Well written article appeared in the Tacoma News Tribune, Sept 27, 2007 calling attention to Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and beautifully describing the area where we live on pristine Willapa Bay. Aptly titled ‘Paradise, so close to home’ and written by Jeffrey P. Mayor, I am pleased to recommend the article which says better than I can what is beautiful about the region where we have chosen to live.
The mix of ocean beach, tideflats, freshwater marshes, an island dotted with towering cedars and a unique art trail make the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge a worthwhile stop.
Established in 1937 by President Franklin Roosevelt, the refuge now covers more than 26,000 acres and 260 square miles of water.
It’s a birder’s paradise, home to Western snowy plovers and great blue herons. It’s also a rest stop for countless migrating ducks and geese.
It’s a place where kayakers can paddle up to a waterfront campsite on Long Island. In the middle of the island is a 274-acre stand of remnant old-growth Western red cedars.
It’s home to 13 species of amphibians, black bear, deer and elk.
… spending a day exploring the ancient cedar grove, one of the prime attractions on Long Island.
The largest estuarine island on the West Coast, the island covers 5,400 acres. It is home to Sitka spruce and Western hemlock, black bears, elk and deer.
“Long Island is a real treat of a place. The ancient cedars there are pretty unique. They are among the oldest in Washington,” said Yoav Bar-Ness of The Nature Conservancy.
And as the reading finishes reading the article, and visualizing what we know to be true, a bit of a description of a Pacific Northwest paradise – nature as it might have been 100 years or more ago – the article ends with four challenges at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
Four challenges at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
1. Dune ecology and restoration
The issue: In the Leadbetter Point Unit, refuge staff members are dealing with the spread of European beach grass. It was planted to stabilize the sand dunes and has done that job too well.
The impact: The proliferation of the grass has harmed the species that require more open dune terrain, such as the Western snowy plover. That has forced the plovers to nest at the edge of the grasses, making them more susceptible to predators. Also, wind-blown sand covers the eggs the plovers lay on the open beach.
The work: Staff members have partnered with oyster operations in the area. They are using shells to stabilize the beach without use of grass. Charlie Stenvall, project leader at the refuge, said they have been able to clear 85 acres, with a goal of 100 acres.
2. Forest restoration
The issue: Rehabilitating forest areas that have been cut for timber.
The impact:One estimate says that less than 1 percent of the original coastal old growth remains. The loss of old-growth stands has affected wildlife, such as the marbled murrelet.
The work: The refuge is looking to revitalize its forest lands through thinning, reintroduction of declining tree and plant species and eliminating unnecessary forest roads. “We’re trying to return these to an old-growth forest. The time frame is we have to do the work now. But we many not know if we hit it right for 100 years,” Stenvall said.
The issue: Also known as smooth cordgrass, it’s thought that spartina came to the area in the late 1890s when it was used as packing material. In 1997, 25 percent to 32 percent of Willapa Bay’s nearly 47,000 acres of tidal flats was infested with spartina.
The impact: Spartina reproduces faster, overtaking native plants. Its spread also forces some animals to find new nesting areas, and it often covers feeding and resting areas for migrating birds. It also threatens to overgrow oyster beds throughout the bay.
The work: The refuge has partnered with the state and other agencies. “That goes on ad nauseum. But we are making lots of progress on that,” Stenvall said. He cited a stream where the spartina had been removed, hoping to revive a chum salmon run. Last November the chum failed to show, “but there were thousands of shorebirds in the area where there was a spartina meadow.”
The issue: The refuge’s annual budget is $1.3 million. That has risen just $200,000 in the last five years. In addition, that money also goes to operate the nearby Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge and the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for Columbia white-tailed deer. There are just 13 employees to work at all three refuges.
The impact: A meager budget makes it difficult to meet the six public uses mandated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: environmental education, interpretation, photography, hunting, fishing and wildlife observation. One example is that the refuge’s Salmon Art Trail is not open on weekends because of a lack of staff.
The work: “All the things we’re doing, we couldn’t do them without partnerships,” Stenvall said. “They’re worth millions, that’s not a joke. Our partnerships bring in more for our resource protection than I get through my federal budget.”