The conservation of several large properties in Skookum Valley by the Squaxin Island Tribe is a local conservation story worth celebrating! The Tribe and Capitol Land Trust have partnered for many years to support our common goal of conserving land for generations to come. Sharing data and expertise, and making connections with landowners and funders—all help us work towards maintaining the local natural places needed for healthy fish, wildlife and human communities.
Skookum Creek cuts a path through southern Mason County, mostly along the north side of Highway 108, eventually emptying into Little Skookum Inlet and the southern reaches of the Salish Sea. The creek, once a rich stream corridor cutting through part of the Squaxin homeland, shows a century’s weight of disturbance that supported a developing agricultural industry. The free-flowing waters were heavily diked and its shores managed for pasture and crops. Still, despite its challenges, the waters of Skookum Creek still support an active Coho salmon run and the most important population of cutthroat trout in the South Sound, while its adjacent riparian areas and meadows host the overwintering Willapa Hills elk herd.
4.5 creek miles and 266 acres preserved forever
Thanks to the Squaxin Island Tribe’s conservation work, the creek will continue to play its timeless role in the South Sound ecosystem. As of today, four and half miles of Skookum Creek, along with 266 adjacent acres, have been conserved forever; and will serve as an anchor where additional conservation investments can be made in a place where restoration efforts will only enhance the values delivered by Skookum Creek.
The conservation of Skookum Valley is a celebration of local conservation and the power of community partnerships to maximize investments. One of the valley landowners originally contacted CLT to gauge our interest in their property. CLT immediately recognized the conservation value of Skookum Valley and its creek. We also knew this area was a high priority for the Squaxin Island Tribe and recognized the land trust could be most valuable in a supportive role. Since a project of this size would require partners and the creek cuts a path directly through the Tribe’s reservation land, CLT reached out to the Squaxin Island Tribe to gauge their interest in the project. They readily agreed to take the lead on the conservation efforts.
Over the course of six years, starting in 2017, conservation grants for the project have been awarded from numerous sources. These include the National Coastal Wetland Grant Program, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board, and the Squaxin Island Tribal Government. The grants and acquisitions all have been led by the Squaxin Island Tribe, while CLT partnered with the Tribe in sharing its expertise and knowledge in writing grants and helping with land acquisition. Altogether, more than $2.2 million has been raised to purchase land from three different landowners. Helping to ensure that this stretch of the Skookum Creek will remain a haven for Coho, steelhead, and elk for generations to come.
The Tribe is not done with the project. They hope to add to the holdings and are pursuing opportunities to add approximately 100 more acres and over two miles of stream. In the meantime, work will get started on restoring what is already conserved—including restoring the bottomlands and reestablishing the originally forested areas. Meanwhile, CLT will assist the Tribe where appropriate and keep our eyes out for other opportunities to leverage partnerships that move forward our mutual conservation priorities in the South Puget Sound and Chehalis Basin watersheds.