Unique collaboration brings swans back to their honking grounds

After years of work, trumpeter swans are back in their historic habitat at Hines Marsh on the northern Peninsula for the first time in 40 years. MARTHA JORDAN photo

STACKPOLE ROAD - Thanks to a unique partnership among federal, state and private agencies, trumpeter swans are occupying Hines Marsh adjacent to Leadbetter State Park for the first time in 40 years.

Trumpeter Swan Society spokeswoman Martha Jordan said last week there are up to 11 swans in the marsh after the partnership provided funding for a new water control structure and clearing of the marsh.

Funds for phase one of the project, the water control device, were provided by a federal grant backed by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and acquired by the society. "As a result of that grant," Jordan said, "Ducks Unlimited became a partner and donated funds and expertise to add a fish ladder" near the road to the marsh. An added bonus is that coho will once again have access to the marsh for overwintering. No one's sure if that's happening yet, but the partners are keeping a close eye on the area.

The goal of all the partners since the 1980s has been to restore water to the valuable wildlife habitat at the marsh. Water levels in the marsh dropped two to four feet after housing developments on the north end of the Long Beach Peninsula were constructed - the defunct Terra Mar and Surfside. "There were 80 swans in the marsh before that," Jordan said. "In 1960 there were swans and by 1963 there were none."

The destruction of a sand dune on property near the marsh several years ago added to the marsh's woes.

Hines Marsh, Jordan said, is "the largest interdunal wetland in the western United States.There's nothing like this anywhere."

Once phase one was completed, Jordan said the partners met and asked her if she would write a second grant to restore open water to the marsh. "The whole scenario has been the business of all the people who helped restore swan habitat in the marsh from the 1980s on. They cared and they came, from everywhere and all walks of life."

So Jordan wrote a second grant for $50,000 in federal funds to restore open water behind Hines Marsh to attract the swans. There were seven or eight partners on the grant, Jordan said, "which is phenomenal. Usually there are two or three partners. This is a partnership that's more than just a bunch of conservationists doing something."

Jordan said major partners in the project have been Washington State Parks, the swan society, Ducks Unlimited, the Grays Harbor Audubon Society and Columbia Land Trust. She said.$2 to $3 million was raised with one out-of-state donor sending $45,000 to help in the restoration effort.

Last summer, a crew from Fort Canby State Park came to the marsh with underwater chain saws and cleared out dead willow snags. Later in the season, a Department of Natural Resources crew came in and, using regular chain saws, opened up between 10 and 15 acres of water.

On a recent visit to Hines Marsh, Jordan said "the water was dead calm and swans were swimming, making ripples. We are so excited about what has happened. We all worked together to bring the marsh back. It helps the groundwater recharge which improves water quality in Willapa Bay. We want the public to know that the swans are there and they can go to the marsh and see what has been done. It's a success story after 40 years."

To encourage the swans to return to their old neighborhood, Jordan bought two tundra swan decoys for encouragement. Then Paul Malmberg, southwest regional director for State Parks in Olympia, bought four more. The decoys, plus the newly cleared water, must have worked. On Jan. 18 the swans returned.

"I want to emphasize that Parks was very cooperative in this project and have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure it happened," Jordan said. "The swans benefit and the public benefits. They can walk into the marsh and see them."

To get to Hines Marsh, take Stackpole Road north of Oysterville to the Leadbetter State Park southern boundary, just past the big lion gates. Parking is available at the vacant lot north of the road but Jordan asks that cars don't block the access for gravel trucks at the Parks-owned lot. A gravel easement road leads west about a half mile beyond the gates but, Jordan said, visitors should not go beyond the "no trespassing" signs. "Please respect the owners of the private property to the west," she said. And she said no hunting is allowed in the area.

As a bonus, Jordan said if visitors come to the marsh at 1 or 2 p.m. and look to the north, they'll see an osprey nest high in the trees and can watch their nesting activity.

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