Legislators on the Land

- Blog

Meet three land trusts that are building relationships with their legislators where it matters – in the great outdoors.

At a time when Puget Sound health is dire, land trusts are stepping up to the plate to protect and restore the beaches, streams, estuaries, and bluffs that our communities and wildlife depend on.

Land trusts are doing impressive work in their communities, but they cannot do it alone. Our state elected officials are key partners in accomplishing this critical conservation.

There is no better way to advocate for continued funding and conservation policies than by getting legislators out on the land. Meet three land trusts that are building relationships with their legislators where it matters – in the great outdoors.

Vashon Maury Island Land Trust dedicated to bringing back our beaches

Senator Sharon Nelson and Representative Joe Fitzgibbon understand first-hand the importance of the shoreline to their coastal communities. As residents of Vashon Island and West Seattle, respectively, these shoreline landscapes are truly right in their backyard.

These elected officials joined the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust out to southeastern shores of Vashon Island to explore a recent armoring removal project. Over 25% of Puget Sound shoreline has been armored, including about 50% of Vashon. However, new understanding of coastal ecosystems shows that shoreline armoring negatively impacts the health of Puget Sound.

This summer, King County Department of Natural Resources removed some dilapidated bulkheads along the shore to help restore the natural, sandy beaches that provide the basis of the food chain for salmon and orca. Out along the banks of Quartermaster Harbor, Senator Nelson and Representative Fitzgibbon witnessed the beach recovering right beneath their feet.

During the tour, the Land Trust drove home the connection between shoreline restoration and recovering our salmon and orca populations. “It’s so great to work with somebody like Representative Fitzgibbon who is so well schooled in the relationship between healthy shorelines and healthy orcas,” said Executive Director Tom Dean.

It’s vital to have champions in the state legislature to stand up for Puget Sound recovery and the funding programs that support it, such as the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program. “[Representative Fitzgibbon] is always willing to come look at a conservation project,” says Tom Dean. “And that means he can speak from experience when he’s in Olympia.”


Capitol Land Trust Connecting Kids to the Coast

In late September, Capitol Land Trust and conservation partners hosted Representative Laurie Dolan and the office of Congressman Denny Heck on a tour of Harmony Farm, a place dedicated to getting kids outside and protecting the watershed.

The Harmony Farm property is the future home of Capitol Land Trust’s “Inspiring Kids Preserve,” which strives to get youth outside and engaged in STEM learning in the natural world. Additionally, Harmony Farm boasts a vibrant mosaic of nearshore ecosystems, including a lush 25 acres of forest and both fresh and saltwater wetlands.

Capitol Land Trust was proud to show off this project that had been decades in the making. Staff members shared their future vision for this space: kids chasing insects by the salt marsh, learning about the food web with their classmates, and traipsing through the forest with their families.

Gazing across the marshland, the group discussed the value of grant programs, like the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants, that made this work possible. “Having legislators visit conservation and restoration properties creates the linkage between species recovery and funding programs,” explained Laurence Reeves, Conservation Director of Capitol Land Trust.

“This will hopefully provide the impetus for continued conservation funding,” says Reeves, “and the confidence that funds are being well-utilized.”


Bainbridge Island Land Trust’s commitment to salmon recovery

Undeveloped shoreline on Bainbridge Island is truly rare.

Which is why Bainbridge Island Land Trust’s newest preserve, the Miller-Kirkman Preserve on the Little Manzanita Bay, is such a special place. This lush estuary is so pristine that the Kitsap Sun described a kayak visit to it as “a paddle back in time.”

The October clouds broke to reveal glimpses of sunshine for Bainbridge Island Land Trust’s outing to the new preserve with the 23rd District’s Senator Christine Rolfes.

Not only did the land trust share the beauty of the Little Manzanita Bay with Senator Rolfes, but also recounted that this place was identified as one of the highest conservation priorities in the watershed through the previously completed West Sound Watersheds Nearshore Prioritization project, and stream typing that was performed on the Island in 2014 by Wild Fish Conservancy. The Miller-Kirkman Preserve is home to not only a 1-acre estuary, but two salmon-bearing creeks and 910 feet of undeveloped shoreline, and its protection means that it will stay pristine forever.

“There’s no substitute to getting our elected officials outside,” explains Brenda Padgham, Conservation Director of the Bainbridge Island Land Trust. “They then have the opportunity to see how their support and how state grant endeavors play out in their backyard.”

The group then peered into the mossy depths of an ill-functioning culvert and weir system on Springbrook Creek on the next stop of the island tour. Years of regional science, and a recently completed watershed assessment led by the Land Trust supported by Salmon Recovery grants, multiple local assessments, and community discussion buy-in identified concluded multiple conditions within the watershed that needed improvement. Land Trust staff explained to the Senator that by removing this fish passage barrier and replacing it with a bridge, the stream conditions and its salmon populations could be improved.

Projects like Miller-Kirkman and the Springbrook Creek assessment and culvert projects are vital in saving important habitat and recovering the salmon population of Puget Sound. Well-funded conservation programs, like RCO’s Salmon Recovery grants, make projects like these possible.

“Land Trusts are deeply engaged,” explains Brenda, “not only in the implementation of protection and restoration projects, but in the process for identifying these priorities based on science and engaging our partners, communities and landowners.”

“We are truly grateful to Senator Rolfes for her rich understanding of what it takes to get this work done.”


Strengthening a network of Puget Sound champions

These three land trusts are members of the Shoreline Conservation Collaborative, a coalition that is working together to increase the pace and scale of protection and restoration of our Puget Sound shoreline. Together with WALT, our land trusts are building a network of conservation champions in Olympia and D.C.

We are advocating to protect the places that our communities love most. Join us by donating to WALT today!

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