Orca recovery: 1,488 trees and one pocket estuary at a time
Apr 30, 2021
There was a little bit of a breeze and plenty of sun for the unexpectedly-placed daffodils as the Shell Puget Sound Refinery’s Environmental Manager, Brian Robson, and Skagit Conservation District’s District Manager, Bill Blake, made their way down to the pocket estuary on the southeast side of the Puget Sound Refinery (PSR) property at the end of March.
They were headed down to check the status of the 1,488 trees that PSR employees, their families, partners from Skagit Conservation District, Ducks Unlimited, Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group and the community planted to enhance a pocket estuary on a dreary fall day in 2019.
Planting 1,488 trees might seem daunting but as the saying goes, “many hands make light work” and that was the case during this Orca Recovery Day effort when we were able to get all those trees in the ground in just a couple hours.
The tree planting was just the first step in this important project to provide habitat uplift to the pocket estuary. In 2020 large woody debris was added to the site to provide additional natural habitat and protection to juvenile salmon from avian predators. Improving the environment in this area will help everything from shorebirds to fish species – including the aforementioned juvenile salmon – which are a critical component of the food chain that assist with Puget Sound’s Orca recovery efforts.
Woody debris was added to the pocket estuary site in 2020, about a year after the trees were planted.
What is a pocket estuary?
Estuarine habitat is a transition zone between land, freshwater and saltwater and a pocket estuary is a small sub-estuary within a larger one. In this case, the pocket estuary on the southeast side of March Point lies behind March’s Point Road where Padilla Bay flows in through two large culverts at high tide, meeting up with tide channels and small amounts of freshwater as the land climbs toward Puget Sound Refinery.
Continuing our stewardship
Bill Blake inspected the entire area during the visit. Some trees that looked to the untrained eye like they didn’t survived winter, were actually very much alive as he scraped a small section of bark showing the green lying beneath.
He pointed out the Great Blue Heron footprints in the mud, a sure sign that the pocket estuary, and its juvenile salmon were doing well, because the birds wouldn’t be there if there weren’t things to eat.
A tree planted in October of 2019 thrives in the PSR pocket estuary.
They may still look small 18+ months after planting but the trees and this restoration area are doing well and will keep growing up and out to help create additional wildlife habitat in the years to come. Bill Blake and the PSR environmental team will continue to monitor as the area moves through its restoration process.