New Nature Preserve for Commencement Bay (WA)

Seattle–The Trust for Public Land (TPL) has transferred the 15-acre Oline property on the north shore of Commencement Bay in Tacoma, to the Puyallup Tribe of Indians for use as a nature preserve.

The Tribe has designated the site the Yowkwala Preserve-yowkwala is the tribal word for eagle. The site includes bluffs, beach, and tidelands. The tidelands include eel grass beds which are critical habitat for juvenile salmonids. As the young fry leave the freshwater habitats of the Puyallup River, Hylebos Creek, and other tributaries to the Bay, they travel along the north shore of the bay, seeking protection from predators in eel grass as they adjust to the marine environment.

The Oline site was one of the top priorities targeted for acquisition by the Commencement Bay Natural Resource and Damage Assessment Trustees. This multi-agency group is charged with administering mitigation funds in the Bay for the acquisition and restoration of fish and wildlife habitat, primarily for the benefit of salmon. Trustee members include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, The State Department of Ecology, the State Department of Natural Resources, the State Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Puyallup Tribe and the Muckleshoot Tribe.

“This project exemplifies a public/private approach to creating a sustainable habitat for salmon in Washington state,” said Donna Darm, Acting Regional Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. “A number of agencies and residents have been concerned for some time about the state of Commencement Bay and the salmon that count on the Bay as they traverse their way from fresh water to salt water.”

“Commencement Bay has been designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Oline site was one of the Trustees’ top priorities for acquisition,” said Roger Hoesterey, Washington State director, TPL. “We began working on this project before salmon were listed as an endangered species. That designation adds even more to the significance to the clean-up and preservation of this site.”

Working with the Trustees, TPL negotiated with the landowners over an 18-month period before purchasing the property in January 2000. After purchasing the property, TPL oversaw the demolition and removal of two derelict barges that were on the site and considered nuisances. The demolition work and subsequent environmental quality reviews took nearly nine months to complete. TPL was able to hold the property for this period by using funds from the Estate of Elizabeth Read, a long-time resident of Pierce County. Read left a bequest to TPL for use as revolving capital to protect salt water properties.

Using mitigation funding provided by the Trustees, the property has now been transferred into the ownership of the Puyallup Tribe, which will manage it as a nature preserve.

This project is one of many efforts that the Tribe and other groups are performing in the Commencement Bay area in hopes that their efforts will return healthy salmon runs to the region.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a private, nonprofit land conservation organization that works in Washington state and across the nation to conserve land for people. Founded in 1972, TPL specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiation, public finance, and law to protect land for public use. Working with private landowners, communities and government agencies, TPL has helped protect more than 1,400 special places nationwide for people to enjoy as parks, playgrounds, community gardens, recreation areas, historic landmarks and wilderness lands. TPL was recently ranked the nation’s most efficient charity in the conservation field by Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney magazine.