Conservation group donates land near Lake Ozette to Makah tribe

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

NEAH BAY –– The Makah tribe now owns 240 acres of habitat critical to the spawning of endangered Ozette sockeye salmon along Umbrella Creek at the north end of Lake Ozette.

Seattle-based land conservation group Forterra donated the land to the tribe for preservation.

Tribal officials said the property, which was almost purchased by the National Park Service for an expansion of Olympic National Park four years ago, has long been important to the Makah history and traditional practices.

“The Lake Ozette system is truly a special place to the Makah people,” Tribal Chairman T.J. Greene said.

“The Makah tribe has long been committed to restoring and stewarding the lands of this unique area for their great habitat values, for salmon and for elk.”

Earlier this month, Forterra transferred two parcels totaling 160 acres to the tribe. It plans to give a third 80-acre parcel to the tribe next year.

Home to sockeye

The sockeye salmon populations of Lake Ozette are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Sockeye also are listed as endangered in the Snake River of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

“This marks a great step forward for restoring the unique and endangered Lake Ozette sockeye salmon,” former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said in a news release.

“I'm pleased that the Makah tribe and Forterra partnered together to conserve a vital part of our natural heritage.”

The tribe operates a sockeye hatchery to aid the recovery of the Ozette sockeye population on Umbrella Creek, identified by the National Marine Fisheries Service as critical sockeye habitat.

Umbrella Creek has historically been an important spawning tributary for Ozette sockeye.

Juvenile sockeyes remain in freshwater until they are ready to migrate to the ocean. In the ocean, the sockeye has a blueish silver color, but their bodies turn red and their heads green when they return to spawning grounds.

Sockeye populations in Puget Sound are not listed as endangered.

Rayonier roots

Forterra, formerly the Cascade Land Conservancy, purchased the land just north of Umbrella Bay between the lake and the Hoko-Ozette Road from the Rayonier timber company for $468,000 in 2008.

“Our vision for this land was that it would one day be cared for by an owner with the kind of dedication it takes to sustain it for generations to come,” Forterra President Gene Duvernoy said.

“I am thrilled that we have succeeded and that through these efforts, we've deepened our relationship with the Makah tribe.”

Leda Chahim, Forterra's government affairs director, said the organization keeps a revolving fund it taps to purchase property it deems to be valuable for conservation.

“This is definitely a piece of property we viewed as being very valuable,” Chahim said.

Almost ONP property

As the conservancy in 2010, Forterra almost sold the property to the National Park Service for an expansion of Olympic National Park.

While that proposal garnered a great deal of support from conservation groups and private citizens around the state, the Makah and Quileute tribes objected to the park's expansion, saying it would take away traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

“We were just looking for an owner, whether it was the Park Service or the Makah,” said Chahim.

“We're very pleased with how this turned out.”

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 24. 2014 5:59PM
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