Wetland reality

Posted by Ken Campbell October 8, 2008 0 Comment 647 views

A river delta is a fertile place. In fact, for sheer fecundity, a healthy estuary beats all comers. No Brazilian rainforest, no tropical reef, no matter how pristine and fertile, can touch the ability to support life that you’ll find in those special intertidal zones where the river meets the sea.

Salmon fingerlings and other anadromous fish hide in the roots and grow larger, until they are ready to brave the threats and freedom that comes with open water. Years later, they will return to their birthplace to spawn and die, and the nutrients that they return to the river will continue to support future generations.

Ducks, herons and grebes, cormorants, kingfishers and eagles: all get their room and board there at the Estuarine Inn and Lunch Counter. Migratory waterfowl stop by for a quick meal and a rest, recharge their systems before heading back out on the flyway. Deer and elk are frequent visitors, especially during the winter months when the snow lies thick in the high country.

It is a harsh fact that the most vibrant and vital ecological areas are the most vulnerable. Pollution and development have already wiped out the diversity and habitat opportunities of most of western Washington’s river deltas, and it’s hard to see how the same fate won’t take the rest. The Nisqually delta in south Puget Sound, for example, is often held up as an example of successful preservation. Which it is.

What sets the Nisqually Reach apart from all the others, however, is simply that it is the only river delta left in Puget Sound that bears any resemblence to the way that it used to be. All of the others once looked wild and green as well, and now they are gone forever. Cocooned in concrete like the Duwamish and the Puyallup, channelized and controlled with dikes and canals, they have become home to commerce and waste, and their previous inhabitants have been rplaced with floating garbage and an oily sheen on the water. The mouth of the Nisqually exists today as a reminder of what was once the norm, the way it was meant to be.

The rivers of the Olympic peninsula have not been subjected to the same pressures that have decimated those in Puget Sound. Not yet, anyway. The Dosewallips delta still has a healthy exchange of fresh and salt water where multiple species of plant, bird and animal can find food and shelter. It’s getting harder to maintain, with the press of development moving closer every day, but it’s still there. It’s hard to say how long it will stay this way.

When I look at the mud and the delicately intertwining passages of the Dosewallips, I see a part of the natural world that is as beautiful and fascinating as any other on the planet. Unfortunately there are others, with more money and ambition than I, who look at it and see a golf course.

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