For Nature’s Sake! A Forested Wetland is Saved

Author: Jessica | 03/26/20

St. John Wetland Preserve

St. John Nature Preserve, permanently protected in 2020, is a 31-acre forested wetland that will benefit nature and the environment.

The landscape is full of shades of green inside a lush forest tucked mostly out of sight on Central Whidbey Island. Under a closed canopy of mature trees, including many giant Sitka spruce and Western red cedar, and surrounded by huge hummocks of sword ferns with moss underfoot, it’s a natural haven for wildlife. The addition of wetlands attract wild creatures big and small.

St. John Wetland Preserve

A Robin’s nest reveals an egg at St. John Wetland Preserve on Central Whidbey Island.

Holly Jill St. John and her husband Paul Mackley fell in love with this special place when both were stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. They purchased the 31-acre property in 2005 and dreamed of one day retiring on a small corner, keeping the remaining acreage forever wild for nature.

“We loved that property because it represents what the island was – old growth forest and wildlife habitat,” St. John said. “And we wanted it to remain like that.”

Although the couple’s plans changed over time, their dream to preserve the property for nature never wavered. They reached out to us last year to explore how to make that happen. We recently acquired their property as a wildlife preserve, thus fulfilling their long-held desire to permanently protect it. Use of the property will be very limited to keep it a refuge for wildlife.

“We loved that property because it represents what the island was − old growth forest and wildlife habitat. And we wanted it to remain like that.” − Holly Jill St. John

“The whole purpose is to let nature prevail without human intrusion,” said Pat Powell, executive director of the Land Trust.

Taking a step back, the St. John Nature Preserve represents something even larger. Saving mature forest sequesters carbon and maintains clean water quality and aquifer recharge, all ways that local conservation efforts help tackle climate change at the local level.

“The property has healthy forested wetlands, which are really important for birds and other wildlife,” said Land Trust conservation director Ryan Elting. “Being wet for much of the year, it’s not well-suited for public trails. The preserve is also located in a narrow part of Whidbey Island where preventing habitat fragmentation is critical for ensuring that the migration of wildlife up and down the island remains possible in the future.”

This newest preserve is located west of the recently protected Noble Fir conservation easement property with its large wetland complex, forest and shoreline. Together, these properties are part of an important wildlife habitat corridor between large protected areas at Crockett Lake, Lake Hancock, and Greenbank Farm.

St. John and Mackley are now living in San Diego, where Mackley retired after 30 years of military service. Despite the distance, they’re happy to know the land they once owned will continue to benefit wildlife and the environment.

St. John said she was moved after reading an advance version of this article.

“It made me cry,” St. John said. “Until then, I don’t think I had really grasped that the land truly is permanently protected, now, and a part of a larger protection project in that area. We appreciate all the entire Whidbey Camano Land Trust team does.”

The property acquisition was funded with Navy funds and a significant donation of land value by St. John and Mackley. We thank them for their forward thinking and for caring for the property for the past 15 years.


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