By Jim Irving
As active boaters for 50 years, my wife Jan and I knew that we wanted to live on the water when we retired — not near the water, but on the water. We wanted a place where we could sail, row and kayak without traveling any distance. I also restore small classic wooden boats, so water access was imperative when considering where to live.
We found a home on 0.41 acres adjacent to Jarrells Cove on Harstine Island. The house was built in the 1960s on low-bank waterfront within 15 feet of the shore. Located in a sheltered portion of the cove, our 165 feet of shoreline bulkhead can best be characterized as a combination of pilings and stacked rocks.
Initially, I was not convinced that this cove, which dries to a mud flat twice a day, would induce me to live here. But tidal changes usher in a wide range of wildlife that cannot be seen at most deep-water sites.
My background lies in forestry, fire and wildlife biology. Jan spent her career as a high school science teacher. So, for both of us, a rural lifestyle was critical when we moved to Puget Sound from Salem, Oregon, in 2005.
Eight years later, I was recruited by fellow Harstine Islander Bill Burrows to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee for salmon habitat recovery in our local region — Watershed Resource Inventory Area 14. Bill, a commissioner for Mason Conservation District, knew of my background and believed I could contribute, even though I had never studied salmon or shoreline issues. I have learned a great deal about what it means to be a shoreline owner and about my obligations as a resident of Puget Sound.
Later, I served on a focus group of waterfront property owners created by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to address shoreline armoring. I was amazed that most participants had little understanding of how detrimental armoring — specifically bulkheads — can be to a healthy, functioning shoreline. Unfortunately, bulkheads continue to be a big selling point for prospective buyers.
As I became more involved in these ecological issues, John Bolender, manager of Mason Conservation District, invited me to get my portion of the shoreline assessed by the district. Environmental specialist Karin Strelioff was very helpful and informative, but because of the proximity of the house to the water and the slope of the bank, little can be done except for removing the ivy and planting deep-rooted species.
I am glad to see that Mason Conservation District is reaching out to local communities and organizations, sharing knowledge about the importance of shorelines to the Puget Sound ecosystem. Nevertheless, until shoreline owners reverse their mindset about the value of bulkheads, I believe that the recovery of the Sound will be way too slow.
My advice to other waterfront property owners is to become informed and to get involved with local groups. Reach out to the conservation district to find out about what resources (money and expertise) are available, so that you can become not just a shoreline owner but also a shoreline steward. The salmon you eat and the wildlife you view from your shoreline home depend on a healthy Puget Sound.
Jim Irving worked with environment reporter Christopher Dunagan to tell his Shore Friendly Mason story.