Life in Bay Center on Willapa Bay

Living in a maritime fishing village in Southwest Washington state on Willapa Bay

Archive for the ‘estuary’ Category

Chesapeake Bay future of Willapa Bay?

Posted by pallix on December 28, 2008

Article I came across this morning at Washington Post turns out to be much more than one article.  It is an article collection in a series on the clean up efforts and lifestyles of the  Chesapeake Bay reported by the Washington Post.  I read with interest, recognizing that I could well be reading the future of Willapa Bay were it to become more densely populated; were it to become less ecologically sound due to carelessness of it’s stewardship.   Were it to lose it’s oyster population as it already once historically did when the native oysters were harvested into extinction.  

We moved here about 10 years ago from an upscale urban center in Seattle area, with an eye to the pristine beauty of the Willapa region, the historical context, and to downshift gears to a calmer, quieter way of life.   While we are indeed ‘transplants’, we settled in with intention of integrating into a lifestyle that somehow seems to have maintained keeping the Willapa region not too much undisturbed by carelessness of  human contaminations.   We are, for the most part, still considered ‘newcomers’ to the area and we recognize that some families are generational families, having lived here over many generations.  Of course, we are newcomers to that kind of generational family history.  Yet we have felt welcomed, embraced, and if there has been any joking sense of us as newcomers, it has been in good humor.  We have not felt at any time unwelcome.  

 I recognize that is in large part due to the sparse population and towns of Pacific County and a rather untouched land.  One of the things I find myself thinking as we go from place to place within the county is that this must closely resemble how this land looked one hundred, two hundred years ago.  This land must look a  lot like it did to the early settlers.  This must be something close to what Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery saw when they arrived here.   This land must still look much like what it was like for the Native Americans who dwelt here, primarily the Chinook people.  

We habitat as guests in this region comparative to the history of the region, and we recognize that we are guest dwellers on this land.  Our lifestyle is not that of living off the land, in fishing, in timber/lumber, in farming (unless our  small kitchen vegetable garden counts).  By osmosis we become somewhat acquainted with the reality of the issues that beset the mix of people choosing to live in this region.    Some of our neighbors are oyster farmers, and we learn a bit about what is important to them in their livelihoods as oyster farmers.   At least one of our neighbors owns and operates a modestly sizeable dairy farm, and we learn a bit about issues important to their livelihood.  Some neighbors are agricultural farmers, and we learn a bit about issues important to their livelihoods.  And many of our neighbors are part of the timber/lumber industry, consequently we learn about issues important to their livelihoods, for example, the environmentalists efforts to save the spotted owl, which people in the timber/lumber industry will tell you about killed off their entire livelihood in that industry. 

Gradually, over time, we come to know a little bit about a bit of what are important issues to the people who live in this county, who reside along the Willapa Bay, who live in the Willapa Hills .. all our neighbors in the Willapa region.    What is highly important to the livelihood of some does encroach on the livelihood of others and it seems to me a harmonious disharmony has developed over the generations.  

Where we reside now,  homeowners buying one of the older properties still standing in this community, we have a strong regard for the history of not only our immediate community, but the region where we have chosen to live.  We did not buy ‘weekend getaway property’ and we do have a fair share of new residents who are weekenders, along with a fair share of  new residents from out of the area who choose to settle here, buy existing property or build new homes and live here  year round.  We have lived here only ten years, but we can ‘feel’ the shifting tides as the older sense of not only this immediate community but the older sense of the community gives way to the new sense of community in this region.  

For property developers, driven by the property bubble, they began to look upon this region as one of the last vestiges of property development, having developed everything else along the Interstate 5 corridor regions.   As they began to look, signs of what I consider encroachment began to appear; the very things we wanted to get away from – housing developments, condos, and with that the people who buy them and want the accompanying convenience of close by stores and malls and I began to fear the beautiful landscape would give way to …. well, what development looks like, pretty much cookie cutter one to the next.    

But Willapa is an estuary, and as such has environmental protections, making too much development too quickly unlikely.    And, as my own concerns began to take root, the property bubble burst — the mortgage crisis we are in now.  With it the start up developments in our region seemed to quickly wither.  I can’t say I’m sorry to see that happened.  But I also realize it is momentary, contingent on recovery,  the marketability and at some point will once again be back on the developers map as an area to develop.  

Which brings me back to the Washington Post series on the Chesapeake Bay and the seemingly unsuccessful efforts to revive that bay.   Several components are cited as contributing factors to the demise of the vibrancy of the Chesapeake Bay, and they are the very components that affect Willapa Bay.  Why, one might ask, is one bay (Willapa Bay) still considered pristine, vibrant and productive where the Chesapeake Bay is considered contaminated and nearly beyond repair?   The Washington Post series or articles attempts to answer the question of what went wrong, what is trying to be fixed and what is or is not working about the Chesapeake Bay, so there is little need for me to repeat or condense it here.  But it has caused me to look protectively at our own Willapa Bay in a new light, perhaps in recognition that the fact of the wilderness aspect of the region which has a still manageable human population could easily go the way of the Chesapeake Bay in over development, over population, and carelessness of human contaminations. 

The thing weighing a bit on my mind is that this region is under study as part of the Columbia – Pacific National Heritage Area (link to House bill and Senate bill)  , spring boarding from the historical Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery.  Regions designated National Heritage sites promote tourism, tourist $$ and enterprise and perhaps expand the regional economy, but at what cost over the short run?  I have been asking myself this question since I learned of the Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Study Act last summer.   With that question, also comes the issue of Federal recognition of the Chinook people as a recognized tribe – Chinook Nation.  It can hardly be on one hand acknowledged that the concept of  the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery could be used to advance  this region into a National Heritage site without simultaneously acknowledging that  the Chinook people, as a recognized tribe, who gave considerable aid to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, and are the backbone of what makes this region historically noteworthy.

I watch with interest the events ahead, with the efforts to make this region a National Heritage site, the progress for the Chinook people in being officially recognized at Federal level, the land and property development market, the responsive reaction from the various industries in the region; tourism,  commercial fishing, timber industry, agricultural community, and the newcomers who are less responsive to the history and more anxious to make the area into a region not unlike the area from which they came — overly developed with more cookie cutter type housing developments, malls,  stores and Starbucks on every other corner.   Should that happen, the unique richness of this region will be forever lost.   Should that happen, the arguments are made and some might consider it a good thing for an ailing local economy, livlihoods unlikely to sustain in the coming years, and necessity to make way for change, lest……..  

 

And I ask lest what?  Lest the region remain pretty much the same as it is, and if so, what is terribly wrong with that?

Posted in agriculture, Chinook Nation, estuary, oyster farms, oysters, willapa, willapa bay | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Daily Astorian wins 2007 Dolly Connelly Award for series on climate change impact on Pacific NW

Posted by pallix on November 13, 2007

I have also posted this as front page story on Washblog.

The Daily Astorian has won the 2007 Dolly Connelly Award for excellence in environmental journalism for a series of articles on how global warming stands to impact the Pacific Northwest and its living creatures.

Established in 1998, the Connelly Award is given out annually by the association. It was established by Seattle P-I columnist Joel Connelly in memory of his mother, who worked as a freelance journalist and correspondent for Time-Life.

I learned today in Salem, Oregon Statesman Journal publishing a Seattle AP report. Hey, the Daily Astorian is our neck of the woods – out here in Bay Center, in Pacific County. So I followed the link and found a fantastic resource in the collection of articles for this special report featured in the Daily Astorian.

An award wining special report as provided by a collaborating collection of 22 writers, seven photographers, seven editors, six page designers and two logo creators from The Daily Astorian.

There are 71 articles from March 2006 to the most recent one in Sept 2007. I will be reading them over the weeks ahead and I’ve already read through several of the articles. I can see some grave relevance, not only for our immediate region on coastal Southwest WA, but along the WA coastline and those Puget Sound bodies of water.

I’m struck by how the articles reference two of the nearby towns of South Bend and Raymond in the region where we live as the ‘canaries in a coal mine’.

from one of the articles ‘What you would see here would be a hell of a mess’

Not only would the coastline change, but there is no question there would be a corresponding rise in the water table, said Douglas Canning, recently retired from the Washington Department of Ecology’s Shorelands Program and affiliated with the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group.

A rise in the table water would cause low-lying inland lakes to expand. Areas that are now wetlands could have standing water year-round, or become small lakes. New wetlands could form on previously dry ground. Freshwater marshes could become inundated with saltwater.

Because Raymond and South Bend are feeling the symptoms, Canning suggests county leaders consider them their canaries in a coal mine.

“Those are my poster children,” for demonstrating the dangers of the long-term effects of rising ocean levels, he said. Any unanticipated consequences of climate change and a rise in the ocean level should manifest there first.

I’m also struck by the specific article on Bay Center (where we live) becoming an island. We already are an ‘island’ technically, but the article isn’t talking about the mere channel of water that separates us now from the mainland where a small bridge is our way in and out.

from one of the articles ‘Maps reveal extent of worries for Bay Center, Oysterville’

Washington’s Pacific County covers 928 square miles, but by 2100, based on predictions of ocean level rise caused by global climate change, the county could lose 20 square miles to the ocean.

A Geographic Information System analysis of Pacific County was done using a projected rise in ocean level of 3.4 feet by 2100. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates an approximate rise in ocean level of three feet by 2100, and a Canadian study suggests the Pacific Northwest may experience half as much again again as the global average.

Bay Center, bracketed by Willapa Bay and a river, will become a virtual island at high tide.

Of course, those are immediate concerns to those of us who live in Pacific County, however, I don’t think the effects are limited to Southwest Washington as much as The Daily Astorian chose to do a very comprehensive and scientific analytical report, giving me reason to be very proud of the reporting in our region from what is considered to be a small town newspaper in The Daily Astorian.

Astoria, Oregon, on Highway 101, is a Megler Bridge away from us in Pacific County, so we consider it very much part of our region. The Megler Astoria Bridge spans the mouth of the Columbia River where the river meets the Pacific Ocean.

I wonder if the newspapers to the north of us in the larger cities along western Washington coast have invested this kind of time in reporting? And if not, why not?

By pointing to the concerns we face in our region, I think the smorgasboard of articles points to larger concerns beyond just our immediate region. For example:

Will fishing cool down as the oceans warm up?


Bananas growing in Oregon?


Northwest water supplies rely on storage and conservation


It’s like a freight train coming and no one can stop it
Salmon are hardy – but can they survive warmer water? It may be hard to believe that chinook salmon or steelhead could be bothered or hurt by a few degrees warmer water

Invasive species hurting lifestyles on Long Beach Peninsula

Forests and crops struggle to beat the heat

Cranberry crop on the Peninsula may be vulnerable to climate change


Along with drier landscape comes another problem – more weeds
SPOKANE, Wash. – Bigger weeds. Weeds that go further up mountainsides. Weeds that take advantage, not only of warmer temperatures, but higher carbon dioxide levels that will accompany global climate change.


Sea birds, insects and other critters suffer amid changing climate


Growers around the Northwest point to evidence of more pests


Forests encounter new pest problems in the age of global warming


Effects on bird species bring climate change into focus
Bird count shows some new species are appearing here


Climate change activists converge in Skamakowa
(my note; Skamokawa is a tiny town in Wahkiakum County, the next county over and south from us in Pacific County. A tiny town like that taking a lead in climate change — I’m mightily impressed!)

Climate change team

This installment of the climate change series is produced by the East Oregonian Publishing Group, whose member newspapers include The Daily Astorian in Astoria, Ore., The East Oregonian in Pendleton, Ore., The Capital Press in Salem, Ore., (covering four states); the Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day, Ore., The Wallowa Chieftain in Enterprise, Ore., and the Chinook Observer in Long Beach, Wash.

I seem to have gravitated to a place where I find the focus of my attention on quite hefty and heavy topics, between activism regarding Iraq war (wars in Middle East) and concerns with climate warming. At least I feel like with the climate warming there are some things I can do (we can do, each and every one of us) that might make some difference to the greater sum in effort to work to reduce impacts. And in each little step I find I can take, I feel a small but empowered sense that this is something where we can have a unifying commonality and work together in building communities and work towards life-giving purposes.

Oh, but with Iraq war, I feel like I have failed despite my best efforts after 5 years of focused activism. I feel the failure acutely as my son-in-law leaves at the end of this week for his second deployment to Iraq. I really find myself feeling awkward in knowing what to say to him, and I can’t shake the feeling of having failed him and his wife and children when I am with them. I realize it is in the hands of Congress now, and am coming to the sad realization that there is nothing Congress will do to shift the course of Iraq war for the remainder of this President’s term. I’m not so sure Congress will do much even when (if) a new President takes on the Commander-in-Chief role in Jan 2009.

Posted in agriculture, Bay Center proper, climate warming, estuary, farming, migratory birds, Neighboring communities, oysters, Pacific County, Pacific ocean, shorebirds, South Bend, spartina, tideflats, waterfowl habitat, wetlands, willapa, willapa bay, Willapa Bay in the news | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is the Idyllic Estuary known as Willapa Bay under threat?

Posted by pallix on October 17, 2007

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Many say yes to the need to control spartina in Willapa Bay while some say no need to spray chemicals in pristine Willapa Bay to control spartina. I’m paying curious attention, since we are now residents on this wondrous bay. What we have come to take as indicative and a large part of the reason why we chose to put roots down here in the region of Willapa Bay – Willapa Hills – in Pacific County of Washington was the untouched by humans wilderness aspect of life in this area. In the near decade we have lived here, we have learned a bit about the region from our neighbors at work, at church, at home and in the community.

We do not work in the primary industries of timber, commercial fishing, farming, tourism, or small business that make up most of the industry in this region. So we remain always respectful onlookers, observers, if you will, of those who labor in these industries.

Of late though, my attention has been drawn to something that would likely not have been more than passing interest to me were it not for the fact that it is the reality of where we live. More out of curiosity than necessity, I’ve been drawn into doing a bit of looking into the research of others, far more expert than I, on the matter of eco-relationship of life forms who share the Willapa Bay; plant life, marine life, bird refuge, and human life.

We know a bit about the oyster farms, oyster farmers, and commercial fishing industry in the area because they are our neighbors, but also because our employment vocations put us in touch with the ebbs and flows of human economic sustenance in this region. If it isn’t going well for the marine life here, then it isn’t going well for the human life here either. There is a strong interdependence and one in which human stewardship plays an important role. A role seemingly well understood by the people who know and appreciate with respect the history, the immediate present and the future of Willapa Bay.

Oyster farming on Willapa Bay, Washington

Oyster farming on Willapa Bay

My (step) father introduced us to awareness of Willapa Bay because he and my mother made almost annual visits here, and both would tell us of their trip that year. One of the things he used to tell us, often and with great pride, was that Willapa Bay was the third largest bay in the country and the most pristine. He was a longshoreman and had at an earlier time in his life, in his younger years worked the docks and boats on Willapa Bay. He passed last year, Jan 2006, and some of his friends may well remember Charlie Ellsworth. He was a guy’s guy kind of man, honest, forthright, sincere, loyal, a veteran and had a strong work ethic. His pride of the Willapa often piqued my interest, but not enough to seek it out and see for myself until one day…..

My husband and I took a planned camping trip ourselves to meet up with my children at Fort Stevens in Warrenton, Oregon. Causing us to drive on Highway 101, through towns of South Bend, Raymond, which we actually had never heard of before and then about 10 miles out of South Bend, was the road sign for Bay Center — the place were my mom and dad took an annual vacation trip. Thus was our introduction to this region of Washington and it was so breath-taking that I wondered aloud if we could transfer our employment here and take up residence here. (We both were employees for State of Washington, Dept. Social and Health Services and can transfer where openings exist in offices in Washington state).

There was one opening, not two, and my husband got himself transferred to South Bend, and we moved here and thus began our life in Willapa. Over the years, as we got acquainted with the area, we knew it was among those considered economically depressed and that while it was not flourishing in terms of human economic development, it was an environmental treasure not yet exploited. Unlike some residents who are generational families living in the area, we are imports – from the city – no less, but we have become very attached to the beauty of the region and feel blessed to have the opportunity to live here.

This was more quiet knowing on my part. Over the years we have lived here, I have only begun to understand how important the region is to Washington state and on a larger scale to other bay, estuary, wilderness communities that have been less cautious in their over development and exploitation of the fragile co-existence that must remain to preserve the quality of life that keeps Willapa Bay the least spoiled estuary environments in North America.

No, this is not me bragging – this is me being astonished at how others, more versed and knowledgeable define Willapa Bay. And that does then, cause me to be proud of where we live, and desire to enter into a stewardship to preserve what is here for future generations to appreciate. Do my grandchildren care deeply whether spartina will overtake the bay and turn it from a mud bay estuary refuge for the thousands of migratory birds? Or will they care if the oyster farmers who have an enormous stake in the condition of the bay will continue to be watchful stewards and keepers of the bay? Will they care – not likely, but if not my grandchildren, than I know some others grandchildren may indeed care – and deeply.

I defer to others more learned than I on the matter, in recognition that I could not begin to acquire that kind of knowlege base beyond that of a reader, listener, and resident here on Willapa Bay. What do I know about burrowing shrimp, ghost shrimp, mud shrimp – native species to Willapa Bay and their impact on oysters – not native to Willapa Bay yet perhaps exactly because of the shepherding of oyster farmers exists Willapa Bay as I have come to know it — as my father said in pride – it is the most pristine bay in the country.

Thalassinidea (ghost shrimp)

Thalassinidea (ghost shrimp)

What do I know of the plant life spartina, except what I see waving on the shore and in the waters at the beaches where I live on Willapa Bay, in the Palix river that borders Bay Center Dike Road on it’s way to emptying into Willapa Bay. What do I know about the ongoing environmentally controversial matter of whether to use chemical sprays to help (or hinder) the interplay of life that now exists on Willapa Bay and likely needs to continue to remain, if not thrive and flourish on Willapa Bay.

A clump of Spartina alterniflora

A clump of Spartina alterniflora

I know very little, but I know enough to know that it is worthwhile to remain curious and interested enough to try to follow along as an interested observer, an interested bystander, an interested onlooker. And for that reason, I want to add links like the one below that do a better job of investigative reporting than I could begin to do. My son, attending Oregon State University, not that interested in what happens at Willapa Bay found himself having to learn about geology and with that a study of Willapa Bay. I have come to understand that universities and colleges in both Washington and Oregon continue to study Willapa Bay. I have come to appreciate that Willapa Bay has much to offer as a study in what is working that keeps it what it is; a clean, pristine bay – estuary – mudflats – tidelands – wilderness – refuge.

Willapa Bay Migrating Birds

photo courtesy of Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

Washington State Magazine

Willapa Bay, also known as Shoalwater, is the largest estuary between San Francisco and Puget Sound. It boasts one of the least-spoiled environments and the healthiest salmon runs south of Canada, produces one in every four oysters farmed in the United States, and is a favorite pit stop for tens of thousands of migratory birds.

And it’s in trouble.

The infestation of Spartina, imported by accident from the East Coast, collects enough silt to raise the bay floor by up to a foot, turning much of Willapa’s enviably productive tidal zone into a giant, unkempt lawn. At the same time, other introduced plants and animals and two opportunistic species of native shrimp also threaten to spoil the pristine bay.

“If you lose Willapa Bay, it’s of both state and national significance,” says Kim Patten (’83 Ph.D. Horticulture), a Washington State University researcher and associate professor of horticulture who is a leader in the battle for the bay.

“I think it’s a national treasure, because every estuary in North America would try to emulate it. There’s no other estuary out there like it,” Patten says. “We have sort of an idyllic estuary. It’s not perfect, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a very functioning estuary. You don’t get better than that.”

Environmentally, aquatic landscapes from Chesapeake Bay to San Francisco Bay are infamous for what they’ve lost. Willapa Bay’s protectors want to make it renowned for what it kept. They’re starting to get noticed.

Last June, the National Audubon Society ranked Willapa Bay second—just behind part of Florida’s Everglades—in its Cooling the Hot Spots report detailing wildlife areas threatened by invasive species. That followed a similar listing in the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s 2002 report, Silent Invasion. And the Nature Conservancy has made protecting the bay and its rich watershed one of its highest Washington priorities.

Senator Patty Murray (’72 Recreation) and her colleagues helped secure another $1 million in federal funding for this season’s work, the second in a six-year, multi-partner plan to eradicate Spartina. The state is pitching in hundreds of thousands more.

“It’s so common for us to not realize what we’ve got until we lost it,” says U.S. Representative Brian Baird, D-Vancouver. “This wonderful bay faces some real threats. Spartina, for example, is a nightmare. It can turn the Willapa Bay into the Willapa Prairie.”

……..

President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in 1937 to protect habitat for migrating birds. But as Spartina has thickened, Willapa’s legions of shorebirds have thinned.

Shorebirds flock to unspoiled tidal flats to peck for worms, midges, nematodes, and other critters that make up the “groceries” that fuel the birds’ long migrations along the West Coast. Some also will forage among the stubble and wrack of dead Spartina, but they won’t venture into living meadows where predators might lurk.

“Willapa Bay is one of the few stepping-stones of habitat left for migrating birds from South and Central America to Canada and Alaska,” says Nina Carter, policy director for Audubon Washington. She helped lobby her national organization to train a spotlight on Willapa’s disappearing habitat for short-billed dowitchers and tens of thousands of other shorebirds that migrate through each year.

Posted in burrowing shrimp, estuary, Friends of Willapa, ghost shrimp, marine life, marsh, migratory birds, mud shrimp, oyster farms, oysters, Pacific County, shorebirds, spartina, tideflats, Uncategorized, waterfowl habitat, wetlands, willapa, willapa bay | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »