By Oliver Lazenby
Photos courtesy of Skagit Land Trust
Earlier this spring the Skagit Land Trust acquired 1,000 acres of land east of Concrete in the upper Skagit Valley. The purchase is a substantial boost to the Skagit Land Trust, which now manages nearly 8,000 acres, and ensures protection for critical habitat along the Skagit, Cascade, Sauk and Suiattle rivers.
The Skagit is unique for being the only river in Washington state that supports all five species of native salmon, thanks to the abundance of glaciers and protected land in its headwaters.
“The Skagit is fed by the most glaciated watershed in the lower 48 and those glaciers provide a summer water source that feeds the river and has led to this diversity of salmon runs and habitat,” said Michael Kirshenbaum, conservation director with the land trust. “It’s a really unique watershed in the whole West Coast in that way.
With all that pristine land upstream, the land trust focuses on protecting key habitat down valley. The 1,000 acres it acquired is in nine separate parcels with a mixture of habitat types including wetlands, streams and forests.
The trust acquired the land from the Nature Conservancy, which had originally acquired some of the land for protecting salmon, some for bald eagle habitat and some for more diverse protection goals.
Officials with the Nature Conservancy have said that organization is focusing more on broad efforts and less on managing specific properties.
The land trust is in the process of writing management plans for the properties and evaluating opportunities for public access, Kirshenbaum said.
“I’m sure there will be a few that have public access,” he said. “Our core responsibility is to make sure the ecology and wildlife habitat is restored.”
Kirshenbaum said the Nature Conservancy did a great job protecting the properties for 25 years and not much will change with the way they’re managed.
“There might be more public engagement now with these properties,” Kirshenbaum said. “That’s something that the land trust can do a great job of, because we’re really focused on Skagit.”
The land trust takes a community-based approach to conservation, which includes utilizing volunteers, running educational programs for children, working with landowners on conservation easements, and building an active membership. The organization’s roughly 1,000 members provide input on what the organization’s focus should be, Kirshenbaum said.
“That community input is really integral to how we look for properties to acquire and protect,” he said.