Forever Wild: Protecting Lands and Waters Just for Nature’s Sake

Author: Whidbey Camano Land Trust | 06/06/21
       

Raven's Forest Forever image

A large, forested tract of land near Freeland was slated for development until a visionary donor stepped in, purchased the property and donated a conservation easement to the Land Trust, ensuring it will remain forever wild.

A Place Where Nature Reigns

Only a few hundred feet from a busy Whidbey highway exists a whole other world. A place teeming with life on a spring afternoon. Where fern fronds unfurl toward the sky. Young skunk cabbage emerges from a shallow wetland and salmonberry reveals its pink blossoms.

Out of context in this forested wetland is a pile of shavings the size of an ant hill at the base of a hemlock tree. Yet its purpose soon becomes quite clear.

“That is a large Douglas squirrel midden,” said Steve Ellis, a Land Trust member and lifelong naturalist. The mound, he says, is the squirrel’s discards from dining on the tasty seeds inside conifer cones. “It must feel safe to eat in that spot,” Steve laughs. “That’s a really big pile of scales.”

The safe haven for this squirrel is a “Forever Wild” tract of land protected by the Land Trust. These areas have been established for the full benefit of nature. They are made up of habitats where wild creatures and plants can flourish without the intrusion of human activity — no excess noise, light, traffic, recreation and domestic animal predation.

Owl family image

Forever Wild lands give plants and wildlife, such as this Great Horned Owl family, habitats to flourish. Photo by Cara Hefflinger.

“The various parts in a habitat – flora, fauna, fungi — are all interdependent on each other,” Steve said. “They develop over time to create dynamic ecosystems.”

When humans enter the equation, a shift occurs. Walking in a forest compresses the soil on roots, weakening trees. Pets frighten and kill wildlife. Non-native plants are introduced from seeds on shoes and clothing. These human disruptions have detrimental impacts over time.

“Leaving the flora alone allows birds, mammals, amphibians, and invertebrates to go about the purpose of reproduction. These in turn help repopulate areas that humans frequent. Habitats left alone are a sort of nursery for wildlife.”
— Steve Ellis, Coupeville naturalist

Dan Matlock, Land Trust board member and retired biology professor agrees. “It’s no secret that wild spaces have been shrinking,” he said. “Forever Wild areas have the ability to ‘seed’ adjoining lands with native plants and animals that might otherwise disappear.”

The benefits run even deeper.  Natural lands help the environment by reducing flooding and filtering run-off leading to cleaner waters. Forests sequester carbon and help combat climate change.  And wild areas support and protect biodiversity.

Wild lands improve the overall health of all living things.  “People need to get out and have the opportunity to experience nature,” Ellis said. “They simply don’t have to be in every forest, walk each beach, or tromp through all the wetlands.”

There’s one particular squirrel who couldn’t agree more.

St. John's Preserve image

A wetland at St. John’s Preserve on Central Whidbey. This property was protected by the Land Trust as a nature preserve in 2020.

Indian Point Preserve

Indian Point Preserve is another property protected by the Land Trust solely to benefit nature. Photo by Cac Kamak.

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