Cypress Island designated an Aquatic Reserve —

Cypress Island designated an Aquatic Reserve

DNR Press Release, Aug. 6, 2007, San Juan Islander

San Juan Islander
posted 08/06/2007
DNR PRESS RELEASE:

Two ‘firsts’ made a landmark day for conservation in Washington, as Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland announced that, for the first time, the public has the opportunity to nominate aquatic ecosystem sites as state aquatic reserves. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will work with groups or individuals to develop their reserve proposals for state-owned lands anywhere in the state.

Also, today (August 1, 2007) for the first time, Washington brings together a Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA), Natural Area Preserve (NAP), and an Aquatic Reserve to permanently protect Cypress Island and its surrounding waters. Cypress will be managed with a cohesive, coordinated approach. This includes 11,000 acres of land and aquatic ecosystems. Overlooking the island from Washington Park in Anacortes, Sutherland signed a letter and Commissioner’s Order, finalizing designation of the Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve and approving a comprehensive management plan for the island.

"Cypress is the largest undeveloped island in the San Juans. Today we put the final pieces in place as we ratify the comprehensive conservation plan for Cypress and its surrounding waters," said Sutherland. "The nominations process we announced today opens the door to additional opportunities like this one throughout the state."

Commissioner Sutherland directed that an Aquatic Reserve Program be developed before finalizing designations for reserves that were initially named in fall of 2000 by then Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher. He convened a scientific committee to help establish criteria for these and future reserves.

Sutherland also announced the purchase of the 135-acre Secret Harbor waterfront property located on a protected inlet at the southeast end of the island. The purchase includes 18 acres of tidelands.

State Senator Harriet Spanel spoke at the event. In her remarks she praised the new joint conservation effort and the NRCA addition. "It’s very rewarding to see this comprehensive approach to conservation realized today. I’ve supported the natural areas program since its start in the late 80s when Cypress was established as one of the first four NRCAs. I’m pleased to support this new addition to this important conservation area. Cypress is a treasure for all of us."

Sutherland thanked Spanel, her fellow legislators and DNR’s partners in the transaction for their support and assistance: the Trust for Public Land, the Nature Conservancy, and the Recreation and Conservation Office (formerly the Interagency Committee on Outdoor Recreation). Funds for the purchase came from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program habitat conservation land acquisition grants totaling $4,565,000.

Sutherland said that DNR’s acquisition of the Secret Harbor property is very important to the integrity of the Cypress Island Natural Area; and that if DNR had been unable to acquire this property for conservation, private commercial or residential redevelopment would likely have occurred there.

The NRCA acquisition opportunity was unexpected. Part of the property includes the Secret Harbor School, a residential treatment center for adolescent boys. Secret Harbor School had planned to expand its programs to an adjacent residential property it had recently acquired. In late 2003, the school cancelled those plans and decided to dispose of all of its Cypress Island property and move its operation to the mainland. After the school vacates the property in the fall of 2008, DNR will demolish most of the structures and restore the site.

Over time, Cypress Natural Areas and Aquatic Reserve will offer opportunities for study. While the natural areas protect 140 species of birds, including eagles, hawks and falcons, the Aquatic Reserve protects rock fish, of which several species are in decline. The comprehensive management plan will guide the continuing protection, restoration, monitoring, environmental education and public enjoyment of Cypress.

Cypress Highlands Natural Area Preserve2007 is the 35-year anniversary for the Natural Area Preserve (NAP) program, the small but significant program protecting 51 NAPs, 31,000 acres statewide high-quality native ecosystems and rare or unique plant and animal communities – including Cypress Highlands NAP. The NAP is located on the largest undeveloped island in the San Juan Islands ecoregion. This preserve comprises 1,072 acres on Cypress Island and includes rare freshwater wetlands and native fescue grasslands on rocky balds. The preserve also protects natural forests of Douglas-fir, mixed with lodgepole pine, western redcedar, and Rocky Mountain juniper.

Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation AreaCypress Island provides a scenic reminder of a rustic, pre-settlement western Washington. On the 5,500 acre island, DNR manages 4,800 acres, with 3,933 acres of forests, wetlands, grassy balds and marine areas currently protected under NRCA designation. The southern two-thirds of the island is the only protected, low-elevation forest growing on serpentine soils in Washington, and supports unusual plant communities. The island's steep topography offers vistas of the San Juan Islands, mainland Washington and the Olympic and Cascade mountains. Cypress is a popular site for boaters offering primitive camping, lakes and miles of trails and abandoned roads.

Aquatic reserves as part of DNR-managed state aquatic lands State Aquatic Reserves are one part of DNR’s approach to help the health of the aquatic ecosystems that it manages. As trustee and steward of the 2.4 million acres of state aquatic lands, the Washington DNR manages the bedlands under Puget Sound, the coast, natural lakes, and navigable rivers — and many of Washington’s beaches. DNR manages these lands not only to facilitate navigation, commerce, and public access, but also to ensure protection for aquatic habitat. Aquatic lands include:

    * About 68,000 acres of tidelands.

    * 6,700 acres of harbor areas.

    * All submerged marine lands below extreme low tide—that’s 3,400 square miles of bedlands under navigable waters.

    * About 145,000 acres of submerged lands in freshwater.

Doug Sutherland, who administers DNR, is the 12th Commissioner of Public Lands since statehood in 1889.

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