DNR approves oyster farm in National Wildlife Refuge. Time to take action.

A Department of Natural Resources head who claims to be an environmentalist has “no knowledge” of her office letting commercial aquaculture invade a National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo of Dungeness Spit by Al Bergstein

Hilary Franz who is the head of the department of natural resources here in Washington state, approved putting a commercial shellfish aquaculture business inside the Dungeness Spit wildlife refuge just to the right in this photo. Up to 80,000 oyster bags covering the bottom. This refuge was created for diving birds and other wildlife that feed here. You and I can’t even fly a kite in there and haven’t been able to for 100 years.

As this author wrote back in 2018:

New concerns over the possible permitting of an oyster aquaculture farm within the Dungeness Spit Wildlife Refuge have been raised by the Department of the Interior, which manages the refuge. In a letter written to Steve Gray, the Clallam County Deputy Director and Planning Manager, Jennifer Brown-Scott, the Project Leader for the Department of the Interior, has raised significant questions about issues concerning the application.

Of concern to the Department are a number of issues relating to wildlife in the refuge. The applicants have asked for permission to place approx. 150,000 (it appears that 80,000 is the current number at most) of “on bottom” oyster bags on the central west side of the bay, in approximately 34 acres of the tide flats 1141 acres of the inner spit. This appears to be approx. 3.35% the inner bay area.  The applicants propose to raise non-native oysters. To be clear, a significant number of cultivated oysters in the Salish Sea are non-native, so this is not a surprise.

Within the area of the Dungeness Spit Wildlife Refuge are federally listed species that are protected or have environmental listings of concern. They include but aren’t limited to: Bull Trout, Marbled Murrelet, Puget Sound Chinook and Hood Canal Summer Chum. Also within the area is significant state listed wildlife habitat. Of somewhat lesser concern is the impact on the public to the scenic beauty of the wildlife preserve, which is one of the main reasons most visitors go to the area in the first place.

Herring also spawn at the west end of Dungeness Harbor and the Department of Interior raised questions about protecting Strait of Juan de Fuca herring, which have been designated “critical” (as in critically low).  Sand Lance and Surf Smelt spawning grounds are also found in the area of the application. These species have been identified as “Washington Species of Greatest Conservation Need within the State Wildlife Action Plan (WDFW 2015). A worry related to this is that these spawning fish will be competing with the oysters for plankton. A failure to find enough food could lead to a significant reduction in the survival rates. There is no know mitigation for this, other than limiting the size and scope of the project.

The area just to the east of the proposed site is the location of the highest infestation of European Green Crabs in the Salish Sea. Another concern is that the proposed oyster bags may provide habitat for green crabs, allowing them to be moved to other areas outside the Spit the bags are transported.

This shoreline has been designated “Natural” in the Critical Areas Ordinance, as far back as 1976. That designation limits activities to those that preserve the national features unchanged. One would assume that the tidelands are also part of that designation.

Noted bird biologist George Divoky commented:

When birds can’t find their food in an area they have used in the past they will not die at that location but fly elsewhere to find suitable habitat. Mortality could occur due to the costs of involved in seeking out that habitat. Certainly, the aquaculture being proposed would modify the habitat used by the birds and all of the far less visible components of the nearshore ecosystem. People tend to focus on birds being affected by anthropogenic changes to the marine environment – since they are visible and warm-blooded vertebrates – but this sort of exploitation of the marine environment by the growth economy would have ecosystem effects.

George Divoky

It is certainly reasonable for the applicants to want to return to aquaculture in the Bay, however the scale is being significantly increased. Science has learned a lot about the environment since the time when the State allowed the use in this location, dating back to around the time of WWII. In many other locations we have decided that the tradeoff of commercial activity is outweighed by a newer appreciation of the value of the natural landscape for a variety of species.  One example of this is that we have ended other bad practices, such as gold mining in salmon streams, which was accomplished not that long ago.

It is up to all of us to question our elected officials and bureaucrats, not the applicants, as to why they believe that this is in all our best interests, when we so clearly have set this aside this location for wildlife protection and enhancement.

What the Dungeness Spit Wildlife Reserve will soon look like. As many as 80,000 of these bags will be located on the bottom.

The head of DNR, Commissioner Franz, when recently asked at a fundraiser for Jefferson County Democratic supporters about her department permitting this controversial site, said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” However, the Department approved it on her letterhead. She also had a direct report of hers send out a response letter to an environmentalist who was expressing their concern in August. The letter stated that “Commissioner Franz has asked that I respond to your concerns on her behalf.

As the old saying goes, “The buck stops here.” Commissioner Franz, in her second term, has run on being an environmental supporter if not an activist. Her campaign web site states” Hilary is on the front lines protecting our lands and waters and standing up for our communities.” A search of her campaign finance contributions showed both the Grantee, along with Pacific Seafood and Taylor Shellfish as donors. That in and of itself seems unseemly, if not worse, to be taking donations from the very people who you are regulating. But we all know it happens all the time. However, her ongoing blanket approvals of the ever-expanding shellfish industry now has apparently been a bit of environmental protection that she does not even pay attention to in her department.

What could she have done instead? Land swap. It’s being done by her department all over the State, where environmentally sensitive areas are being protected. That it wasn’t even a point of discussion is irresponsible.

In a letter to local activists, by Katrina Lassiter, the Interim Deputy Supervisor for Aquatic Resources it was stated that “These measures were created through collaboration and input from scientists, regulatory agencies, and the environmental community including the Audubon Society.”

On 8/20/21, Ms. Lassiter was asked to provide documentation for the statement: She has not responded. No environmental organization that was contacted offered any support for that statement.

Where were the local Audubon Society and Sierra Club members? They both apparently thought it was too controversial and choose to take no action. Why be a member of groups that were created to protect the environment and now can’t even take verbal stand against an action like this? Where is the Washington Environmental Council and their People For Puget Sound Campaigns? Silent. Remember this as you consider your end of the year donations.

Want to put your money where it works? Try starting with the Protect Our Peninsula’s Future, or the Olympic Forest Coalition, or Sea Shepard’s legal fund, or the Wild Fish Conservancy, or the Center for Environmental Law, or any of the other organizations who will sue for change, since we cannot rely on paper “environmentalists” to do the work we expect of them. They all seem to be beholden to the people continuing these policies of destruction. Everyone seems to want to restore destroyed environments but few want to stop them from being destroyed in the first place.

The call to action on your parts, if you choose to take one, is to call Commissioner Franz’ office and let them know your dissatisfaction with this decision. When she comes to your county looking for donations for her future political ambitions, tell her when she reverses this decision, you’ll consider funding her next campaign.

Her number is (360) 902-1000.

$3.8 million project to provide face-lift for Dungeness’ 3 Crabs estuarine area – PDN

Work to begin on the final phase of the 3Crabs area restoration work, over on the east side of the Dungeness River estuary. This has been a long time coming, and is a good piece of work to help salmon move back into the estuary area in greater numbers. Runs have been increasing in recent years, with the work already done.

DUNGENESS –– Rerouting Sequim-Dungeness Way, removing a century of shoreline armoring and expanding wetland lagoons will soon be done under a plan to restore the beach and estuary at 3 Crabs.

Read the whole story at the PDN:


New Born Orca Washes up Dead on Dungeness Spit

From OrcaNetwork: Sad news from Brad Hanson of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center: A newborn male orca calf was found washed up this morning on a beach at Dungeness Spit. The neonate was 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) long, and was found only a day or two after death. The body was taken to Seattle for a necropsy to take place tomorrow, but we won’t know if this is a resident or transient orca for a couple of weeks until DNA analysis can be completed. Both residents and transients have been in the general area in the past few days, and there are no recent sightings near Dungeness Spit to help determine the type. If anyone has any photos of the orcas seen in Puget Sound yesterday (Sunday), please send them to Orca Network to possibly identify those whales, and hopefully help identify this newborn orca.

To sign up for Orca Network, go to this link and you can enter your email to sign up.


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