DNR ceremony seals Protection Island Aquatic Reserve
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State Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark speaks at the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve's dedication ceremony at the Gardiner Community Center on Wednesday. -- Photo by Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

GARDINER -- Calling it a significant action to preserve a special place, state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark signed the management plan for the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve on Wednesday.

The reserve comprises 23,778 acres of state-owned tidelands and bed lands around the 400-acre Protection Island, which is between Sequim and Port Townsend near the mouth of Discovery Bay.

Goldmark, after addressing about 20 people who attended the ceremony at the Gardiner Community Center, said the reserve was necessary "to protect what's special in Puget Sound."

Goldmark thanked Jefferson County commissioners David Sullivan and John Austin, who attended the ceremony, for their support in establishing the aquatic reserve.

Fishing, boating

The new boundaries, which now extend from the west end of Port Townsend to the Gardiner area, will not increase boating restrictions or limit fishing.

The designation is largely intended to restrict development, Port Townsend's Al Bergstein, a board member of People for Puget Sound, has said.

The reserve will not allow the establishment of commercial operations such as fish farms, new marinas or docks, or alternative energy uses such as floating wind or underwater turbines.

The reserve area applies only to state-owned aquatic lands and not to private holdings.

Existing private uses can remain, and marine vessel passage through the reserve is still allowed.

Protection Island is owned and operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The western portion of the island is managed by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife as the Zella M. Schultz Seabird Sanctuary.

Federal restrictions keep boats from approaching the island closer than 200 yards, and a 2,000-foot air buffer is in place. The state will not add any more restrictions.

More data

"By expanding the network of aquatic reserves throughout Puget Sound, we'll be able to gather a more diverse set of data and more closely monitor the health of the sound," Goldmark said Wednesday.

Goldmark was joined at the ceremony by Dave Peeler, director of programs for People of Puget Sound, the environmental group that four years ago launched the effort to designate the DNR tidelands at the island as a reserve.

Peeler called it a "wonderful, wonderful action because it will preserve the area."

He said that DNR's action in effect said "this is a special marine area, and we will manage it differently."

Crucial habitat

Protection Island is surrounded by extensive eelgrass and seagrass beds that provide crucial habitat for forage fish and invertebrates.

About 70 percent of the seabird population of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca nest on the island, which has one of the largest nesting colonies of rhinoceros auklets in the world and the largest nesting colony of glaucous-winged gulls in the state.

It contains one of the last two nesting colonies of tufted puffins in the Puget Sound area and is an important refuge for molting harlequin ducks.

The migratory corridor along Protection Island supports the Elwha River chinook and Hood Canal summer chum salmon populations.

About 1,000 harbor seals depend on the island for a pupping and rest area.

Goals of plan

Once an aquatic reserve is designated, future DNR-authorized uses at the site must be consistent with the goals and objectives for resource protection identified in the management plan.

Goldmark said existing DNR staff would manage the reserve.

During the research and monitoring activities that will take place according to the management plan, DNR will join with numerous organizations, including People for Puget Sound, to collect data to study the relationship between the species and the Protection Island habitats, Goldmark said.

In mid-October, Goldmark designated the Smith and Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve and adopted its management plan protecting 36,600 aquatic acres off the west coast of Whidbey Island.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 04. 2010 12:12AM
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