck

I like to call our stewardship work “habitat farming” – we protect, maintain and enhance habitat for wildlife, and one of our “yields” is increased wildlife populations. We’re elated when we learn about salmon, beaver, caddisflies, coyote, birds, elk, and bear on our properties. They’re all indicators of good habitat quality and connectivity.

The Lower Ohop Valley is a perfect example. Our restoration project there is massive, with a dozen partners helping to re-meander the creek and reforest the floodplain. The project was designed to benefit salmon, particularly Chinook and steelhead trout, but the fast-growing plantings and reconnected floodplain are providing habitat for amphibians and dozens of bird species. The valley is now home to a robust elk herd, and we’ve heard reports of a resident black bear for the first time in over 30 years!

We know much of what we know because we’re lucky to have volunteers and partner organizations that help collect wildlife data through citizen science and wildlife surveys. To help keep “common species common,” Northwest Trek, the wildlife park near Eatonville, brings volunteers to Land Trust properties, including the Ohop, to observe and record evidence and sightings of the critters using our lands, from stream bugs to big mammals. Volunteers from the park also conduct seasonal amphibian egg mass surveys in the Ohop. This ongoing monitoring helps quantify general habitat quality and tracks changes over time.

Furthermore, over the past two years, the Nisqually Indian Tribe has worked with consulting biologists to survey wildlife in the Lower Ohop floodplain. They installed nine cameras that captured images of elk herds, coyotes, deer, and even beavers! In addition, the cameras observed 55 bird species, including first-time documentations of black-headed grosbeak, hooded merganser, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, and western tanager.

Like people of all ages and backgrounds, I often become captivated for a few short moments by the presence of a wild animal, whether a tiny insect or a large mammal. The idea that future generations will have the opportunity to experience this sense of awe is a cornerstone of why we’re dedicated to land protection and habitat restoration in this beautiful watershed.

A sampling of the 196 species documented in the Ohop Creek Restoration wildlife surveys conducted by the Nisqually Indian Tribe Natural Resources Department and ICF International. Wildlife cameras caught, left to right: Roosevelt elk, northern flicker and coyote. (Photo: Nisqually Indian Tribe & ICF International)



Transitions: 27 Years of Service, a Lifetime of Dedication

(Source: 2016 Summer Newsletter, page 10)

George Walter retires from the Board of Directors

George, at the beginning of it all, circa 1989.

George, at the beginning of it all, circa 1989.

George Walter, who founded the Land Trust in 1989 and served as its president from 1989-2012, retired from the Board of Directors in May after almost three decades of service.

We’re happy to report that George will continue to chair our Lands Committee, which coordinates acquisition and stewardship of the Land Trust’s properties. It is difficult to capture the profound impact George has had on conservation in the Nisqually Watershed. During his tenure with the Land Trust, we have permanently protected over 5,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

That alone is a tremendous legacy. But as a long-time employee of the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s Natural Resources Department, as a former chair of the Nisqually River Council, and as the close ally and confidante of the late Nisqually leader Billy Frank Jr., George has played an even larger role.

In 1980, when George helped draft the plan to restore and manage the Nisqually Watershed, only 3 percent of the Nisqually River shoreline was protected. Today, 78 percent of the shoreline enjoys permanent conservation status, making the Nisqually one of the most well-protected rivers in the state.

George has been at the center of achieving that remarkable progress, which the Puget Sound Partnership recognized in 2012, when it gave George its Lifetime Achievement Award.

We are immensely grateful for his leadership, his friendship, his inspiration, and his passionate commitment to our mission. Thank you, George!


Farewell Friends


Welcome Aboard!