Habitat - Wildlife Area Management
Date Published: November 2006
Number of Pages: 178
Author(s): John Garrett, Belinda Schuster and Donna Gleisner
The Skagit Wildlife Area consists of 16,708 acres, most of it intertidal mud flats and marsh. The majority of land ownership is scattered throughout the west half of Skagit County. This includes the Skagit Bay Estuary, Headquarters Unit, Island Unit, Samish Unit, Telegraph Slough Unit, Fir Island Farms/Hayton Reserve, Johnson/DeBay Swan Reserve, Bald Eagle Natural Area, Cottonwood Island Unit, Goat Island Unit, Guemes Island Unit, and Sinclair Island Unit. Satellite units occur in Island County (Camano Island Natural Area), Snohomish County (Leque Island Unit), and San Juan County (Lopez Island Unit). Most of the intensively managed units have agricultural fields, which are planted with cereal grains to provide food for wintering waterfowl.
The Skagit Bay estuary and its freshwater wetland habitats provide one of the most important waterfowl wintering areas in the Pacific Flyway. The Skagit Wildlife Area was originally established to preserve the Skagit Bay estuary, which is valuable habitat for many fish and wildlife species. Prior to human intervention, the Skagit Bay estuary (where saltwater mixes with fresh) was certainly the largest in Puget Sound, and was of a scale comparable to all other Puget Sound estuaries combined. The diverse freshwater and estuarine wetlands within the channels and sloughs of the delta extended from its shoreline into the upland forest. But by the 1860s, much of the land conversion had begun as the Skagit River delta was heavily logged and the lowlands drained for agriculture (Beechie et al., 1994). Habitat conversion increased as settlers built dikes and improved drainage to develop farms on the rich floodplain soils. These activities resulted in a significant loss of estuarine and freshwater wetland habitats before the turn of the century. The recent federal Endangered Species Act listing of Chinook salmon as a threatened species in the Skagit Watershed is shifting management priorities on the Skagit Wildlife Area. Currently, the number one priority is to enhance and restore degraded estuary habitats to help threatened Chinook salmon populations recover. These restoration projects will also benefit other fish and wildlife species that use estuary habitats.
The primary management concerns and public issues identified in the Skagit Wildlife Area Plan are:
- Complete proposed estuary restoration projects.
- Continue agricultural enhancements on major waterfowl management units.
- Complete moist soil/wetland management projects.
- Continue ongoing weed control/management programs.
- Develop the Headquarters Unit Interpretive Center and provide interpretive/educational signing throughout the unit.
- Maintain the extensive signing program, to include boundaries, game reserves, safety zones, and general informational signing.
- Develop public use management plans for the individual units.
- Research public use activities that may have adverse impacts on fish and wildlife resources.
- Maintain, enhance and increase waterfowl and shorebird populations and habitat.
- Continue to develop the Watchable Wildlife projects on the Snow Goose and Swan Reserves as well as other potential sites on the Skagit WA.
In 2006, the Skagit Wildlife Area staff continued to implement programs that provided habitat enhancements for waterfowl, shorebirds and other avian species. Major time and effort was allocated to the ongoing process of implementing the Wylie Slough and Leque Island Estuary Restoration Projects.
The planning effort continued on the development of a “moist soil” management plan to be implemented in partnership with Ducks Unlimited on the Samish, Island, and Leque Island Units.
The Skagit Wildlife Area Plan has provided a process for allowing a much greater level of public involvement in the wildlife area planning process, as well as providing a foundation for many of the diverse and challenging issues and management options on the Skagit Wildlife Area.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2006. Skagit Wildlife Area Management Plan. Wildlife Management Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia. 140 pp.