It’s not often that a local restoration project gets national recognition, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association delivered an Excellence in Restoration Award to the Suquamish Tribe for its work to restore eelgrass meadows near the old Milwaukee Dock site, Bainbridge Island.
Milwaukee Dock, on the south side of Eagle Harbor, once served the town of Creosote, home to a wood-treatment plant that operated from the early 1900s to 1988. Two channels dredged through the middle of a prime 4-acre eelgrass bed enabled vessels with deeper keels to access the dock. Although the dock was removed in the 1980s, the channels remained and were so deep that eelgrass could not get enough light to grow. The Suquamish Tribe applied for and received funding to restore the eelgrass habitat through the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) fund. The money paid for filling one of the channels, harvesting donor plants from nearby and propagating them at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Marine Science Lab, and planting the filled area with the propagated eelgrass.
Long on the decline in Puget Sound, eelgrass is recognized by the Puget Sound Partnership and the Governor’s Results Washington program as critical habitat and a significant indicator of Puget Sound health.
The award ceremony took place in the House of Awakened Culture, in Suquamish. Because the Puget Sound Partnership manages the PSAR fund, our own Laura Blackmore, director of partner engagement, spoke at the event. Other featured speakers included Leonard Forsman, chairman, Suquamish Tribe; Derek Kilmer, U.S. House of Representatives; William Stelle, NOAA regional administrator; and John Kern, NOAA oceanographer.
Excerpts from Laura’s speech follow:
“Puget Sound was once home to far more populations of Chinook and other salmon than exist today. Only 22 of at least 37 historic Chinook populations remain. And their numbers are only 10 percent of what they once were, with some down lower than 1 percent. The decline in salmon is closely tied to the decline in the health of Puget Sound. Our partners are working very hard to stem that decline, and the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund, or PSAR, is critical to their success.
Salmon recovery and Puget Sound recovery rely on two pillars: habitat protection and habitat restoration. The Washington State Legislature recognized the dual nature of recovery when it created PSAR, in 2007. Our partners can use PSAR funds to acquire critical habitats, to protect them forever or as places to do important restoration work. They can also use the funds to design and build restoration projects at a large scale, resulting in major successes, like the Milwaukee Dock eelgrass restoration project.
This ability to both acquire and restore habitat has been and will continue to be critically important if we are to achieve our collective goal of Puget Sound and salmon recovery.
The Legislature continues to play a very important role in funding projects like the Milwaukee Dock eelgrass restoration. Each biennium, they must decide how much money they will allocate to continuing Puget Sound restoration through the PSAR grants. This funding enablers the hard work of Puget Sound recovery and salmon recovery to come to fruition.
The Milwaukee Dock eelgrass project is a phenomenal example of what PSAR is meant to accomplish, of how salmon recovery is also ecosystem recovery, of how this work brings people together, focusing everyone on overcoming obstacles and differences to achieve a goal that truly benefits salmon, people, and the environment.
We are very grateful for the persistence, commitment, and technical excellence of the Suquamish Tribe in pursuing this project.
Excerpts from NOAA’s news release about the award:
Completion of the project marks the culmination of years of studies, planning, and restoration to improve the environment for fish and wildlife in Eagle Harbor, off the shores of Bainbridge Island, WA near the Suquamish Tribe’s Port Madison Indian Reservation. The project will benefit fish and wildlife, including federally protected Puget Sound Chinook salmon and steelhead.
“The Milwaukee Dock Eelgrass Restoration Project would not have been possible without the leadership and commitment of the Suquamish Tribe,” Stelle said. “This is an area that’s both culturally and environmentally important, and the tribe envisioned the potential for this project and worked consistently to move it forward.”
The NOAA Restoration Center’s Excellence in Restoration Award recognizes individuals and organizations that stand out as leaders in coastal restoration across the United States. In 2012 the City of Bainbridge Island received the same award for their exemplary efforts on the Strawberry Plant Park Shoreline and Pritchard Park East Shoreline restoration projects. Together these three projects provide a mosaic of eelgrass, marsh, mudflat, and riparian habitats now available to the fish and wildlife of Eagle Harbor.