WDFW seeks public input on Theler Wetlands restoration project


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News release

Coastal Region – Montesano, 360-249-4628 

Media Contact:
WDFW, Bridget Mire, 564-224-0845
HCSEG, Alexandra Ehrich, 360-490-9966 

Update: The SEPA comment period for this project has been extended to May 2 at 5 p.m.

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group (HCSEG) are seeking public input on the planned restoration of seven acres of estuarine habitat in the Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve in Mason County. 

Located on the Union River Wildlife Area Unit in lower Hood Canal near Belfair, the trail system and wetlands provide recreational opportunities for birders and nature enthusiasts while protecting the estuarine ecosystem from development pressure of the growing area. 

The project involves estuary restoration to improve habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species, including Hood Canal summer chum salmon, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). It also involves removing a 1,250-foot breached levee to restore natural tidal processes and improve fish access to adjacent wetlands, elevating Roessel Road to help prevent flooding, and reconnecting the preserve’s trail network through an elevated boardwalk. 

The project is undergoing a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review. The public can view SEPA documents at: wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/environmental/sepa/open-comments. Comments may be submitted through the PublicInput comment portal for this project or by email to: ThelerWetlandsRestoration@PublicInput.com. Comments may also be mailed to: Lisa Wood, WDFW SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, at PO Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504-3200. Comments must be received by 5 p.m. on May 2, 2024. 

"We are excited to continue working with our partners, HCSEG, Mason County, and the North Mason community on restoring estuary functions,” said WDFW Restoration Coordinator Chris Waldbillig. “This project builds on habitat restoration completed in 2013 and increases the shallow estuary habitat critical for juvenile salmon as well as waterfowl and shorebirds. We know from past restoration that juvenile salmon seek out these protected waters at high tides to eat, grow, and take shelter before moving into the nearshore habitat as they migrate toward the ocean.”

Theler Wetlands is part of the 543-acre Union River Unit of South Puget Sound Wildlife Area. WDFW began managing property there in 1962. Most recently, the North Mason School District transferred 106 acres to the Department in August.  

“We appreciate the partnership with the school district and community for wetland protection and education and are proud to steward these important conservation lands that offer a variety of recreational options,” said WDFW Wildlife Area Manager Katie Laushman. “The Union River Unit provides many opportunities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, and a hand boat launch that can be used for accessing waterfowl hunting blinds.” 

Construction is expected to begin in late summer 2024. The project has received funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Puget Sound Partnership. 

“HCSEG is excited to partner with WDFW to accomplish this saltmarsh restoration project that includes the renewal of recreational opportunities in lower Hood Canal,” said HCSEG Executive Director Mendy Harlow. “The project will not only benefit the recovery of ESA-listed Hood Canal summer chum salmon, but also a multitude of bird species that rely on saltmarsh habitat for foraging and rearing their young.” 

All members of the public are invited to share their perspective and participate in WDFW public feedback opportunities regardless of race, color, sex, age, national origin, language proficiency, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, veteran status, or basis of disability. 

WDFW manages more than a million acres of land and hundreds of water access areas throughout the state. By actively managing lands, restoring habitats, and preserving wild places, the Department serves as stewards for Washington’s natural places, protecting the state’s land and water for its human and wildlife populations. 

HCSEG is one of 14 regional fisheries enhancement groups actively assisting Washington State in salmon recovery efforts. With the help of donors, volunteers, members, and staff, HCSEG conducts habitat restoration and research projects and environmental education programs throughout the entire Hood Canal Watershed that not only benefit local salmon populations, but also support the ecological diversity and sustainability of our local communities. HCSEG strives to deepen the connection between land, people, and salmon through research, restoration, and education. Our mission is to ensure that wild salmon are once again abundant in the Pacific Northwest. 

Request this information in an alternative format or language at wdfw.wa.gov/accessibility/requests-accommodation, 833-885-1012, TTY (711), or CivilRightsTeam@dfw.wa.gov.