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Refuge plan might end camping on Matia, Turn islands

The end of camping on Matia and Turn islands is one of the options being considered in a conservation plan being developed for the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the national wildlife refuges on Protection Island — near Port Angeles — and in the San Juan Islands. The conservation plan will guide refuge management decisions for the next 15 years and beyond.

A public meeting is scheduled Sept. 23, 6-8 p.m., in Mullis Community Senior Center, 589 Nash St., Friday Harbor. Residents can meet refuge planners and learn about the conservation plan process.

The 449-acre San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge encompasses more than 83 small islands, rocks and reefs scattered throughout the San Juan Archipelago. In 1976, all the refuge islands were designated wilderness under the Wilderness Act, except for Smith, Minor and Turn islands and a 5-acre parcel on Matia Island.

A wide diversity of marine and coastal species inhabit the remnant prairies, cliff faces, rocky shorelines and old-growth forests on the dispersed lands of this refuge. Although largely closed to public access, the Fish and Wildlife Service manages wildlife-dependent public recreation on Matia and Turn islands under an agreement with the state Parks and Recreation Commission.

Established in 1982 through the efforts of citizens, Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge is especially important to seabirds. About 70 percent of Puget Sound’s breeding seabird population nests on the island. Located near the mouth of Discovery Bay on the southeast side of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the 316-acre refuge consists of grasslands, shrublands, and small woodlands.

Along the shoreline, sandy bluffs of glacial-till support one of the world’s largest colonies of rhinoceros auklets, a small seabird. Thousands of rhinoceros auklets return to their burrows to feed their young as the sun sets each evening.

According to Refuge Manager Kevin Ryan, Protection Island is considered the “last stand” for breeding tufted puffins in Puget Sound. Harbor and elephant seals haul out to rest and have their pups on the island’s sand spits.

Both refuges are popular with local residents and tourists who enjoy watching the abundant seabirds and marine mammals by circumnavigating the refuge islands by boat while staying at least 200 yards from shore to protect wildlife.

For more information, including planning updates for this project, visit www.fws.gov/pacific/planning.

To receive paper copies of planning updates and comment forms, or to submit comments, contact Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 33 S. Barr Road, Port Angeles, WA 98362. Call (360) 457-8451, fax (360) 457-9778.

Comments can also be e-mailed to FW1Planning-Comments@fws.gov. Include “Protection Island and San Juan Islands” in the subject line. There will be additional opportunities to provide comments throughout the conservation planning process.

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