Squaxin Island Tribe, land trust, turning golf course into habitat

Bayshore on Oakland Bay. Photo by the state Department of Ecology.

Bayshore on Oakland Bay. Photo by the state Department of Ecology.

The Capital Land Trust and the Squaxin Island Tribe are working to bring back salmon habitat and protect an important shellfish growing area by restoring a former golf course on Oakland Bay. The land trust recently purchased the 74-acre Bayshore Golf Course, which includes the mouth of Johns Creek and over a thousand feet of Oakland Bay shoreline.

The tribe and the land trust will remove a 1,400 foot dike, restoring the Johns Creek estuary and important marine shoreline. “Taking the dike out will provide salmon with additional acres of saltwater marsh to use as they migrate out to the ocean,” said Jeff Dickison, assistant natural resources director for the tribe..

Eventually, the golf course fairways will also be replanted with native vegetation, restoring a streamside forest that helps provide habitat to salmon.

Preventing development around the bay also protects the most productive shellfish growing area in the state.

The former golf course sits on a peninsula jutting into Oakland Bay that is made up of mostly gravelly glacial outwash. “If the golf course had been sold to developers, the porous nature of the gravel underneath the golf course couldn’t have protected shellfish beds from being polluted by septic tanks,” Dickison said.

The mouth of Johns Creek was the site of one of the largest longhouses and Squaxin villages. “We have always thought of this place as special,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe. “Our people lived there for thousands of years, subsisting on the fish, shellfish and wildlife that was always available.”

The state Department of Ecology also helped the land trust buy the surface water rights associated with the golf course. “Johns Creek doesn’t have enough water to support a weak run of summer chum,” said Scott Stelzner, salmon biologist for the tribe. “By securing this water right, we can balance against increased water appropriations throughout the Johns Creek watershed.

The restoration of the old golf course is part of a larger effort to protect and restore Oakland Bay. The tribe, the land trust and other local partners have protected hundreds of acres of habitat and improved water quality throughout the bay.

“It is important to make sure we protect places like Oakland Bay, before they turn the corner and can’t be saved,” Dickison said. Currently, Oakland Bay is relatively undeveloped, but that could easily change in the next few years.

“The decline of salmon and shellfish directly impacts our culture, economy and our treaty reserved rights,” Whitener said. “Making sure Oakland Bay is healthy is one of the most important things we can do to protect our way of life.”

Working together to make sure shellfish stay safe to harvest

The Squaxin Island Tribe and Mason County are forming a new partnership to protect one of the most productive shellfish growing areas in the world. The new working relationship will manage an enhanced Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) program, as part of the state’s recently announced Shellfish Initiative.

“The enhanced program will bring a new emphasis to making sure cleaned up areas stay clean,” said John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the tribe. The tribe will monitor water quality after corrective actions are taken to make sure they’re working and continue to work. Corrective actions may be implemented through voluntary compliance or, as necessary, enforcement against polluters who fail to cooperate.

“We’re going to work with landowners to make sure they clean up pollution, and we’re going to keep on going back to trouble spots to make sure they stay clean,” Konovsky said.

The waters of Oakland Bay and the rest of South Sound are much more sensitive to pollution than the remainder of Puget Sound. “Our community must be more diligent than most in keeping waste out of the water if we are to continue to have the opportunity to harvest shellfish,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources manager for the tribe.

The shorelines of Mason County are among the most productive shellfish growing areas in the world. For example, 40 percent of the country’s manila clam production is from Oakland Bay.

Shellfish are also a large part of the tribe’s culture and economy. More than 20 percent of Squaxin Island tribal members make part or all of their income from harvesting shellfish.

“The Squaxin Island Tribe has always had natural resources, and especially shellfish, at the center of our economic and cultural way of life,” Whitener said. “Pollution that prevents us from being able to harvest is a direct threat to our treaty-reserved rights to shellfish.”

The Mason County Commissioners and the Squaxin Island Tribal Council will sign the inter-local agreement at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29th at the Squaxin Museum in Kamilche. All are invited to attend.


For more information, contact: John Konovsky, environmental program manager, Squaxin Island Tribe, (360) 432-3804. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, (360) 528-4325, eoconnell@nwifc.org

Budd/Deschutes Environmental Stewardship Coalition Update

UPDATE:  Lacey City Council unanimously passed a resolution to sign the MOU last night.  That means all have agreed and the signing ceremony on Nov. 29th is on.

The Olympia City Council voted unanimously to approve signing the MOU forming the Budd/Deschutes Environmental Stewardship Coalition tonight.  The City of Yelm and the Squaxin Island Tribal Council unanimously voted in favor last week.  If the City of Lacey approves the MOU this Thursday, there will be a signing ceremony at the Squaxin Museum on Nov. 29th at 3:30pm.

Here’s the video from that portion of last night’s meeting.

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Come support the tribe’s fight to protect fish!

Update:  Judge Paula Casey ruled in favor of the Squaxin Island Tribe to protect Johns Creek!

Fish runs in Johns Creek, near Shelton, have been shrinking for years.  Wells are stealing water that should flow into Johns Creek.  Ecology has refused to stop new wells until it knows where wells can be safely drilled.

So, the Tribe sued Ecology and Mason County.  In March 2011, Judge Paula Casey issued a great opinion!   She said that Ecology made a big mistake in denying the Tribe’s request.

Come again and watch round 2.   This time, the battle is over what Ecology must do when the case is returned to it for corrective action.  Ecology wants a free pass, but the Tribe wants more — real benefits for fish.  On Friday morning, September 2, the Tribe’s Legal Department will argue the Tribe’s case to Judge Paula Casey in Olympia.

When:  Friday, September 2, 2011, at 9:00 a.m.  It may happen later in the morning, but we will not know until the day before…

Where: Thurston County Superior Court, 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW, Olympia, WA 98502.  Go to Building #2, Room # 257.

Court Rules that State’s Inaction Hurting Johns Creek Salmon

KAMILCHE – A Thurston County Superior Court  ruled in favor of an effort by the Squaxin Island Tribe  to protect the Johns Creek Basin.  Squaxin filed suit  last year asking the state to impose a moratorium on  drilling new wells until the state determines if water  is legally available to supply those wells.

Judge Paula Casey ruled that the state’s inaction was “arbitrary and capricious.”

“We’re elated that the court took a step to protect Johns Creek,” said Andy Whitener, the tribe’s natural resources director.  “But our mission will not be accomplished until state agencies take concrete actions to increase streamflow and benefit salmon.”

The tribe petitioned the state Department of Ecology twice in two years to stop new water withdrawals in the Johns Creek Basin until enough scientific information is available to quantify the environmental impacts of pumping water out of those newly drilled wells.  The state rejected both requests, citing budget constraints.

“Every year since recordkeeping began in the 1950’s, Johns Creek has had less and less water, and in every one of those years, more wells have been drilled in the basin,” Whitener said. “ Not only are minimum flows not being met, but the water shortage gets worse every year.”

Since the state set minimum flows in 1984 (WAC 173-514), more than 200 “permit-exempt” wells have been drilled in the Johns Creek Basin.  State law allows these wells to be drilled without having to first obtain a permit and consents to withdrawals of up to 5,000 gallons a day.

“While we seek cooperation first in all of our natural resources management efforts, there are times when we must go to court to protect our culture and treaty rights,” said Whitener.

Senate Bill 5757

Tuesday, February 15th, 10AM, Senate Hearing Room 4, J.A. Cherber Building.  The Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee will hold a hearing on SB 5757.  The Squaxin Island Tribe will testify in support of the bill.

From the Squaxin perspective, the bill will provide funding to help local jurisdictions make  science-based decisions on water availability when issuing building permits under GMA (RCW 19.27,097).  Currently, if a well can pump enough water, the local jurisdiction always concludes that water is available.  This bill will help the Department of Ecology guide local jurisdictions to more science-based decisions when evaluating water availability for building permits.  If a well, particularly an exempt one, steals water from a senior instream flow right, this bill will provide for the assimilation of the kinds of data the Department of Ecology will need in order to direct the local jurisdictions to just say “no.”

So Squaxin says “yes” in support of this bill to “just say no” to most new water withdrawals!

UPDATE: Here is the public hearing, including testimony by Squaxin Island Tribe staff:

Oral arguments in Squaxin Island Tribe v. Gregoire this Friday

This Friday, oral arguments will be heard in Squaxin Island Tribe v. Gregoire, a lawsuit the tribe filed last year to protect Johns Creek. For years the tribe has been urging the state to do the right thing and halt new well drilling in the Johns Creek basin.

Last year, the tribe asked the governor to step in, but she didn’t. Here’s the story from the time:

The Squaxin Island Tribe is appealing to Gov. Chris Gregoire the decision by the state Department of Ecology to reject a petition to protect Johns Creek. “Ecology’s inaction does further harm to our treaty-based fisheries,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the Tribe. “Salmon recovery should not have to bear a disproportionate share of the fallout from tough economic times.”

This is the second time in two years that Ecology has rejected the Tribe’s request to protect Johns Creek, citing the need for study on the connection between ground and surface water in the Johns Creek watershed. The Tribe’s petitions were based on a state law that closes a watershed to new well drilling activity if not enough information exists to establish that water is legally available.

Here are the various court filings for this lawsuit. First, the tribe’s opening brief:

Then a response from Mason County:

Department of Ecology’s response:

Then, the tribe’s reply: