We live in an extraordinary place - our region simply sparkles with natural beauty - key to that is Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits. The sound and straits are more than just an exquisite inland sea; they are the nation's second largest estuary and one of the most ecologically diverse ecosystems in North America. In fact, where we live and what we experience day after day is so unique, after a while it becomes easy to take for granted the importance of this waterway to our region.
In reality, the sound and straits are the backbone of our region as an economic engine and the underpinning of our culture. As a waterway it provides avenues for trade routes, access to bountiful fishing grounds and an enormous amount of opportunities for tourism. Where else in the world can you spot a pod of Orcas by the shore, eat seafood of the highest quality, island hop in a kayak or just enjoy a sunset across the water - all right in your backyard? Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits are more than just a characteristic of our region; they are our region's lifeblood. This quality of life is critical for employers in terms of keeping their workers here.
Unfortunately, the health of our ecological gem is declining. As the human population of the region grows, more and more habitat acreage is lost, toxic pollutant inputs increase and we continue to see species decline.
The Puget Sound Partnership is on the verge of adopting a strong action agenda update with solid steps we need to take for recovery.
An important part of the recovery strategy is the preservation of the high-quality habitat we have in place and one way to do this is by creating extra protection for key areas. Washington Department of Natural Resources has a program in place to designate and manage ecologically important areas within the sound as aquatic reserves.
Thus far DNR has designated seven aquatic reserves throughout Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits in order to protect, preserve and restore these incredibly diverse, and critically important habitats. The designation also allows for greater public involvement in any proposed future uses of the land.
In order to engage the communities surrounding each of these reserves, People For Puget Sound and local organizations are creating and supporting Citizen Stewardship Committees for five reserves. This work is funded by a grant from United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Citizen Stewardship Committees will help educate residents about the reserves, conduct citizen science projects and examine technical aspects of regulations that relate to shoreline and other activities within and adjacent to the reserves. All of this work will be done in coordination and collaboration with DNR's current and future management of the reserves.
The Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve is one of the reserves for which People for Puget Sound and local organization RE Sources for Sustainable Communities is forming a Citizen Stewardship Committee.
Designated as a reserve by DNR in 2000, the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve is located just north of Bellingham and is considered to be one of the most diverse ecosystems remaining in Puget Sound. Cherry Point's unique marine and freshwater habitat supports a variety of critically important fish and wildlife species, most notably the Cherry Point Herring stock, five species of salmon, ground fish, marine seabirds, crabs, shrimp and migratory waterfowl. The reserve is also home to eelgrass and kelp beds that historically provided spawning and rearing habitat for about half of the entire herring population in Puget Sound.
This new citizen committee will play an important role in terms of the health and success of the Cherry Point Reserve. It is the residents of the region who will help ensure that our natural resources in the sound and especially in our aquatic reserves will be healthy for our children, our children's children and all future generations. RE Sources and People For Puget Sound invite any interested local residents to join the Citizen Stewardship Committee.
Tom Bancroft is the executive director of People For Puget Sound, pugetsound.org. Crina Hoyer is the interim executive director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, re-sources.org.