4 aquatic reserves OK'd in Puget Sound

The Olympian, Olympia Washington

Saturday, September 27, 2003

OLYMPIA, WA-- Four sites proposed for aquatic reserves in the Puget Sound area nearly 31/2 years ago have been approved by state Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland, who rejected two others.
The four state-owned submerged areas that were designated Thursday cover 15,585 acres, including about 5,500 acres around Maury and Vashon islands between Seattle and Tacoma.

The other reserves are at Cypress Island in the San Juans, Fidalgo Bay near Anacortes and Cherry Point near Bellingham.

"Aquatic reserves are an important part of creating healthy, aquatic ecosystems in Puget Sound," Sutherland said in a prepared statement. "The reserve program will contribute to a good balance between healthy ecosystems, economic opportunity and opportunities for public enjoyment of the state's aquatic lands."

He rejected protection for two small offshore areas in Tacoma, 12 acres near the mouth of Foss Waterway and 10 acres at the end of the Middle Waterway. Both were restored as wildlife habitat in the continuing Superfund cleanup of Commencement Bay.

Those sites were too small and isolated from other habitat to merit protection, said Phil Bloch, a biologist and lead scientist for the aquatic lands program. Even so, Sutherland said, they would not be leased for commercial purposes.

The next step is for the state Department of Natural Resources, headed by Sutherland, to have hearings on what limits should apply to existing development in each area and how to mitigate any damage


Reserves proposed

Skagit Valley Herald

Two areas of Skagit County's marine lands are a step closer to protection, but what that really means is still up in the air.

Fidalgo Bay and the waters around Cypress Island are two of four sites recommended this week for aquatic reserves by Doug Sutherland, who heads the state Department of Natural Resources.

But it could be a year or more before a management plan is developed to determine how restrictive that protection will be. The Department of Natural Resources has set April as a target date for public meetings that will be early in the process.

The other two sites Maury Island near Seattle and Cherry Point near Bellingham are on a faster track. Meetings for those two sites could be held as early as next month.

Fidalgo Bay lies between Anacortes and March Point, and it is dominated by eelgrass beds and mud flats that provide key habitat for herring and marine birds. Cypress Island is mostly wilderness.

The areas were designated reserves by Sutherland's predecessor, Jennifer Belcher. But when Sutherland took office in 2001, he withdrew those designations.

Sutherland's recommendation means that he saw the two areas need protection, said Mike Sato, the North Sound director for People for Puget Sound, an environmental advocacy group.

"It's good news," he said. "It's a good beginning."

Todd Myers, a spokesman for Sutherland, said the meetings and studies will examine how to meet the goals of protecting the habitat provided by the Fidalgo Bay and Cypress Island sites.

"Part of that is determining what is allowed in those reserves," he said. "Is the ecosystem so fragile that nothing can be allowed, or can there be activity that is heavily mitigated?"

Anacortes Planning Director Ian Munce said the city will take an active role in the development of the management plan. The city had objected to Belcher's designation, which Munce said didn't leave any room for input from local residents. The new process will take into account the city's existing Fidalgo Bay plan, he said.

That plan calls for the protection of 1,800 acres of eelgrass in the bay, yet allows up to 30 acres to be impacted.

"Most of the bay should be protected, but at the same time we are a boating community with very active boat-related and boat-repair businesses," Munce said. "We want to do both."

Part of the protection could mean that no more leases would be granted to use the state-owned aquatic lands, which would mean no more docks or mooring buoys could be installed and existing ones might have to be removed when leases run out, Sato said.

Because of that, people who have docks or mooring buoys should make sure they are involved in the process, Myers said.


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