Local land trust looks to protect Burke Bay Estuary in Brownsville

Property owners donated the $135,000 property to land trust, donations needed for additional costs

The Great Peninsula Conservancy recently announced that the property owners of the Burke Bay Estuary in Brownsville have decided to donate the $135,000 property to the land trust.

For years, a group of Brownsville residents have been keeping tabs on the vacant properties surrounding the estuary, according to a release from the conservancy. The GPC will now conserve the 27-acre property as a nature preserve for the benefit of people and wildlife.

“This project has been a long time coming,” GPC Executive Director Nathan Daniel said. “It goes all the way back before Great Peninsula Conservancy was formed in 2000 with the conglomeration of four regional land trusts. More recently, the owners approached Great Peninsula Conservancy in 2017 to restart the conversation.”

Daniel said that he met with Art Schick, a local organizer for the project, when he started four months ago.

“Art took me on a tour of the Burke Bay area and got me excited about the idea. Since then we’ve been making sure all of our proverbial ducks are in a row and that we are ready to start a community-based fundraising campaign in earnest.”

The property has nearly 1,300 feet of shoreline on the estuary and a dense tree canopy with native plants that provide habitat for birds, deer, and river otter. The estuary is used by five different species of salmon and trout, including endangered steelhead trout and chinook salmon. The GPC aims to help advance regional recovery goals for southern resident killer whales, who rely on chinook salmon to survive.

Daniel said that today there are only about one-third as many chinook salmon as there were in the early ’90s.

“This project will protect estuary habitat important to chinook salmon, which will help ensure that more juvenile chinook survive their highly vulnerable early years and head out into the Puget Sound where they can then provide a food source for killer whales,” he said.

“The marine waters just beyond Burke Bay are designated critical habitat for Puget Sound southern resident killer whales.”

The land trust is partnering with the group of Brownsville residents to help raise the remaining funds needed to purchase the land. An additional $40,000 will cover the costs associated with closing, title insurance, a boundary survey, and the stewardship funds that will ensure the protection of the land in perpetuity, according to the GPC.

“I think most people understand that protecting vital pieces of the Puget Sound ecosystem, such as this, are not only essential to maintaining diverse, healthy wildlife populations, they are also important to maintaining the health of the local economy,” Daniel said. “After this property is preserved, we can use it as an anchor to possibly expand the zone of protection around the estuary.”

If the fundraising goal is met for the GPC to purchase this property, Daniel said he’d like to use it as a learning environment for local students.

“As our organization grows, I’d like to see us use this property and others like it as learning laboratories where local students can help us collect baseline and then longitudinal data to quantitatively gauge change over time,” he said. “The number of community science projects we can do on a property like this are endless.”

To learn more or to donate to the campaign, stop by Great Peninsula Conservancy’s booth during Brownsville Appreciation Day Saturday, Sept. 28 or visit greatpeninsula.org.