News that made waves: Part 2

By Journal Staff

At the end of the year, we take a look at the biggest headlines of the past 12 months. This is part two. We chose the top stories from our most-read online articles and events we feel had the greatest impact on our communities.

7. Homicide sentencing sparks public outcry from sheriff

Kale Martin Taylor, 19, of Friday Harbor, was sentenced to 34 months with eight months credit for time served for his role in the overdose of a San Juan teen in the summer of 2022. The ruling was far below the sentence recommended by the prosecutor’s office.

Taylor was charged with controlled substance homicide, which is a class B felony, in San Juan County Superior Court in January 2023. Taylor was 17 at the time of the alleged crime and turned 18 six weeks later. He was charged as an adult. Taylor originally pleaded not guilty. A jury trial was scheduled for Aug. 28 but Taylor changed his plea to guilty in July.

The standard sentencing range for controlled substance homicide is 51 to 68 months. In her recommendation to the court, Barnett asked Judge Olson to impose a sentence of 51 months, asserting it was “not excessive” for a crime that resulted in the loss of life. According to court documents, in an interview with law enforcement, the defendant acknowledged that he and his friend knew the potency of fentanyl and took measures to not overdose.

In the wake of the sentencing, San Juan County Sheriff Eric Peter released a letter to the community, stating: “My extreme frustration and disappointment with our Judicial system is greater than it’s ever been, especially here in Washington State.” The full letter can be viewed here:

Barnett told the Sounder: “While the Court may not always follow our recommendations, we respect the decisions of the Court and the Court’s independent role in determining sentences.”

8. The rise and fall of Zylstra Lake Trail

In January 2023, San Juan County began the early stages of development and project planning for the Zylstra Lake trail, a proposed 3-mile multimodal trail from Friday Harbor to Zylstra Lake. Congressman Rick Larsen secured $5.28 million in federal transportation funds for the project.

The idea for a trail to Zylstra Lake was born out of multiple planning documents, meetings, and community surveys that identified the need for “a well-planned transportation system of multi-modal trails” that “connect people to places.”

However, the trail was a contentious issue not just for farmers and property owners in San Juan Valley, but for the residents of San Juan Island. The trail, which was to be a multi-use paved trail, was put on the draft Six Year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). A public hearing regarding adding the trail was held on Nov. 7 before the San Juan County Council, and community members voiced overwhelming opposition to the trail.

Of the dozens of testimonies given, reoccurring themes from landowners and community members included concern over the preservation of historic farmland and agricultural history, the wellbeing of livestock and the general environmental impacts of the trail. Many speakers also questioned the necessity of the trail for island residents and claimed the plan for the trail was “flawed,” “has too much baggage” and is “confusing.”

At the end of the hearing, county council members decided to postpone further deliberations to Nov. 27. After this second day of testimony, the council voted to remove the Zylstra Lake Trail from TIP, ending the near year-long controversy surrounding the trail.

9. Wolf Hollow turns 40

Wolf Hollow opened their doors to celebrate 40 years of operation April 1. During those four decades, Wolf Hollow has treated over 20,000 animals and 207 different species. Wolf Hollow has four full-time staff members, a part-time staff member, as well as many volunteers who keep the organization running smoothly. Since the beginning of Wolf Hollow, volunteers have been a vital part of operations.

Wolf Hollow offered informational tours around their facilities during the celebratory open house and displayed an array of photos of animals treated at the facility.

The facility was founded by veterinarian Jessica Porter, who had a clinic on San Juan Island. In March 1982, a Great Horned owl became the first patient. Eleven wild animals were treated during this year.

In 1983 – Wolf Hollow became licensed as a wildlife rehab center. Thirty-two wild animals were cared for, in addition to the domestic animals treated at the veterinary clinic.

1984 – Wolf Hollow became incorporated as a non-profit organization.

1984-86 – An increasing number of wild creatures were cared for. Enclosures to house wildlife including songbirds, raptors, raccoons, and deer were built on the eighth-of-an-acre yard of the vet clinic as well as staff members’ homes. A number of locals volunteered time to assist with animal care. As the number of wild patients increased, it became obvious that Wolf Hollow needed more space than the small lot in town.

1986 –The 40-acre parcel where Wolf Hollow is currently located, was leased. Work began to turn it into a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. At this time the only structure on the property was a large metal building with a dirt floor. A grant was received to install utilities, a well was dug, floors were laid in the building, and it was divided into several rooms. Upstairs was living accommodation and downstairs was animal care. The first wildlife enclosures were built on the property.

1987 – Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center treated 172 animals at its new location.

1989 – Founder Jessica Porter made an initial down payment to buy the Wolf Hollow property using funds she earned working at the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Wolf Hollow then made monthly payments. To keep up with the animal caseload, more than 30 enclosures have been constructed on the site over the years, ranging from seal pools, an eagle flight track, songbird aviaries and duck tubs.

2004 – Their mortgage was paid off by generous donors, the Salquists. Wolf Hollow now owns the 40-acre property free and clear.

2010-2022 – Using grants, bequests and donations, Facilities Manager Mark Billington and maintenance volunteers gradually replaced older enclosures that were showing their age, with new and improved designs.

Wolf Hollow and their efforts to help injured and orphaned wildlife are made possible by donations from the community and volunteers. For more information on becoming involved visit

10. L-pod has two babies

The Center for Whale Research confirmed two new calves in the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population: L126 (mother L119) and L127 (mother L94). CWR researchers encountered the two calves during a survey of a group of whales containing members of J pod and the L12 subgroup in the Strait of Georgia on June 30.

L126 is L119’s first calf, while L127 is L94’s third. It was estimated that both calves were at least two months old, and neither showed any immediate signs of illness or abnormality.

Both calves were very active and social while observed. The sex of the calves is still unknown, but CWR staff will attempt to get additional images of both calves in the coming days.

According to the Center, these are the first calves born in L pod since 2021 and the first calves born in the L12 subgroup since 2018. The first year is challenging for young whales, but we hope that both calves and their mothers can survive and thrive well into the future.

11. San Juan County adopts 32-hour workweek

On Oct. 1, a large majority of San Juan County employees shifted to a 32-hour work week, with the exception of the Sheriff’s Office and Management. This measure, according to SJC, supports the County in the areas of fiscal health, employee recruitment and retention, and prioritizing islanders’ well-being.

“The workplace of today is not the same workplace that existed even two years ago – retention, work-life balance, compensation, and remote work, are all issues the County and likely most employers must find a way to deal with in order to maintain a workforce,” said Mike Thomas, County Manager.

Despite the reduced hours for many employees, county offices remained open to the public and held regular hours of operation, with some departments adjusting their hours or closing one day a week and remaining consistent thereafter. The Sheriff’s Office and its services remain unimpacted, as do other emergency responses performed by the Departments of Emergency Management, Public Works, and Superior Court Services.

In terms of fiscal health, since the COVID-19 Pandemic, the County has been grappling with rising service costs and wage pressure, supply chain issues, economic uncertainty, and the Islands’ high cost of housing. To stay within its current taxing authority, the County has held wages relatively constant but reduced the work week by eight hours, effectively giving the employee a sizable increase in hourly wages while enabling the County to live within its financial means.

As for retention, the County has been operating with a chronic 10-15% job vacancy rate across many key departments, impacting operations. Additionally, approximately 15% of San Juan County’s current workforce will hit retirement age or become eligible for retirement within the next three years. According to Angie Baird, Director of Human Resources and Risk Management, “The County is getting creative in how we strengthen our workforce, entice new employees, retain existing employees, and stay within our operating budget,” and the 32-hour work week is a big part of that.

By prioritizing the people who keep the County running, the organization aims to set the standard for quality work-life balance in the Islands and maintain the strength of its staff who run its departments and programs.

Aiden Haines Staff photo
Wolf Hollow seal tank

Aiden Haines Staff photo Wolf Hollow seal tank

Heather Spaulding Staff photo
Islanders strongly came out against a trail to Zylstra Lake

Heather Spaulding Staff photo Islanders strongly came out against a trail to Zylstra Lake

Contributed photo
A saw-whet owl

Contributed photo A saw-whet owl