“The first time I visited Port Susan Bay, we saw 20,000 snow geese rise up and take off flying—it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen,” says Rich Sonstelie. He was chair of the Washington Board of Trustees when the Conservancy purchased the 4,100-acre preserve in 2001.
Twelve years later he went back to see the results of the Conservancy’s restoration work at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River.
The project included removing a 50-year-old sea dike to restore about 150 acres of tidal wetlands, while creating a new state-of-the-art dike and floodgates to protect neighboring farmlands. With the removal of the old dike, the fresh waters from the Stillaguamish now reach into the northernmost end of Port Susan Bay, creating a rich interplay of fresh and saltwater that is so important for juvenile salmon and other marine life.
“To see the entire bay transformed into a very fertile area for fish and seabirds was really powerful,” Sonstelie said. “It was remarkable to have walked that old dike, to remember the challenges that we faced in acquiring the property, and now to come back and see what has been accomplished.”
“The great appeal of The Nature Conservancy for me is the practicality of the organization. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of these beautiful places—and that is important—but the Conservancy uses science to determine where to work. That gave me as a board member a degree of confidence that we were doing the right thing.”