MARROWSTONE ISLAND – On tree planting day, Sarah Doyle, Kevin Long and Rebecca Benjamin don’t just hand out shovels. Instead, on a rainy and windy day in late December, these leaders of the North Olympic Salmon Coalition first gathered everyone on the beach to paint the full picture.
Until the mid-20th century, young salmon swam freely from Oak Bay to the food-rich port of Kilisut, the body of water between the Indian Islands and Marrowstone.
When the causeway was installed in the 1940s, said Long, senior project manager for the North Olympic Salmon Coalition (NOSC), “it caused the entire canal to be blocked.”
This meant strangled tidal movement and an inhospitable environment for fish.
Enter the NOSC, the State Department of Transportation, the US Navy, and the people of Marrowstone Island. These partners came together on a giant restoration project: the removal of the pavement and the construction of the 440-foot Kilisut Harbor Bridge.
âWe opened the chain in August 2020 and finished in October 2020,â Long said of the project.
Around it are 27 acres of intertidal marine habitat and tidal marshland salt marshes: wide open for wildlife and the backdrop for a tree plantation.
About two dozen volunteers went out on a cold Wednesday morning – three days before the first big snowstorm of the winter – to put 600 sets of roots in the ground.
That’s small compared to what the NOSC does, said Doyle, the coalition’s program and partnerships manager. Other plantings across the Northern Olympic Peninsula involved 2,000 to 3,000.
With the bridge behind her, Doyle demonstrated how to plant bare root shrubs: red flowering currant, sea spray, serviceberry and snowberry among them.
Douglas firs are also said to be planted on Navy property in Indian Island, she noted.
As plants grow and emerge, they restore the natural balance of things, stabilizing riverbanks and letting insects fall into the water – food for juvenile salmon, said Benjamin, executive director of NOSC. .
The volunteers for this tree plantation ranged from Charles Espy, an elder who photographs the work, to Oliver Scheibl, 6, who came with his father, Chris Scheibl.
âPeople are really interested in this [Kilisut] project, âsaid Benjamin, adding that she had limited the number of volunteers to 30 for site management reasons.
She marveled at the cooperative spirit of the Marrowstone Islanders during the long bridge project. Construction affected residents for more than a year, Benjamin said, but motorists praised construction crews, “which is not normal.”
The installation of the bridge âwas carried out by a community group. Our association [NOSC] was the driving force behind this project, âshe added.
The coalition has gone to great lengths to keep islanders informed throughout the process, which is different from the Department of Transportation suddenly showing up and starting construction, Benjamin said.
Over the past year, NOSC has also planted trees and shrubs along the Dungeness and Pysht Rivers in Clallam County and around Chimacum Creek and the Snow Creek Estuary in East Jefferson County. Another plantation was carried out at the port of Kilisut in early 2021.
Catering around Marrowstone Island benefits not only young salmon, but birds, crustaceans and eelgrass as well. Greater Kilisut Harbor and Oak Bay, identified as Important Bird Areas by the Washington Audubon Society, are home to up to 13,500 wintering shorebirds and waterfowl.
New Year’s Day Christmas snowfall is unlikely to harm newly planted trees and shrubs, Doyle said on Tuesday.
âWe plant bare root seedlings during the winter months because the plants are dormant and this gives the roots the opportunity to establish well in their new home. In doing so, we are doing our best to reduce stress on the plants, âshe said, noting that these are hardy native species.
The NOSC will check them in the spring, Doyle added, and plant more if necessary.
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [emailÂ protected]