Activities on Our Protected Areas

Connecting Students with Conservation in the Ohop Valley
In November, the Land Trust partnered with the Nisqually River Education Project to bring over 300 elementary and middle-school students to the Ohop Valley to plant trees on one of our properties. The site had long ago been cleared for pasture, and the restoration project was designed to reforest the Ohop Creek floodplain, which meanders through the 30-acre property. Over the course of a week, 18 classes of students helped to plant 1,500 native trees and shrubs on about 2.5 acres!

The Nisqually River Education Project connects local students with conservation work in the Nisqually Watershed. The Land Trust really enjoys partnering on these projects. Not only does it help restore our native habitats, but we also get to watch young people learn about their environment. The kids love getting muddy, finding worms, and getting out of the classroom. We are already looking forward to our planned events next fall!

Exploring New Ideas with Microsoft
How can Microsoft technology be leveraged to maximize conservation in the Nisqually Watershed? That’s the question the company’s Environmental Sustainability team explored with Land Trust Executive Director Joe Kane when it visited our Mount Rainier Gateway Forest Reserve in mid-October.

Over the past two years, Microsoft and the Land Trust partnered to complete the first carbon-credit transaction in the Pacific Northwest. The project helped protect habitat for at least fifteen “at risk” species in the Reserve and was the equivalent of taking 6,600 carbon-emitting cars off the road.

Jump-Starting Restoration on the Mashel River
Engineered logjams, or ELJs, jump-start habitat restoration in salmon-producing rivers where the natural supply of timber has been depleted: Logs are piled up to change the river’s hydraulics, which immediately increases the complexity of pools and riffles and provides sheltered alcoves for juvenile fish until replanted forests mature.

Four ELJs were installed this summer on Land Trust property near the confluence of the Mashel and Little Mashel rivers. Next summer, five more ELJs will be installed on adjoining properties owned by the Land Trust and the Town of Eatonville.

With the early start to the fall rains, river flows increased and returning Chinook were already being spotted nearby.

 

Whitewater Reach: High-Quality Shoreline Habitat

The Land Trust has purchased 13 acres of exceptionally high-quality shoreline habitat in the Whitewater Reach of the Nisqually River, near Yelm, which is rated highest priority for recovery of threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

The property is undeveloped and contains the most intact riparian forest in our 237-acre Yelm Shoreline Protected Area. The land was acquired from the estate of the late Barb Wood and Jim Park, who had long managed it to enhance its wildlife values.

About half of the property’s $125,000 acquisition cost was funded by a state Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant. The remainder had been proposed for funding in Thurston County’s 2017 Conservation Futures round, but the county has frozen the program while it negotiates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over Mazama pocket gopher protection.

“This property’s a jewel,” said Executive Director Joe Kane. “We simply couldn’t lose it. We were able to divert other funding, and that might hurt us down the road. But you have to go for it.”

Permanently protecting the property also keeps alive the vision of a shoreline trail along the Whitewater Reach. “This property would be in the heart of that trail,” said Kane.

Wilcox Reach: The River at its Most Dynamic

In November, the Land Trust acquired 9.86 acres and one-third mile of salmon-producing shoreline at the confluence of the Nisqually River and Toboton Creek. And we were hustling to remove a small log cabin before winter floods washed it into the river.

The property is located in the Wilcox Reach, one of the most dynamic stretches of the Nisqually River. Two years ago, just upstream, the river blasted away a hundred horizontal feet of riverbank in a matter of months and destroyed a family home.

Toboton Creek contains extensive coho salmon habitat, and the Nisqually Salmon Recovery Program rates the Wilcox Reach high priority for protection of Chinook salmon habitat and highest priority for protection of steelhead trout habitat. Both Chinook and steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Save for the cabin, the property is undeveloped and includes wetlands and second-growth conifer and deciduous forest.The purchase was ranked to be funded through a 2017 Salmon Recovery Board grant. However, salmon recovery funds are bottled up in the 2017-2019 capital budget, which the state legislature still has not passed. The Land Trust had to scramble to deploy internal cash reserves ahead of the oncoming winter.

“The Nisqually River won’t wait for the legislature,” said Executive Director Joe Kane. In recent winters the river has chipped away at the property and flooded around the cabin. Last winter a cedar log stove in the front porch. “If we don’t get that cabin out now,” Kane said, “the river will surely take it this winter. That would be a real mess.”

Judy Arp and her husband, Sammy, purchased the property 21 years ago, camped there with their kids, and built the cabin, which includes a stately granite fireplace erected by Sammy, a renowned stonemason.

“Our favorite activity was just to sit by the river and watch the wildlife,” Judy said during a visit to the Land Trust office. “We saw bears, salmon, beautiful herds of elk and deer. It was a very special place for us.” But Sammy passed away two years ago, and the Arp children grew up and moved north. “It’s time for this land to go back to what it was,” she said.

The cabin cannot be moved intact. We hope to re-purpose the timbers and granite, which remain in good condition. And the site’s ready access to Toboton Creek makes it a good location for environmental education.

The Nisqually Watershed is a conservation incubator – small watershed, big ideas.

 

What if Microsoft put its awesome technological shoulder to the conservation wheel in the Nisqually River Watershed?

When it comes to generating novel ideas for conservation, sometimes what it takes is getting enough bright, diverse minds into the same room – or even better, the same forest.

To that end, Microsoft’s Environmental Sustainability Team visited the Land Trust’s Gateway Forest Reserve on a radiant blue-sky day in mid-October.

Over the past two years, Microsoft and the Land Trust partnered to complete the first carbon-credit transaction in the Pacific Northwest. That transaction helped protect habitat for at least fifteen “at risk” species in the Reserve and was the equivalent of taking 6,600 carbon-emitting cars off the road.

Joined by project partners from the Land Trust, the Washington Environment Council, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Western Ecology Division, and Natural Capital Partners, the Microsoft team visited the carbon-project site it purchased credits from. It also toured the Nisqually Community Forest project – a site for potential future carbon projects and a target area for salmon recovery.

The brainstorming started deep in the forest:

  • How can Microsoft technology be leveraged to maximize conservation efforts for threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead trout?
  • What if fish-population monitoring can be completely automated, with computer vision providing instant species identification?
  • What if dynamic land-cover mapping can be completed in minutes, so that conservation efforts can be geographically targeted to have greatest impact?

The potential is enormous. The Nisqually Watershed is a conservation incubator – small watershed, big ideas. We try to develop innovative conservation tools that work here at home but can be applied elsewhere as well.

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Scientist, explained that artificial intelligence can perhaps best be thought of as “massive cloud-storage capacity, massive computational capacity.” Landscape-scale conservation efforts require data-heavy monitoring and modeling, and AI’s massive capacity can be harnessed to enable these efforts.

We will continue to explore collaborative opportunities to increase the speed and scope of conservation. Last year, the Mashel River, the largest tributary of the Nisqually River, was designated federal critical habitat for Nisqually steelhead, which are just a few bad years from extinction. Technological innovation is more important than ever if we hope to keep our working forests productive while also increasing the benefits they provide to our threatened species.

Microsoft’s Environmental Sustainability Team along with partners from the Land Trust, the Washington Environment Council, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Western Ecology Division, and Natural Capital Partners toured our Gateway Forest Reserve and our carbon project site.

Photo provided by Bonnie Lei from Microsoft

 

Land Trust Receives Historic Mount Rainier Property

The Walker Family, whose deep ties to Washington State and Mount Rainier National Park go back to the turn of the twentieth century, has donated to the Land Trust a historic 14-acre property near the park’s main gate.

Situated along Highway 706, the property’s towering fir and cedar trees have long lent a cathedral-like atmosphere to the approach to the park. The property is bisected by Tenas Creek, whose crystalline waters cascade out of the park on their way to the Nisqually River.

Five generations of the extended Walker Family have grown up using the property. It was first purchased in about 1900 by Calvin Heilig, who was based in Tacoma but made his fortune building and operating theaters in the major cities of the West Coast.

Toward mid-century, John A. Cherberg married Calvin’s niece, Betty, and together with Heilig’s nephews, Gile and Edward Walker and John Walker, M.D., they purchased the property and later made it the first property to be enrolled in a statewide greenbelt program that permanently protected its stately trees.

Cherberg served as Washington’s lieutenant governor for more than thirty years, and the building that houses the Washington State Senate is named for him. John Walker was an early partner with the Virginia Mason clinic in Seattle and was chairman for twelve years, until his retirement.

Robert Walker, president of the family corporation created to hold the property and an adjoining 38-acre parcel, said that his family donated the property “because we know that the Land Trust will manage it just as we always have – to protect its natural beauty, which has been so important to our family for so long.”

The Land Trust will manage the property as part of its Mount Rainier Gateway Reserve, which now totals some 2,500 acres of high-priority, permanently protected wildlife habitat between the national park and Elbe Hills State Forest, near Ashford.

Jump-Starting Habitat Restoration

Engineered logjams, or ELJs, are a technique for jump-starting habitat restoration in salmon-producing rivers where the natural supply of timber has been depleted: Logs are piled up to change the river’s hydraulics, which immediately increases the complexity of pools and riffles and provides sheltered alcoves for juvenile fish until replanted forests mature and take over.

Since 2004, over a hundred ELJs have been completed on the Mashel River, the largest tributary to the Nisqually River and host to all five species of native Nisqually salmonids, including threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. That work continued this summer, with the first of two intensive habitat restoration seasons at the confluence of the Mashel and the Little Mashel, near Eatonville.

All told, this project will install nine more ELJs on properties owned by the Land Trust and the Town of Eatonville. Four were completed this summer. With the early start to the fall rains, river flows have increased and returning Chinook have already been spotted nearby.

Project Manager Brian Coombs of the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group has been coordinating a team that includes Herrera Environmental engineers; an RV Associates construction crew; the Nisqually Indian Tribe, which is the Nisqually Watershed’s lead entity for salmon recovery; and the Land Trust, Eatonville, and local, state, and federal agencies.

The project will also enhance two existing side-channels to provide year-round habitat. Once construction is complete, the shoreline will be planted with native trees and shrubs.

Funding for this project is being provided by the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, via the Nisqually Indian Tribe and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Carbon Credits To Fund Restoration Of Nisqually Land Trust Via California Exchange

Microsoft is helping to preserve forests at the foot of Mount Rainier by investing in the potential of trees and restored forests to soak up carbon pollution. The value of absorbed greenhouse gas emissions will be set through California’s cap-and-trade exchange and the income used to grow the asset, through new plantings and road removals. Listen to audio and read more here…