SEQUIM — While dozens of projects throughout the region have been postponed, a collaborative push to conserve more than 100 acres of farmland in Sequim was completed this March.
On March 20, North Olympic Land Trust and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe purchased 104 total acres of farmland and habitat — dubbed “River’s Edge” — adjacent to the Dungeness River and Dungeness Valley Creamery.
The Land Trust now owns 64 acres of farmland along Towne Road, and the tribe 40 owns acres of riverbank, as the groups look to preserve farmland and restore floodplain habitat.
In total the project cost an estimated $1.4 million, with the tribe securing state grants for its portion of the purchase.
With the purchase complete, the Land Trust looks to place a permanent conservation easement on the land and eventually sell it to a farmer who “will continue the strong agricultural tradition of the Dungeness Valley,” Land Trust representatives said last week.
“Now that the first phase has been successfully completed we are moving forward with the next steps,” newly hired Conservation Director Mike Auger said. “We will continue the positive momentum that our community has helped to build.”
The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe purchased its property with funding from the State’s Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund.
The funding places a salmon deed of right on the property, requiring the land to be used exclusively for the benefit of salmon habitat, Land Trust representatives noted.
This will include planned setback of the existing levee along the Dungeness River, which will allow the river to meander naturally through the floodplain.
The renewal of riparian habitat will support salmon recovery and boost overall ecosystem health.
Chinook salmon, summer chum, bull trout and steelhead are among the fish that utilize the river and are federally listed on the Endangered Species Act.
In a previous interview, Randy Johnson, Jamestown’s habitat program manager, said the tribe would relocate the existing Core of Engineers’ dike farther to the east from its current location, about 300-400 feet on average.
That shifting would give Dungeness River back some of its lost flood plan, Johnson said, which is “a critical component of the river’s ecosystem.”
The tribe would target a construction partnership with Clallam County for its lower Dungeness River levee setback project to reconnect a section of the lower Dungeness River with its natural floodplain, too.
The county’s portion includes moving an 0.8-mile section of the east dike further east.
Resource managers said moving the levees will help the habitat and support recovery of protected and endangered fish like the Chinook salmon, summer chum, bull trout and steelhead.
Johnson said the projects could connect, but “it’s too soon to know whether that indeed can happen.”
If the sale goes through, Johnson said in January, the dike will remain open to the public as a recreational trail along with the tribe’s property.
“This acquisition leads to restoration that will benefit vital salmonid populations that use the Dungeness River,” said LaTrisha Suggs, restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
The River’s Edge project was announced publicly in September, when the landowners agreed to sell the land for conservation rather than listing it on the public market.
Led in part by Auger, a community “Farm and Habitat” fundraising goal of $425,000 was set to assist with the Land Trust’s share of the purchase cost.
Over the next few months, as Land Trust and tribe representatives worked on the transaction’s details, more than 250 community donors stepped forward with funds.
The project also got a boost with a low-interest bridge loan from community partner Sound Community Bank.
In a January interview, Land Trust executive director Tom Sanford said the community had raised $408,000 from donations to go with the $600,000 Sound Community Bank loan.
“I would like to share how impressed and thankful I am for our community’s ability to come together, raise the needed funds, and ensure the permanent conservation of River’s Edge,” Sanford said.
“This project really reflects our community’s shared values and determination. Together, we have demonstrated an unquestionable love and commitment to the future of our home.”
For more information about the River’s Edge project, visit northolympic landtrust.org/our-work/ rivers-edge.