Hood Canal Estuary Preserved (WA)

SEABECK, WASHINGTON, 12/9/02 – What began as an after-school program to teach youth about salmon and water-related issues has ultimately helped save a 34.5-acre estuary on Hood Canal that provides critical habitat for chum, coho, and chinook salmon. Thanks to the tenacious efforts of a small community and the Trust for Public Land (TPL), this invaluable site will be protected forever.

In 1999, then Seabeck Elementary School PTA president Jerry Zumdieck formed an after school program to educate children about salmon and water-related issues. Zumdieck was inspired by guest speaker Ron Hirschi, a fisheries biologist working on salmon habitat restoration in the Pacific Northwest. For the last three and a half years, Zumdieck and Hirschi have been taking the Seabeck Alki Salmon Team out to the nearby lagoon to study fish. Student Nick Holm – now 15 years old – became such an instrumental force in the effort that eventually the lagoon became locally known as Nick’s Lagoon.

Before the formation of the Salmon Team, Nick’s Lagoon and the streams feeding into it had never been studied. But it didn’t take long to realize what an ecological treasure the lagoon was. Along with other members of the Salmon Team, Hirschi and Holm discovered spawning by coho and chum salmon, as well as cutthroat trout. The Salmon Team also documented use of the saltwater reaches of Nick’s Lagoon by young salmon from other streams. Endangered chinook juveniles, for example, swim up into the lagoon to feed as they migrate along the shores of Hood Canal to the distant Pacific Ocean.

“This use by chinook makes Nick’s Lagoon of critical importance in helping to complete the life history needs of these vulnerable fish,” said Hirschi.

With surrounding woodlands, streams, and salt marsh, the lagoon forms a complete ecosystem, providing habitat for some of the region’s most sensitive salmon species, as well as bald eagles; widgeon, bufflehead, and scoter ducks; and numerous other birds.

“With streams from headwater to mouth, it is much like holding the entire Columbia River System in the palm of your hand. There is no other lagoon system in Hood Canal that offers this opportunity for environmental education,” said Hirschi.

“This area harbors among the most productive habitats for salmon and other valued wildlife in Puget Sound. Had it been developed, irreplaceable habitat for endangered salmon would have been destroyed, compromising salmon recovery efforts in Hood Canal,” said Ted Labbe, habitat biologist with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.

When Nick’s Lagoon was about to be subdivided and developed into residential lots, Zumdieck and Hirschi contacted TPL in hopes of finding a way to protect the sensitive area. In November 2002, TPL acquired the property and conveyed ownership to Kitsap County Parks and Recreation. Funding for the project came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Washington State Department of Ecology.

“It didn’t take long to realize the immense conservation value of this property, which is rivaled only by the amazing community support it has received. Protecting Nick’s Lagoon is a victory for salmon habitat restoration and will offer a terrific educational opportunity for the community,” said TPL Project Manager Rinee Merritt.

“This site is a tremendous gift for the community, providing a unique low impact park and education site, in addition to critical salmon habitat,” said Joseph Coppo open space coordinator for Kitsap County Parks and Recreation.

Zumdieck will be helping to coordinate plans for the site that include the use of a small house on the site for educational displays as well as a facility to showcase efforts in support of the Kitsap County’s Hood Canal Salmon Sanctuary, a coalition of local community leaders and agencies committed to preserving the unique ecosystems found in Kitsap county. Last year the Kitsap County Commissioners honored the Seabeck Alki Salmon Team with the Earth Day Award and named Zumdieck Conservation Citizen of the Year. This month, Holm and Hirschi were honored with the Hood Canal Environmental Achievement Award by the Hood Canal Coordinating Council.

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for human enjoyment and well being. From creating city parks to protecting wilderness, TPL helps conserve spaces that connect people with the land. In Washington state, TPL has helped protect more than 45,500 acres.