The road less traveled... is gone. The Nature Conservancy recently removed 1,500 feet of road and restored a creek on it's Dabob Bay Preserve. We got the Whys and Hows from the Conservancy's Melisa Holman, Marine Conservation Project Manager.
Dabob Bay Q&A
nature.org/washington: What is Dabob Bay?
Holman: Dabob Bay is a salt water inlet in the north part of Hood Canal, just east of Quilcene Bay. This place is also referred to as Tarboo-Dabob Bay, in recognition of Tarboo Creek, a significant salmon stream that flows into the head of the bay.
nature.org/washington: Why is The Nature Conservancy interested in Dabob Bay?
Holman: My favorite Dabob Bay fact is that it’s the largest remaining functional tidal wetland system in the Hood Canal area. This means it’s still a good home for plants and animals – one of the largest and highest quality examples of salt marsh estuary and marine shoreline remaining in Puget Sound.
Dabob Bay is rich in biodiversity and important for so many of the critters we care about: Chinook and chum salmon; forage fish that many other animals eat, such as sand lance and surf smelt; many species of shorebirds; and shellfish like the native Olympia oyster as well as important commercial species.
The shorelines in Dabob Bay are still largely undeveloped. Most of the surrounding slopes are managed either for timber production or as a state natural area by the Department of Natural Resources, which has been a key partner in protecting this area.
Tarboo Creek, the largest tributary to the bay, has been the site of a lot of recent restoration work by our partners at the Northwest Watershed Institute. We’re pleased to be able to do our part at this preserve and beyond to help protect and restore this Hood Canal jewel.
nature.org/washington: What is the Conservancy’s history in Dabob Bay?
Holman: We’ve owned conservation easements on spits in Dabob Bay since 1986. In 2007 we purchased 28 acres of mature coastal second-growth forest and protected 4,000 feet of shoreline in the bay.
We have been working for years on policy initiatives that can help ensure that this place stays healthy and continues to support Hood Canal and Puget Sound into the future. Our partners include the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Northwest Watershed Institute, Jefferson Land Trust, Jefferson County, tribes in the area and local landowners.
nature.org/washington: What has the Conservancy done recently?
Holman: We’ve just removed about a quarter mile of old logging road that cut across our 28-acre preserve. Our partners and neighbors, the Northwest Watershed Institute, are going to remove another 1,000 feet of the same road. We also restored a small coastal stream that was affected by that road.
nature.org/washington: Why did the Conservancy remove the road?
Holman: We wanted to remove the threat of unnatural landslides and restore the flow of water through the forest to the bay.
What happens when you have a road running across steep slopes is that the road affects the way that water flows down those slopes. The road surface is compacted, so water pools on the surface and travels along the road or a ditch to low points and weak spots. Over time, or when you have a big storm, those weak areas can give way and slide, sending sediment down the slopes and into the bay. That sediment can bury shellfish or get caught in the gills of small fish. It can bury the fish eggs that are very important bird and salmon food.
I should mention that landslides are a natural process in this area, but a road can make landslides more frequent, meaning you can get much more sediment in the streams and in the bay than was natural.
nature.org/washington: How was the road removed?
Holman: We brought in an excavator which ripped up the compact road bed. We also removed the unstable fill material on the downhill side of the road and brought that back up the hillside. The new surface was shaped to more naturally mimic the slopes around here. We then spread some straw and mulch, as well as a seed mix, on the surface to try and prevent erosion.What we’ve ended up with is a nicely contoured slope that water can filter through much more naturally. Over time this ground will attract native plants; we’re going to help that along by working with volunteers to plant some cedars and Douglas firs in the coming months.
nature.org/washington: What about the creek?
Holman: The road we removed crossed a small creek. To create the road, the builders had placed a culvert in the creek bed and then buried that with several feet of dirt. That disconnected the creek above the road from the stretch below. Water still flowed through, but the culvert was perchedt, meaning that on the downhill side of the culvert water fell several feet. This creek has a small floodplain, and that natural system was disrupted.
We took out the culvert and removed that excess fill, uncovering the natural stream bed. We then worked to recreate natural conditions so that there is ample room for the stream to meander in its little flood plain, developing pools and riffles. We will plant trees along the bank on either side, bringing back the shading and debris inputs that happen naturally elsewhere along this and similar streams.
The small coastal stream we restored is now able to flow unfettered into the bay, providing fresh water to the system. Small coastal streams like this one deliver needed freshwater to Dabob Bay and Hood Canal, a vital piece of the local ecology.
nature.org/washington: How will people benefit from this project?
Holman: Hood Canal and Puget Sound are essential elements of our Northwest quality of life. And they are priorities for The Nature Conservancy. Because it boasts functional wetlands and provides such great habitat, Dabob Bay is a really important component of Hood Canal, which in turn is vital to the ecology of Puget Sound. So we’re really excited to be working in Hood Canal to protect and restore habitat for native species – for their own sake, and so that people can continue to enjoy them.
Hood Canal is one of the places I think of when I think about connection of community to ecology. People here are tied to the nearshore – there’s fishing and a lot of local, small-scale shellfish and recreational farming. These activities are important to people and to the system. If we can help maintain that connection, we can ensure a healthy future for the plants, animals and people that call this place home.
nature.org/washington: How does this work fit into the larger conservation picture?
Holman: The Nature Conservancy is seeking to help reconnect coastal forests and freshwater systems to the marine waters of Hood Canal and Puget Sound. We’ve been working in places like the Skagit River for decades. More recently we’ve been getting our feet wet throughout the Sound, finding the best ways to contribute to the health of this incredible place. Puget Sound is home to amazing creatures as well as a lot of people. Where we can, we want to strengthen and enhance and relationships between the systems, the critters and the people who live here.
In Hood Canal, we want to contribute to a summit to seas vision of connectedness. Currently, Olympic National Park protects nearby mountains and glaciers. The Olympic National Forest protects a great mantle of forest and headwater streams. Hood Canal itself is relatively pristine, much less developed than most other places in Puget Sound. We believe we can work with our partners in this area to improve and enhance the connections here, for the benefit of Hood Canal and Puget Sound.
Our restoration project in Dabob Bay is a small step toward our vision of a sustainable future throughout the system, for local communities and native species.