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Proposed Expansion of the Dabob Bay Natural Area is a Spark of Hope

Washington Wild brought together 31 conservation organizations in a joint comment letter thanking the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for its support of expanding the Dabob Bay Natural Resource Conservation Area (NRCA). DNR’s proposal would expand the Dabob Bay NRCA boundaries by a total of 3,860 acres by adding state forest lands and private lands with associated wetlands, streams, and marine shorelines.

Photo: Puget Sound seals, Christina Davis

The Importance of Dabob Bay

The Dabob Bay Natural Area was established in 1984 to protect rare examples of intact salt marsh and sand spit plant communities within one of Washington’s highest functioning coastal spit and tidal wetland systems. Initially created as a natural area preserve (NAP), the site was enlarged in 2009, and again in 2016, adding lands designated as natural resources conservation area (NRCA). The combined NAP/NRCA currently comprises 3,294 acres. With a wide range of habitats—mature coastal forests, coastal streams, feeder bluffs, forage fish spawning areas, eelgrass beds, native Olympia oyster beds, nearshore tidelands, mudflats, and open marine waters—the area is rich in biodiversity. 

DNR’s exemplary conservation work at Dabob Bay over the past decade has been recognized at the state and national level and is a spark of hope in the larger effort to protect and restore Puget Sound. [The 31 undersigned conservation organizations] greatly appreciate DNR’s effort to expand the Dabob Bay Natural Area to secure protection of this cherished landscape while also better positioning the timber trusts using the secured Climate Commitment Act funding and future Trust Land Transfers.

By improving habitat connectivity, the proposed expansion will promote ecosystem health throughout Puget Sound, support the local shellfish industry, and protect treaty-reserved resources for four Tribes. The proposed boundary expansion includes over 2,600 acres of state trust forestlands, including 910 acres of older forest, much of which has been identified by DNR’s Natural Heritage Program as a globally imperiled forest plant association that is a high priority for conservation.

Photo: Tidepooling, Annah Kim

Strong Local Stakeholder Support

In 2020, a coalition of regional and statewide conservation groups, shellfish growers, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe urged DNR to expand the Dabob Bay Natural Area along the boundary lines now proposed. Jefferson County Board of Commissioners added their support in August 2023, after a statewide effort succeeded in revitalizing the Trust Land Transfer Program. In December of 2023, DNR announced that it had identified 671 acres of the 910 acres of older forest within the proposed boundary for protection with Climate Commitment Act (CCA) funding

An Opportunity to Protect Even More

We also strongly recommend that DNR add the “West Dabob” parcel to the boundary expansion, as requested by Jefferson County’s 2023 boundary proposal. This 160-acre parcel contains 40 acres of structurally complex forest currently protected as marbled murrelet habitat under the state’s Habitat Conservation Plan and 120 acres of younger forest between that habitat and the rest of the existing boundary. The marbled murrelet was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1992 and is listed as endangered in Washington State. As with many endangered species, habitat loss is among the most serious and imminent threats they face; relying on mature and old-growth forests to build their nests, the population of marbled murrelets continues to decline. 

Photo: A marbled murrelet, Bret Lovelace/OSU

Protection of the entire 160 acres within the Dabob Bay Natural Area would do three things: 1) better ensure the long-term conservation of the marbled murrelet site currently protected under the HCP, 2) protect forest connectivity and prevent future habitat fragmentation between the murrelet site and existing Natural Area, and 3) allow the Trust Land Transfer process to compensate the county and junior taxing districts for the currently encumbered murrelet habitat.