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.

 

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.

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!

Land Trust Makes History with Microsoft Carbon Deal

Mike Ryherd holds the certificate verifying that he and his wife, Anne, were the winning bidders for 25 carbon credits at the Land Trust’s annual auction. The Ryherds’ credits are the first ever to be retired to offset the carbon emissions of private individuals in South Puget Sound. They are the equivalent of approximately one-half of an average local household’s annual carbon emissions.

Mike Ryherd holds the certificate verifying that he and his wife, Anne, were the winning bidders for 25 carbon credits at the Land Trust’s annual auction.
The Ryherds’ credits are the first ever to be retired to offset the carbon emissions of private individuals in South Puget Sound. They are the equivalent of approximately one-half of an average local household’s annual carbon emissions.

(Source: Summer 2016 Newsletter, page 3)

Equivalent of taking 6,000 cars off the road

The Land Trust and Microsoft have made national news and local history by completing the state’s first-ever “carbon credit” transaction.

News of the deal made the Seattle Times, the New York Times, the Tacoma News-Tribune, the Olympian, radio stations KPLU and KUOW, and over a hundred other media outlets nationwide.

To simplify, as part of its voluntary $20 million-a-year initiative to offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions worldwide, Microsoft has paid the Land Trust for carbon stored on a 520-acre property within our Mount Rainier Gateway Reserve, near Ashford.

As trees grow, they pull, or “sequester,” carbon pollution from the atmosphere and help reduce the impacts of climate change. The amount of carbon and the rate at which the Land Trust’s trees are sequestering it has been verified under California’s rigorous cap-and-trade program, the country’s only regulated carbon-credit program.

Microsoft purchased 35,000 carbon credits, the equivalent of taking 6,000 cars off the road. If we had not acquired the property and eliminated commercial harvest of the trees, much of that carbon would have been released into the atmosphere.

“This is a game changer,” said Land Trust Executive Director Joe Kane. “There are 28 land trusts in the state, and we all face a common problem: How are we going to finance stewardship of our conservation properties over the long haul?

“The carbon market might hold an answer. As these trees grow, they’ll continue to generate new credits. Potentially, we have a perpetual stewardship fund.”

The forest Microsoft has invested in provides habitat for at least fifteen different wildlife species, including marbled murrelets and northern spotted owls, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

However, Kane said, the project was a “big gamble. It took over two years and was enormously expensive for us, with no guarantee of success.

“But the carbon-credit model holds huge potential for the climate, for our forests, and for land trusts. Somebody had to step up. We consider it our job to be a conservation innovator, so we gave ourselves the assignment.”

Mount Rainier Gateway canopy

As trees grow, they pull, or “sequester,” carbon pollution from the atmosphere and help reduce the impacts of climate change.

The Washington Environmental Council (WEC) partnered with the Land Trust. WEC’s Paula Swedeen, one of the nation’s leading authorities on carbon markets, was the project’s lead developer.

“It was a rigorous process,” she said. “But it has to be. California companies are legally required to meet emissions standards, and there can’t be any question about what work the forest is doing. The data has to be rock-solid.”

Meanwhile, she said, WEC wanted to demonstrate to other Washington businesses that a carbon project can be done. “We wanted to pair carbon financing with forest conservation right here at home.”

This is the first time a business has purchased credits in Washington State. “Microsoft has set an example,” Kane said. “And this is a carbon project you can walk around on. How cool is that?”

Additional Information (9/29/16): Check out the Washington Environmental Council video about the project.