The state Department of Fish & Wildlife is preparing to update the management plan for the 17,000-acre Skagit Wildlife Area and is seeking public input.
The management plan will propose actions for the wildlife area over the next decade, according to a news release.
To kick off the process, the state agency will hold an open house from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Padilla Bay Visitor Center, at 10441 Bayview Edison Road.
Stations will be set up to showcase each of the properties that comprise the Skagit Wildlife Area.
Fish & Wildlife staff will be available to talk with community members about the history, management and public access of the properties.
“We want to hear from the public about how people use this area and what recreation and natural resource values are important to them,” Skagit Wildlife Area Manager Belinda Rotton said in the release. “We’re also looking for interested citizens to sit on the wildlife area advisory committee.”
The advisory committee will guide development of the management plan and ongoing management activities. Advisers may be neighbors of the properties, members of the agricultural community or members of recreation groups such as wildlife watchers and hunters.
Those interested in serving on the committee can contact Rotton at 360-445-4441 or Belinda.Rotton@dfw.wa.gov.
Rotton said there will be other opportunities for community members to comment during the development of the management plan.
The majority of the Skagit Wildlife Area — about 13,000 acres — is estuary habitat where freshwater and saltwater meet, according to Fish & Wildlife. That habitat is particularly important for salmon species, some of which are listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The wildlife area also includes agricultural habitat as well as forested habitat specifically preserved for the bald eagles that frequent the area during winter in pursuit of spawning salmon.
The Skagit Wildlife Area is one of 33 wildlife areas Fish & Wildlife manages throughout the state.
Each has a management plan addressing the status of wildlife species and their habitat, habitat restoration, public recreation and other factors, according to Fish & Wildlife’s website. The plans are revised about every 10 years.
The Skagit Wildlife Area includes several management units, from the Bald Eagle Natural Area between Rockport and Marblemount to the Fir Island Farms Reserve unit on Skagit Bay. The majority of the units are west of Interstate 5.
The Skagit Wildlife Area was originally established to preserve the Skagit Bay estuary, which provides an important waterfowl wintering area, according to the Skagit Wildlife Area Management Plan published in 2006.
After Puget Sound chinook salmon were listed as threatened in 2005, management priorities for the Skagit Wildlife Area shifted to enhancing and restoring estuary habitats to help the fish recover, according to the plan.
Since then, Fish & Wildlife has worked on various estuary restoration projects in the Skagit and Snohomish county portions of the Skagit Wildlife Area, according to a 2017 update to the management plan.
Between 2005 and 2017, projects at Fir Island, Wiley Slough and Deepwater Slough restored 510 acres of estuary.