San Juan Initiative meeting will have big draw

Ruckelshaus, Sutherland will attend discussion here on plans to protect, enhance health of local ecosystem

Puget Sound Partnership Chairman Bill Ruckelshaus and state Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland will attend a meeting of the San Juan Initiative Policy Group Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in Mullis Community Senior Center.

The meeting is open to the public.

The policy group will determine the direction of the San Juan Initiative’s next phase — development of solutions to the core issues raised in a report, “An Assessment of Ecosystem Protection: What’s Working, What’s Not.”

The report is a product of the initiative, a public-private partnership to improve ecosystem protection in the San Juan Islands.

From now until December, the policy group will work with the community on specific proposals meant to strengthen the actions that are working well and fix the things that are not.

“We know that protecting intact resources is an important factor in ensuring the recovery of the entire Puget Sound ecosystem,” said David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership.

“What we are learning from this initiative will help inform broader Puget Sound protection efforts.”

For more information about upcoming meetings, and to review the report, visit

The report points to the progress islanders have made in ecosystem protection efforts – and how those efforts can be a model for the restoration of the entire Puget Sound ecosystem.

But it also shows that shoreline alterations are occurring in some of the most ecological sensitive areas of the islands, putting critical habitat at risk. And it makes clear that land-use incentives aren’t well designed to help most property owners, and environmental protection programs at times are in conflict and create confusion for those trying to do the right thing.

“The San Juan Islands boast the most intact ecosystem in all of Puget Sound,” County Councilman Kevin Ranker said. “Property owners have done an excellent job of stewarding the land. But that doesn’t make the islands immune to the pressures of growth.

“The San Juan Initiative aims to ensure that as we grow, we have secured the things that are functioning – now and into the future. This report sheds light on what we are doing, and what we need to change, to achieve that.”

The report looks at four representative areas: a nine-mile stretch of shoreline on Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Stuart islands. Key findings include:

n Shorelines relatively undisturbed. Shoreline armoring, which includes the placement of bulkheads, rocks or other structures to prevent land erosion, affects 30 percent of the shoreline around Puget Sound. Despite an increase in population and use of the islands, only 12 percent of the shoreline in the San Juan case studies has been armored.

n Areas with greatest impact on ecosystem being altered. While a small amount of shoreline has been altered compared to the rest of Puget Sound, the most sensitive areas in the San Juans, including feeder bluffs and pocket beaches, are being armored disproportionately, the report states. For example, of the 41/2 miles of feeder bluffs in the study area, 30 percent have been armored — interrupting important shoreline processes that support forage fish spawning habitat, among other things.

n Well-intentioned regulations/incentives aren’t working in the San Juans. Many shoreline property owners and building trade professionals feel overburdened and discouraged by regulatory processes, and are not confident that compliance will lead to meaningful results for them or the environment.

For example, one island resident recalled a client being required to maintain a 50-foot buffer between his house and the shoreline; another agency required him to cut down half of the trees in that buffer to install stormwater protection.

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