Jefferson Land Trust: Farms, Fish, and Forests Forever

by Rachel S. Imper, Guest Writer

Newcomers to Port Ludlow are often greeted with the phrase, “Welcome to paradise.” Although that greeting may be slightly overstated, most of us appreciate living here. Along with our friendly neighbors and rich history, the sparkling waters, forested mountains, farm-fresh produce, and abundant wildlife make us the envy of friends in traffic-choked urban areas. One organization that’s working hard to maintain our way of life here is Jefferson Land Trust.

A nonprofit organization, Jefferson Land Trust is dedicated to preserving farmland, forests, and wildlife habitat. If you’ve walked the shores of Chimacum Creek, bought fresh produce from a Land Trust-protected farm—at a farmers market or a farm stand with an honesty box—sipped cider in Chimacum, or hiked in area preserves, you’ve experienced some of what the Land Trust has made possible. But there is much more to the story.

Since it was founded in 1989, the Land Trust has preserved more than 17,250 acres of farmland, fish and wildlife habitat, working forests, and open space in Jefferson County. This work is done with multiple partners, aligning with its 100 Year Conservation Plan. Richard Tucker, Executive Director of Jefferson Land Trust, explained: “Everything we do, we do together with our partners. We could not do it alone, and we could not do it without the support of the community.”

Land Trust partners are a strikingly diverse group, ranging from local, state, and tribal governments to federal agencies—including the U.S. Navy—along with other nonprofit organizations, landowners, foundations, private donors, and volunteers. The goal? Simply put it’s “farms, fish, and forests forever.”

Saving the family farm

Midori Farm Quilcene: 16 acres of farmland protected by a Land Trust
Photo by John Gussman

To save family farms and support local food security, the Land Trust uses a powerful tool: conservation easements, which remove future development rights from land. These easements are purchased from or donated by the landowner, who still retains ownership of the land, and they keep the land intact and open for agricultural use forever.

The Land Trust works only with willing landowners, who may receive a tax deduction in addition to saving precious farmland. Proceeds from the sale of an easement are often used to purchase equipment or to make other investments in the farm. “It’s pretty amazing, but we’ve protected over 1,000 acres of farmland in the Chimacum Valley alone,” said Tucker. “There are so many people here who care deeply about family farms.”

That concern was evident when Covid-19 hit, and local farmers were in a bind. Just when they needed to buy seeds and supplies, farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants were shutting down. The Land Trust acted quickly, partnering with other organizations on the peninsula including Clallam and Jefferson counties, and launching the Strong Farms, Strong Futures appeal to help. It struck a chord: The fundraising goal was exceeded in two weeks. As one contributor said, “I really want the small farms to survive this time, so they can flourish again.”

Through a program administered by the North Olympic Development Council, advance-payment contracts were set up with local farmers, so they had funds at a critical time. Then, when the produce was ripe, it was delivered to local food banks—a win for all.

Securing habitat for animals, fish, and birds

Quimper Wildlife Corridor Aerial by John Gussman

Fish and wildlife habitat are also an essential concern. In a little over three decades, the Land Trust has conserved more than 10,690 acres of habitat. One successful, and ongoing, project is the restoration of the Chimacum Creek watershed. In the late 1980s, a culvert under Irondale Road washed out and filled lower Chimacum Creek with so much sediment that the summer chum salmon (an essential food for our resident orcas) were destroyed. Joining with other groups, including the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, the Land Trust has worked to protect and restore the creek over the last three decades, and the salmon have returned. While salmon, otters, kingfishers, and other birds and animals in and near the creek have thrived, county residents kayak, canoe, and clamber along its banks.(If you want to watch the chum surging upstream to spawn in late summer or early fall, the Land Trust’s Illahee Preserve on Chimacum Creek is a popular observation spot.)

Similar efforts have preserved large stretches of land throughout the county, from Snow Creek to the Duckabush River. Another project is Port Townsend’s Quimper Wildlife Corridor, a special focus this year, with two-thirds of the corridor still unprotected and threatened by development. This 250-acre ribbon of green links six important wetlands, which are vital for filtering stormwater and replenishing aquifers. The wetlands also help ensure water quality locally and in the Salish Sea—where 70 percent of Puget Sound seabirds nest on nearby Protection Island.

Preserving working forests

Valley View Forest Trail Submitted Photo

Many Land Trust preserves are open to the public. For Port Ludlow residents, one of these, the newest preserve, Valley View Forest, is scarcely more than a hop, skip, and jump away. The 65 acres of Valley View Forest rise on the hill above the Land Trust-protected farms below, with their rich bounty of summer vegetables, and the cidery, a convivial meeting place.

When you hike through the stands of fir and cedar at Valley View, you may even catch a glimpse of a bounding deer or a shy bobcat. Plans call for the short wheelchair-accessible trail to be improved. An open-sided pavilion is also planned as a community gathering space. But Valley View offers an even more exciting prospect—as a gateway to the Chimacum Ridge Community Forest, a project underway for the Land Trust. To learn more about Valley View Forest’s significance to the Chimacum watershed and the Land Trust’s long-term community forest goals, view this short (3:14 minute) video featuring Stewardship Director Erik Kingfisher:

In 2023, the Land Trust intends to purchase an adjoining 853-acre forest to link to Valley View, forming the Chimacum Ridge Community Forest. It’s designed to be a working, sustainable forest with multiple uses. Done well, it will be a model for other forests. “We’re not afraid of big projects or new ideas,” said Tucker.            

Chimacum Ridge from Beaver Valley. Photo by Robert Tognoli

As a community forest, Chimacum Ridge will provide wood from selective tree-thinning to local woodworkers, boat builders, and crafters. Ten miles of trails will open up new hikes to individuals and families. The forested slopes will shield the farms below from storm runoff and stream erosion. By incorporating the community gathering pavilion at Valley View, opportunities will arise for nature education, science programs, classes in heritage crafts, or special events. The facility could be used by community groups, schools, and scientific research organizations.  

Delivering economic benefits

In addition to all the other advantages, conservation also contributes to our region’s economy. A recent study Jefferson Land Trust conducted in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and North Olympic Land Trust, found significant economic benefits from the conserved lands, trails, and parks in the North Olympic Peninsula. For example, each year, they yield $29.4 million in farm products from local farms; $92.1 million in wages (and 1,440 jobs) from forestry; $168 million in value from carbon removed from the atmosphere; and $306 million from tourists. That’s just a sampling. See the web site below to learn more.

Preparing for the future

But what about tomorrow? How can the Land Trust carry out its 100-year vision? That’s where education and stewardship make a difference. Land Trust programs, such as school field trips and its Tidelands to Timberline course that is taught by expert naturalists, have inspired students of all ages to care about conservation. When Covid-19 prevented in-person learning, the Land Trust launched a virtual eight-week learning series, Nature in Your Neighborhood, featuring a different topic each week, from ferns and mosses to birds and mammals, along with programs on geology and wildlife tracking. More than 800 people signed up to take the free classes—and people are still signing up on the web site to view the recordings and explore program resources.

Stewardship training means new volunteers are ready to take up the torch. Land stewards monitor protected properties, help set up work parties to remove brush and noxious weeds, and work together with landowners who are committed to protecting salmon and wildlife habitat.

Moving forward, the Land Trust is looking at new projects, such as using data on our area’s climate resiliency to prioritize conservation projects. Future plans may also include the creation of a conservation wildland burial cemetery and a memorial forest, allowing for burials without embalming and the use of biodegradable burial materials, as well as offering places for cremated remains. Selected properties may need to be restored to a natural state, but then they will be green and growing memorials.

Maintaining a legacy

Jefferson Land Trust is well respected in the U.S. land trust community. Every five years, it is audited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission and consistently earns its “seal of approval.” Reflecting on the success of the Land Trust, Tucker said, “We have a wonderful staff, amazing volunteers, and an exceptional board of directors. It also really helps that we live in a community that appreciates and supports what we do.”

Even with so much at stake, it’s a reasonable hope that, with help of Jefferson Land Trust, we can retain a little bit of paradise with “farms, fish, and forests forever.”

Learn more about Jefferson Land Trust: View the study on economic benefits: Sign up for Nature in Your Neighborhood: Indicate your interest in the conservation burial program: