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Meeting Wednesday on proposed aquatic reserve off Whidbey

The shorelines of two small islands off the coast of Whidbey, as well as a large swath of state-owned tidelands on the west coast of Whidbey Island, may become the state's newest aquatic reserve.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources and People for Puget Sound, the proponent for the proposed Smith and Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve, will hold an open house-style public meeting in Oak Harbor on Wednesday, April 29 to provide information and gather ideas from the community regarding the proposal.

The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Oak Harbor High School.

At the meeting, a brief presentation will discuss DNR’s Aquatic Reserve Program and the proposal for the state-owned aquatic lands around Smith and Minor Islands.

Following the presentation, the public will have the opportunity to have their concerns heard, offer ideas about the location of the proposed reserve, provide local information about the wildlife habitats and activities that occur in the area, and share their ideas about the DNR management of the proposed reserve.

This open house provides an opportunity for greater public input into the sustainable management of state-owned aquatic lands.

In 2008, the non-profit People for Puget Sound submitted a proposal that described why they want the state to consider establishing a reserve on the state-owned tidelands and bedlands in the area around Smith and Minor islands.

The group pointed out that the shorelines and deep waters surrounding Smith and Minor islands are an important area for the following native species: tufted puffins, black oystercatchers, rhinoceros auklets, orcas, harbor seals, double-crested cormorants, halibut, kelp greenling, lingcod, cabezone, and salmon.

The proposal covers approximately 25,000 acres that include the state-owned tidelands of Whidbey Island from Joseph Whidbey State Park to Fort Ebey State Park. The proposal is supported by SeaDoc Society, the Wildfish Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Protect Peninsula’s Future and a variety of other organizations.

The DNR manages state-owned aquatic lands for a large number of uses, such as utility easements and outfalls, marinas, net pens for fin fish culture, or energy projects, to name just a few. By making an area an aquatic reserve, the state work with the community to develop a site-specific management plan that specifies the uses within the reserve, and also may limit the activities that can take place on that site.

Without a reserve designation and a plan in place to guide management decisions, the DNR may consider a number of uses of the aquatic lands.

Recreational and commercial fishing is managed by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington’s Treaty Tribes and would not be affected by management of the reserve. Aquatic reserve management does not restrict access to fishing, crabbing or boating, nor does it set harvest restrictions.

A reserve only would include DNR-managed state aquatic lands. A reserve does not include private tidelands or tribal lands, bluffs or beaches and does not impact private property.

As steward of the 2.6 million acres of state aquatic lands, the DNR manages the bedlands under Puget Sound and the coast, many of Washington’s beaches, and natural lakes and navigable rivers.

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