Opinion

Whispering Firs is an Island spot to treasure

By BIANCA PERLA and LUANN BRANCH

For The Beachcomber

Every place has its secret spots whose stories are passed from neighbor to neighbor over the years. One of our Island’s most treasured spots is a small piece of land with stunted trees, whimsical floating mosses and carnivorous plants. Even its name — Whispering Firs Bog — is mysterious.

This place spoke so powerfully to Islanders 20 years ago that calls for its preservation caused the formation of Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust. Creating this nature preserve also instigated a strong partnership between the land trust and the Vashon Park District.

The Bog — as it is affectionately called — is one of only three peat bogs (sphagnum-dominated wetlands) in lowland Puget Sound. Entering the bog is like entering another world. Bog laurel and Labrador tea grow on top of an 11-foot thick mat of floating peat moss nearly two acres in size. Tiny carnivorous plants called sundews eat flies so small that you can’t even see them flying around. Eighty-year-old western hemlocks and birch grow slowly here, stunted by the lack of nutrients. You can touch the tops of trees in this miniature forest trapped in time.

Twenty years ago, the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust and the Vashon Park District bought half the bog. We wanted to buy the other half, but it wasn’t for sale. Now it is.

Until these lands are preserved, the bog’s health hangs in the balance. Sphagnum bogs — considered true bogs, in that they have no inlet or outlet for water — are extremely sensitive to disturbance. Any change in the water — the amount, acidity or nutrient load — can destroy a bog and the unique species that depend on it.

Building a house adjacent to this bog could change water quality in the bog immediately, due to runoff from construction sites; over time, excess nutrients from fertilizers, pets or septic systems would severely worsen the situation. King County codes requiring setbacks are not written for sphagnum bogs, because they are so rarely encountered; setbacks, as a result,

would not protect these sensitive wetlands.

Last year, the land trust and

park district asked the state-funded Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) to fund this acquisition. Whispering Firs Bog was ranked number one in the state for our category. But now, as your state legislators struggle to craft a new budget, that funding hangs in the balance. The entire program is at risk.

WWRP is an award-winning program and the state’s number one tool for conserving land and developing recreation sites. It is critical, for both Whispering First Bog and our state, that WWRP be funded in the capital budget. If the projects are funded as ranked, we’ll see our Whispering Firs Bog — as well as many other important and special sites in Washington — conserved for future generations.

Washington’s economy relies on the conservation of scenic and natural resources that make the Evergreen State a haven for farmers, the high-tech and biotech industries, tourists and the growing green power industry. Businesses invest in our state in part because of our high quality of life. Even in tough times, it is important to continue to invest in the protection of our land, water and wildlife.

On Vashon, WWRP-funded projects have protected our aquifer, created Dockton Park’s new boat launch and helped purchase lands to expand the Fisher Pond and Shinglemill trails. In the future, it may mean protections for the farms that supply us with local produce.

Statewide, renewing WWRP funding is an essential investment in our long-term prosperity:

Outdoor recreation generates $8.5 billion in revenues annually to Washington’s economy and supports 115,000 jobs.

WWRP provides good jobs for engineers, landscape architects, planners and builders, as well as economic stimulus to our state’s cities and towns.

Washington state has the highest per capita boat ownership in the nation. Clean water, healthy fisheries and public docks are critical components of our recreation economy.

WWRP preserves working lands — woodlots, farms and ranches — which, in turn, support Washington’s economy, supply healthy local food and provide food security.

Sen. Sharon Nelson and Reps. Joe Fitzgibbon and Eileen Cody have been stalwart supporters of conservation, as witnessed by their hard work on the Glacier acquisition.

I encourage you to contact your lawmakers now and thank them for their support of Washington’s Wildlife and Recreation Program. This award-winning program is instrumental in maintaining clean water, fueling our economy and completing the protection of a very special place we call Whispering Firs Bog.

— Bianca Perla is president of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust’s board of directors, and LuAnn Branch is a commissioner on the Vashon Park District board.

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