Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer M. Belcher has dedicated four aquatic reserves that will preclude a total of 3,700 acres of state-owned land from future development.
“Puget Sound and other water bodies are in trouble,” Belcher said during ceremonies in Tacoma. “We’ve dredged them, filled them and polluted them. As the population around the Sound continues to grow, it will become more and more difficult to control the activities that have a negative impact on this priceless resource. These aquatic reserves will take us one step closer to restoring and protecting these areas as valuable places for salmon, fish, aquatic plants, wildlife and people.”
By preventing these areas from being developed, the department hopes to protect the aquatic resources most at risk, preserve the best of what’s left, and begin to restore what has been lost, Belcher said.
Among the four reserves is the Olympic View and Middle Waterway, where the Puyallup River delta historically provided a migratory and rearing corridor for Puget Sound Chinook salmon and feeding areas for migratory birds and other marine populations. Today, fewer than 4 percent of the 6,000 acres of original Puyallup River estuary remain. Olympic View and Middle Waterway reserves will help restore and maintain what remains of the Puyallup delta habitat, said Belcher.
The Olympic View Reserve encompasses a little more than 12 acres of mud flats at the tip of the peninsula of land between Middle and Thea Foss waterways.
The Middle Waterway Reserve covers about 10 acres of tideflats and shallow waters to roughly the southern boundary of the Foss Maritime property line, which is about halfway up the waterway. The reserve areas exclude all current lease commitments and other ownerships of tidelands. These areas will be reserved and withdrawn from conflicting uses until the Puyallup River salmon populations recover.
Other reserves include Cherry Point near Birch Bay State Park and Fidalgo Bay.
The reserve announcements are part of a four-phase plan to begin cleaning up Puget Sound. Other aspects include looking for ways to limit sources of pollution and restoring damaged habitat.
Puget Sound’s tidelands and bedlands are part of the nearly 2.6 million acres of aquatic land owned by the state and managed by the Department of Natural Resources. State law allows these lands to be leased, and DNR administers more than 1,000 leases for uses such as ports, marinas, recreation, transportation, pipelines and fiber optic cables.
“As our development and activities change the marine environment, the variety and abundance of marine plants and animals are threatened,” Belcher says. “Some may be lost forever, and they are irreplaceable. In Puget Sound, the populations of 16 species, including wild salmon, have declined to the point that they are now listed by the federal government as threatened with extinction.”