Leque Island, located west of Stanwood between Port Susan and Skagit bays, was once entirely salt marsh. In the late 1800s, early settlers built dikes around the perimeter of the island to convert the area to farmland and homesteads. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) began acquiring properties on Leque Island in 1974, and now owns the entire island. The Leque Island Unit is part of the Skagit Wildlife Area.
The perimeter dikes on the island repeatedly failed during high tide and storm events, most recently in 2016. Each breached section of dike was temporarily repaired until a long-term solution could be found. Removing the dikes to restore the area to salt marsh habitat was determined to be the best solution.
To help with decision making on project design moving forward, WDFW and partners engaged local stakeholders and formed a committee of outdoor recreationists, local jurisdictions, tribal representatives, and farmers to guide the process beginning in 2013. In the end, the committee ranked the full restoration design higher than the partial and no restoration alternatives. WDFW selected that design alternative to move forward for engineering and construction.
Between July and October 2019, WDFW along with Ducks Unlimited and local contractor Strider Construction implemented the final phase of the Leque Island Estuary Restoration Project. The team removed over 2.4 miles of levee, excavated over 5 miles of new tidal channels, and created several lower depressions called tidal headwaters. This work restored 250 acres of tidal marsh habitat in the Stillaguamish River watershed where 85% of historic tidal marsh has been displaced. Estuaries are important for juvenile Chinook salmon as they transition from fresh to salt water, as well as shorebirds, waterfowl, and a host of other species in the area. Because Puget Sound's southern resident killer whales rely upon Chinook salmon for food, the project is also closely aligned with orca recovery efforts. See our blog post for more details about the project.
In addition to habitat restoration benefits, the team constructed a 0.7-mile wave protection berm that protects the City of Stanwood. This berm also serves as an elevated walking trail that allows people to continue to enjoy the property. Visitors can use a new small boat launch to put in hand-carried boats on the west side of the project area for paddling access in the new tidal channels. WDFW has also partnered with the City of Stanwood to build a new larger boat launch for motorized boats slightly upriver near the Hamilton Smokestack in 2020.
Project construction finished in mid-November 2019 and reopened to the public. WDFW will continue to manage the site for fish, wildlife, and recreation activities. The restoration area will be monitored into the future to document how the habitat changes over time and how fish and wildlife use the site.
A combination of state and federal grants funded the project including: Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, WDFW's Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Floodplains by Design, and Washington Department of Ecology.
To get more information about the Leque Island Restoration Project, please contact Project Manager Loren Brokaw at Loren.Brokaw@dfw.wa.gov or 425-775-1311, ext. 105.