San Juan Islands GRP

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Site Description

This section provides a description of the physical features, hydrology, climate, winds, tides and currents found in and around the San Juan Islands and includes an overview of the oil spill risks in the region.

The San Juan Islands are bound by the Strait of Georgia to the north, Rosario Strait to the east, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the south, and Haro Strait to the west.  Vancouver Island, part of the Canadian province of British Columbia, is to the west and north of San Juan County.  The islands find themselves occupying a central position within the transboundary waterbody known as the Salish Sea (WWU).

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The marine waters surrounding the San Juan Islands are among the most biologically rich and sensitive areas of the State.  A wide diversity of shoreline and marine habitats (rocks, reefs, and islands), abundant food resources, and exceptional water quality all contribute to making this area especially valuable to wildlife.  However, the vastly increased level of human activity over the last 200 years has led to declines in overall ecosystem health.  Many organizations are working to restore the area and undo the harm (PSP).

This region contains numerous small to medium-sized seabird nesting colonies, a multitude of marine mammal breeding and resting sites, rearing and feeding habitat for marine fish, and one of the most impressive arrays of marine invertebrates in the world. The region is also a home to many species of marine birds and mammals that reside seasonally or migrate.

The importance of wildlife within this region cannot be overstated. Marine invertebrates and fishes provide an ample food base for the diverse and abundant populations of marine mammals and birds. Direct benefits result from the harvest of economically important fish, shellfish, and bird species supported by this food chain. Non-consumptive use of wildlife has also become increasingly important to our society. Those recreating in the area find their experiences enhanced by sightings of wildlife. The visible presence of wildlife in an area also provides a sense of well-being to many people, since a habitat rich in wildlife is one that is healthy and productive. This area, because it has been relatively unaffected by human activities, is an ideal living laboratory in which to learn more about the functioning of marine environments.

The communities of Friday Harbor, Eastsound, and Lopez are located within the boundaries of this planning area, as well as all of San Juan County.

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Physical Features

The shoreline of the entire county stretches over 400 miles. The San Juan shoreline bordering the exposed areas of Rosario Strait and Haro Strait is comprised mostly of rocky headlands.  In comparison, the beaches open to the inside of the islands are generally sheltered rocky flats.  The majority of land in the archipelago is natural, either in conservation status or rural. Federal and state protected properties are located throughout the islands (e.g. National Park Service, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, etc.).

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The San Juan Islands include the following Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) shoreline habitats (NOAA ORR):

  • Exposed rocky headlands
  • Sheltered rocky flats
  • Pocket beaches along exposed rocky shores
  • Sand and gravel beaches
  • Exposed tidal flats
  • Sheltered tidal flats
  • Marshes

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Hydrology

The Puget Sound is generally a two-layer system where the less saline surface water, with freshwater inputs from land, have a net seaward flow while denser water below the surface flows in the opposite direction.  While bottom water currents move southward through Rosario Strait, they move northward through Haro Strait.  However, surface waters move southward through both straits.  The net surface current within the Georgia Strait is towards land, however, it does flow seaward out of Bellingham Bay.  The entire region is greatly affected by tidal currents (Encyclopedia of Puget Sound).  The planning area resides within Water Resource Inventory Area San Juan (WRIA 2).

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Climate and Winds

The area has a maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. The annual precipitation is between 18 and 50 inches. From September through early February, Georgia Strait is affected by land fogs that form on cool nights with clear skies. During long cold periods, these may persist for several days (US Coast Pilot).

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From October through May, the winds in northern Puget Sound are generally out of the south or southwest.  Beginning in late October and lasting through March, strong wind events are frequent, with regular gale and storm warnings. Peak storm season tends to occur in November and December.  During the summer months, winds decrease from zero to nine mph on average.  Local wind conditions may vary.

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Tides and Currents

Tides vary throughout the San Juan Islands due to the intricate system of passages and inlets between the islands.  However, generally, the mean tidal range (from Mean High Water to Mean Low Water) is 4.2 to 7.3 feet. The mixed semi-diurnal tidal range (from Mean Higher High Water to Mean Lower Low Water) is 5.2 to 8.6 feet.

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The average flood tide current for Rosario Strait is 1.1 knots to the southeast and the ebb tide current averages 1.9 knots to the northwest. Lopez, Thatcher, and Obstruction Passes adjacent to Rosario Strait are reported to have currents reaching velocities of 3 to 7 knots.

It is difficult to generalize the currents across the San Juan Islands.  As a rule, the currents are stronger in the straits and flow around the islands rather than through the inner channels.  Flood currents throughout the planning area tend to be weaker than the ebb currents. Between maximum flood and maximum ebb, the currents will form eddies in some areas.  Two larger eddies are located at the southern ends of Lopez and San Juan Islands.

Tides and currents vary in localized areas.  Responders should consult tide and current tables for the particular location in which they operate (NOAA CO-OPS).

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Risk Assessment

The San Juan Islands are plentiful in natural, cultural, and economic resources, all at risk of injury from oil spills.  Potential oil spill risks include, but are not limited to commercial vessel traffic, Washington State Ferries, aircraft, recreational boating, and other oil spill risks.  This section briefly discusses these risks and how they could impact the GRP planning area.

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Large Commercial Vessel Traffic: Cargo and passenger vessels, tank barges, and commercial fishing vessels transit around the San Juan Islands throughout the year.  The American and Canadian Coast Guard jointly manage the Cooperative Vessel Traffic Services zone.  For example, 185 individual cargo and passenger vessels had 384 entering transits to Washington ports via the Strait of Georgia and Haro Strait in 2020 (VEAT 2020).  Another 1,592 cargo and passenger vessels has 2,472 entering transits to Canadian ports via the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the same year.  It is projected that the amount of large commercial vessel traffic will increase once the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project is complete.  The potential for collisions, allisions, and groundings present a significant spill risk near the San Juan Islands.  Commercial vessels, including tug and barge systems, can carry significant amounts of heavy and blended fuel oils and other petroleum products, increasing the risk for sensitive resources if an oil spill were to occur.

Ferries:  Four Washington State Ferries move passengers to and from the mainland ferry terminal in Anacortes and the destinations of Friday Harbor, Lopez Island, Orcas Island, Shaw Island, and Sidney, B.C. over forty times per day.  Also, the Alaska Marine Highway System’s southernmost terminal is in Bellingham and the route runs to the northeast of Orcas Island.  Ferries can carry thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and hundreds of gallons of hydraulic fluid, lube and motor oils, as well as other oils or petroleum based products.  Potential risks include spills during bunkering or internal fuel transfers, hydraulic failures, unintentional waste oil discharges, and vessel accidents.  The largest two ferries assigned to this route use diesel fuel for propulsion and can carry as many as 144 vehicles (WSDOT).

Aircraft: Several airports are located within the planning area at places like Friday Harbor, Lopez Island, Orcas, Island, Roche Harbor, and Rosario.  Runways at these airports and sea plane bases are used for recreational and commercial purposes (WSDOT).  With airports in the area, the potential exists for aircraft failures during inbound or outbound flights that could result in a release of jet fuel to the surrounding waters.

Recreational Boating: Accidents involving recreational water craft in the San Juan Islands have the potential to result in spills of anywhere from a few gallons of gasoline, up to hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel.  Examples of such accidents include collisions, a vessel grounding, catching on fire, sinking, or exploding.  Some of these boats are abandoned by their owners and/or not maintained; this is a growing problem throughout much of the state (DNR).  These common types of accidents, as well as problems with bilge discharges and refueling operations have a negative impact on sensitive marine resources.

Other Spill Risks: Other potential oil spill risks in the area include road run-off during rain events, on-shore or near shore construction activities where heavy equipment is being operated, and the migration of spilled oil through soil on lands adjacent to the shore or along creek or stream banks.

Also, to the east of the planning area, companies that handle major quantities of oil are located or work in Whatcom and Skagit Counties.  Four refineries operate in this northern part of the state.  In addition, crude-by-rail trains pass through these counties in order to make deliveries to some of those facilities.  Finally, two pipelines move both crude oil and refined products through these counties as well.  A large spill from any one of these sources could result in impacts to the islands themselves.

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Resources at Risk

This section provides a summary of natural, cultural, and economic resources at risk in the planning area.  It provides general information on habitat, fish, and wildlife resources, and locations in the area where sensitive natural resource concerns have been identified.  It offers a summary of cultural resources that include fundamental procedures for the discovery of cultural artifacts and human skeletal remains.  General information about flight restrictions, wildlife deterrence, and oiled wildlife can be found near the end of this section.  A list of economic resources in the area is provided in another section.

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This section is purposely broad in scope and should not be considered comprehensive.  Some of the sensitive resources described in this section cannot be addressed in Response Strategies and Priorities because it is not possible to conduct effective response activities in these locations.  Additional information from private organizations or federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies should also be sought during spills.

This material is presented with enough detail to give general information about the area during the first phase of a spill response.  During an actual incident, more information about resources at risk will be available from the Environmental Unit (EU) in the Planning Section.

Note: specific resource concerns related to areas that already have designated protection strategies may be found in the “Resources At Risk” column of the matrix describing the individual strategies.

The information provided in this section can be used in:

  • Assisting the EU and Operations in developing ad hoc response strategies.
  • Providing resource-at-risk “context” to responders, clean-up workers, and others during the initial phase of a spill response in the area.
  • Briefing responders and incident command staff that may be unfamiliar with sensitive resource concerns in the area.
  • Providing background information for personnel involved in media presentations and public outreach during a spill incident.

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Natural Resources at Risk – Summary

This area contains a wide variety of aquatic, riparian, and upland habitats that support a complex diversity of wildlife including birds, mammals, fish, and amphibians.  Due to their life histories and/or behaviors, some of these species are unlikely to be directly oiled during a spill incident but may be disturbed by other operations such as cleanup, reconnaissance, or fire suppression activities.  Some of the bird species are resident throughout the year, but many others seasonally migrate outside the basin.  A number of the species found in this area are classified as threatened or endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act or Washington State guidelines.

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Classification types are listed below:

  • Federal Endangered (FE)
  • Federal Threatened (FT)
  • Federal Candidate (FC)
  • State Endangered (SE)
  • State Threatened (ST)
  • State Sensitive (SS)

Federal and State Threatened, Endangered, and Sensitive species that may occur within this area, at some time of the year, include:

Birds: 

  • Common loon [SS]
  • Marbled murrelet [FT/SE]
  • Northern spotted owl [FT/SE]
  • Sandhill crane [SE]
  • Tufted puffin [SE]

Mammals: 

  • Fin whale [FE/SE]
  • Gray whale [SS]
  • Humpback whale (Central American population) [FE/SE]
  • Humpback whale (Mexican population) [FT/SE]
  • Killer whale (southern resident) [FE/SE]

Fish: 

  • Bocaccio rockfish [FE]
  • Chinook salmon (Puget Sound) [FT]
  • Chum salmon (Hood Canal) [FT]
  • Green sturgeon [FT]
  • Steelhead (Puget Sound) [FT]
  • Yelloweye rockfish [FT]

Shellfish:

  • Pinto (northern) abalone [SE]

Amphibians:

  • Western (Pacific) pond turtle [SE]

Insects:

  • Island marble (butterfly) [FC]
  • Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (FE/SE)

 Plants: 

  • Golden paintbrush [FT]

Critical habitats are the specific areas occupied by an endangered or threatened species that contain the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of that species – and that may need special management or protection.  Critical habitat may also include areas that were not occupied by the species at the time of listing but are essential to its conservation.

The following species have federally designated critical habitats within this area:

  • Bocaccio rockfish
  • Canary rockfish
  • Chinook salmon (Puget Sound)
  • Green sturgeon
  • Island marble butterfly (proposed)
  • Killer whale (southern resident)
  • Steelhead (Puget Sound)
  • Yelloweye rockfish

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General Resource Concerns

Habitats:

Areas of particular concern with regards to wildlife include:

  • Intertidal and shallow subtidal mud/sand flats occur in bays throughout the region; most notably on Orcas and Lopez Islands (for the latter, Fisherman Bay and Mud Bay).  These habitats are critically important as rearing areas for Dungeness crab, hard shell clams and other fish and shellfish.  These habitats are also often important feeding areas for marine birds, shorebirds and herons and are used as low tide haulouts by harbor seals.
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  • Sandy/Rocky shorelines can be found throughout the region. These areas support marine mammal haulout and pupping, nesting for birds, and spawning habitat for forage fish.
  • Kelp and eelgrass beds occur as narrow fringing bands around many of the islands, with kelp predominating in more exposed habitats.  These habitats provide critical nursery areas for finfish (e.g. juvenile salmonids and rockfish) and shellfish as well as important spawning habitat for herring and feeding areas for waterfowl.
  • The numerous, small protected bays and coves are important to a wide variety of fish and wildlife species including crabs, clams, forage fish, marine birds, eagles and shorebirds.
  • Offshore islets and rocks provide nesting and roosting sites for seabirds and shorebirds, as well as haulout sites for harbor seals and sea lions.  Both the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Fish & Wildlife Service manage many dozens of these sites as part of the San Juan Islands National Monument and San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), respectively.  You can click on maps for both in the Table of Contents on the left.
  • Salt marshes occur in sheltered areas throughout the region. These habitats support a diverse array of fish and wildlife species.
  • The open waters surrounding the island are important as foraging areas for large numbers of seabirds and for marine mammals.  Tide rips, typically associated with passages between islands, are particularly important feeding areas for marine bird concentrations.  Cattle Pass, between San Juan and Lopez Islands, is one such place where this biodiversity is featured.
  • A variety of subtidal habitats exists within this area, each of which supports a different assemblage of wildlife species as generally described below:
    • Soft sediment: This category includes areas of clays, mud, sand and gravel, which typically possess relatively low vertical relief. Animals that tend to live on the surface in these habitats can include forage fish like sand lance, sea cucumbers, sea stars, crustaceans such as crab and shrimp, and bottom fish such as skate, cod, and the flat fishes.  These soft sediment habitats also support shellfish and other invertebrates including bivalves, worms, brittle stars, shrimplike crustaceans whose burrowing or foraging activities can penetrate up to one meter below the subsurface bottom. In deeper waters, this habitat type may also include the deep sand fields that are necessary overwintering habitat for sand lance.
    • Rock reefs: These areas serve as important habitat for a wide range of species including mobile invertebrates (e.g. snails, sea slugs, sea cucumbers, sea stars, etc.) and immobile species (e.g. anemones, barnacles, shellfish, sponges, tubeworms, etc.). Macro algae and kelps also widely utilize the structure that this type of habitat provides. The crevices and overhangs associated with these reefs serve as valuable habitat for a wide variety of other species such as crabs, shrimp, octopus, wolf eel, rockfish, and lingcod. If located within their capabilities to dive, these areas may also serve as important foraging areas for birds and marine mammals.
    • Boulder and cobble fields: Larger, relatively stable boulders provide many of the same ecological functions described for rock reefs while the spaces between boulders offer enhanced refuge areas for bottom-dwelling invertebrates and fish.  The relative instability of the smaller cobble makes them less valuable than reefs or boulders to immobile marine life. Nonetheless, many marine organisms may live on or between the cobblestones and predatory species often utilize these habitats as foraging areas.  As with the rocky reefs, these habitats may also serve as important foraging areas for birds and marine mammals as well if they are located within a species’ ability to dive. Depending on how much sediment the currents move through the area, the spaces between the rocks may be filled with sediment that can also support bottom-dwelling life forms.
  • Water column: Much of the primary marine productivity in this region occurs in the upper 30 meters of the water column due to limited light penetration and nutrient availability. Because of this, this upper part of the water column tends to concentrate the planktonic larval forms of fish (such as rockfish, etc.) and a wide range of invertebrates (such as crabs, clams, etc.), particularly during the spring plankton blooms. The deeper water column also serves as habitat for wide-ranging fish such as salmon, forage fish (herring, smelt, and sand lance), sharks, as well as a wide variety of birds and marine mammals that utilize this habitat as foraging areas.

Fish:

  • Documented salmonid stream use in the San Juan Islands is limited to Crow Valley and Cascade Creeks on Orcas Island. Juvenile salmonids of several species, including Puget Sound chinook, use shallow nearshore areas for feeding and rearing.
  • Herring spawning occurs on San Juan, Shaw, Orcas and Lopez Islands.  Small pockets of surf smelt and sand lance spawning occurs on scattered sand and gravel beaches throughout the region.
  • Dungeness crab and hard shell clams occur in shallow protected bays throughout the region.  Additional shellfish/invertebrate concerns include abalone, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins in rocky subtidal areas.
  • Geoduck clams are found in commercial abundance on select sandy bottom areas in the region, including Alden Bank, Eliza Island, and other isolated patches.

Wildlife:

  • The waters surrounding the San Juan Islands, especially those along the west side of San Juan Island (Haro Strait), serve as foraging areas for the Southern Resident Killer whale (orca) pods.  Other cetaceans including Dall’s and harbor porpoises, and humpback, grey and minke whales are also present throughout this area.
  • Some of the largest concentrations of marbled murrelet in the state occur in this region, particularly along the south shore of Lopez Island.
  • Numerous seabird nesting colonies are scattered throughout the islands and Rosario Strait including Viti Island, Williamson and Bird rocks.  The largest of these are located on the rocks and islands off the south shore of Lopez, Sucia, and Matia Islands.  Shorebirds, primarily Black Oystercatchers, nest and overwinter in low concentrations throughout the islands.
  • The San Juan Islands support the largest concentration of nesting Bald eagles in Washington, as well as a significant wintering population.  Other sensitive nesting species of concern include peregrine falcons and great blue herons.  All of these species forage in nearshore waters surrounding the islands.
  • This region is of year-round importance to feeding and resting marine birds, including those from the nesting colonies on Protection, Smith and Minor islands (i.e. murrelets, puffins, auklets and cormorants).  This area is also heavily used by wintering marine birds such as murrelets, murres, loons, diving ducks and gulls.  Some of the key concentration areas include Cattle Pass, southern Rosario Strait, the south shore of Lopez Island, and Speiden Channel.
  • Numerous harbor seal haulouts are scattered throughout the islands.  Some of these sites are also occasionally used by Steller sea lions.
  • A wide variety of terrestrial and semi-aquatic mammals (e.g. raccoons and river otters) are present throughout this area and forage within the intertidal areas.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Overview

The number that precedes the area name in the list (below) corresponds to the numbered area on the map.

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Vicinity of San Juan Islands

  1. Rosario Strait: These waters provide a travel corridor for southern resident killer whales (orca) and serve as a major feeding area for seabirds.  Seabird nesting colonies, shorebird winter roosting (Bird, Williamson, and Viti rocks), and scattered harbor seal haulouts in the offshore rocks and islands.  Some islands are designated as USFWS refuge islands or marine state parks.  Subtidal shellfish habitat; Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles; Rockfish.
  2. Matia Island (includes Puffin Island): Kelp, eelgrass, and pocket beach habitats.  Seabird colony on Matia; Dungeness crab; Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles; Rockfish;  Seal haulouts; Subtidal shellfish habitat; National Wildlife Refuge; State Park.
  3. Sucia Island (Shallow, Echo, and Fossil Bays): Kelp, eelgrass, and pocket beach habitats.  Seal and sea lion haulouts, especially on Clements Reef to north.  Subtidal shellfish habitat; Dungeness crab; Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles; Rockfish; Shorebird nesting and seabird roosting habitat.  Raptors; State Park; Spawning beaches for surf smelt.
  4. Patos Island:Kelp, eelgrass, and pocket beach habitats.  Shorebird nesting and seabird roosting habitat.  Subtidal shellfish habitat; Dungeness crab; Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles; Rockfish; Raptors; Seal haulouts; National Monument; State Park.
  5. Stuart Island (Prevost and Reid Harbors): Eelgrass and kelp habitats.  Subtidal shellfish habitat, concentrated sea urchin harvest area.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Small concentrations of shorebirds and seabirds.  Spawning beaches for surf smelt.  Rockfish; National Monument; State Park.

San Juan Island

  1. Garrison and Westcott Bays: Spawning habitat for herring and surf smelt.  Hard shell clam and Dungeness crab.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Waterfowl and seabird concentrations; National Park.
  2. West side of San Juan Island (Mitchell Bay to Eagle Point): Nearshore areas contain important kelp and subtidal shellfish habitats.  Reserve for sea urchin and sea cucumber extends from Lime Kiln to beyond Eagle Point.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Scattered seabird colonies and raptors.  Southern resident killer whale foraging area.  Seal and sea lion are common.  County and State Parks and preserves.  A few offshore rocks designated as part of the National Wildlife Refuge; Rockfish.
  3. False Bay: Eelgrass and intertidal mudflat habitats.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Sand lance spawning habitat.  Waterfowl and shorebird concentrations (fall through spring).  Most extensive shorebird habitat in San Juan Islands.  Marine Preserve; Dungeness crab; Rockfish.
  4. Griffin Bay: Marine bird and waterfowl concentration area. Great blue heron foraging area.  Marine mammal haulouts.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Spawning habitat for sand lance and surf smelt.  Salt marshes and intertidal mudflats.  Island marble butterfly and proposed critical habitat.  Hard shell clams; National Park; County preserve.
  5. South side of San Juan Island (including Cattle Pass): Nearshore areas contain important kelp and subtidal shellfish habitats. Reserve for sea urchin and sea cucumber extends from Lime Kiln to Cattle Pass.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Sand lance spawning area.  Intertidal mudflats.  Island marble butterfly and proposed critical habitat.  Eelgrass extending south to Salmon Bank.  Golden paintbrush population.  Important year-round feeding area for large flocks of resident, migrating and overwintering flocks of seabirds, including marbled murrelet.  Seal and sea lion haulouts, especially Goose Island.  Raptor presence; Southern resident killer whale foraging area; Rockfish; National Park; National Monument.

Lopez Island

  1. South Lopez Island (Davis Point to Cape Saint Mary): Nearshore areas contain important kelp and subtidal shellfish habitats.  Concentrated sea urchin harvest area.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Seabird nesting roosting and foraging areas (particularly on Hall and Castle islands), including concentrations of marbled murrelet foraging in the open water.  Spawning habitat for sand lance and surf smelt.  Island marble butterfly and golden paintbrush.  Numerous haulout sites for harbor seals and occasionally Steller sea lions.  Eelgrass; Rockfish; National monument; National Wildlife Refuge on offshore islands; County preserve.
  2. Hunter and Mud Bays: Eelgrass, salt marsh and intertidal mudflat habitats.  Hard shell clams and Dungeness crab.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Spawning habitat for herring and surf smelt.  Waterfowl and marine bird concentrations.  Seal haulout areas.  National Wildlife Refuge on offshore islands.
  3. Fisherman Bay: Eelgrass, salt marsh and intertidal mudflat habitats.  Concentration area for waterfowl, shorebirds, marine birds and herons.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  County preserve.
  4. Spencer Spit: Eelgrass and salt marsh habitats.  Hard shell clams and Dungeness crab.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Sand lance spawning habitat.  Waterfowl concentration area (winter).  National Wildlife Refuge on offshore islands; State Park.

Orcas and Shaw Islands

  1. Shaw Island (Picnic, Indian, and Reef Net Coves): Eelgrass habitat.  Dungeness crab.  Subtidal shellfish habitat.  Seabird and waterfowl concentrations.  County Park.
  2. Shaw Island (Blind Bay): Eelgrass habitat.  Spawning habitat for herring and surf smelt.  Subtidal shellfish habitat.  Waterfowl and seabird bird concentrations.  Seal haulout on Blind Island.  Dungeness crab; National Monument; State park.
  3. San Juan Channel: Eelgrass and kelp habitats.  Seabird and waterfowl concentrations.  Salmonids, especially out-migrating juveniles.  Surf smelt spawning beaches.  Subtidal shellfish habitat.  A reserve for sea urchin and sea cucumber extends from Jones Island to Friday Harbor.  Rockfish; Seal haulouts; National Wildlife Refuge; State Park; Nature Conservancy.
  4. Orcas Island (West Sound): Eelgrass and kelp habitats.  Dungeness crab.  Surf smelt and herring spawning habitat.  Subtidal shellfish habitat.  Salmonid spawning stream.  National Monument; State Parks (Skull and Victim Islands).
  5. Orcas Island (East Sound): Eelgrass and intertidal mudflat habitats. Spawning habitat for herring and surf smelt and sand lance.  Hard shell clam and Dungeness crab.  Salmonids; Seal haulouts; Wetlands; National Monument; National Wildlife Refuge; County park.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Maps and Descriptions

Figure 1: San Juan Islands specific geographic areas of concern.

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Cultural Resources at Risk – Summary

Culturally significant resources are present within the planning area.  Information regarding the type and location of cultural resources is maintained by the Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (WDAHP).  This sensitive information is made available to the Washington Department of Ecology for oil spill preparedness and response planning.  The Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) or Cultural Resource Departments of local tribes may also be able to provide information on cultural resources at risk in the area and should be contacted, along with WDAHP, through normal trustee notification processes when significant oil spills, or smaller spills above reportable thresholds, occur in the area.

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During a spill response, after the Unified Command is established, information related to specific archeological concerns will be coordinated through the Environmental Unit.  In order to ensure that tactical response strategies do not inadvertently harm culturally sensitive sites, WDAHP should be consulted before disturbing any soil or sediment during a response action.  WDAHP and/or the Tribal governments may assign a person, or provide a list of professional archeologists that can be contracted, to monitor response activities and cleanup operations for the protection of cultural resources at risk.  Due to the sensitive nature of such information, details regarding the location and type of cultural resources present are not included in this document.

Table 6.1: SJI-GRP Cultural Resources Contacts

Contact Phone Email
Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (WDAHP) (360) 890-2615 Rob.Whitlam@dahp.wa.gov
U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Northwest Region (503) 347-0631 brian.haug@bia.gov
Lummi Nation, THPO (360) 312-2257 lenat@lummi-nsn.gov
Muckleshoot Tribe (253) 876-3272 Laura.murphy@muckleshoot.nsn.us
Nooksack Indian Tribe, THPO (360) 592-5176 x3234 george.swanasetjr@nooksack-nsn.gov
Samish Indian Nation, THPO (360) 726-3399 jferry@samishtribe.nsn.us
Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe (360) 530-9993 smorris@sauk-suiattle.com
Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians (360) 652-3687 x14 klyste@stillaguamish.com
The Suquamish Tribe, THPO (360) 394-8529 dlewarch@suquamish.nsn.us
Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, THPO (360) 466-7352 lcampbell@swinomish.nsn.us
Tulalip Tribes (425) 239-0182 ryoung@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov
Upper Skagit Tribe (360) 982-8218 scotts@upperskagit.com

Discovery of Human Skeletal Remains

The finding of human skeletal remains will be reported to the county medical examiner/coroner and local law enforcement in the most expeditious manner possible.  The remains will not be touched, moved, or further disturbed. The county medical examiner/coroner will assume jurisdiction over the human skeletal remains and make a determination of whether those remains are forensic or non-forensic.  If the county medical examiner/coroner determines the remains are non-forensic, then they will report that finding to the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) who will then take jurisdiction over the remains.  The DAHP will notify any appropriate cemeteries and all affected tribes of the find.  The State Physical Anthropologist will make a determination of whether the remains are Indian or Non-Indian and report that finding to any appropriate cemeteries and the affected tribes.  The DAHP will then handle all consultation with the affected parties as to the future preservation, excavation, and disposition of the remains.

Any human remains, burial sites, or burial-related materials that are discovered during a spill response must be treated with respect at all times (photographing human remains is prohibited to all except the appropriate authorities).  Refer to National Historic Preservation Act Compliance Guidelines (NWACP Section 9403) during an emergency response.

Procedures for the Discovery of Cultural Resources

If any person monitoring work activities or involved in spill response believes that they have encountered cultural resources, all workers must stop immediately and notify the Unified Command and Cultural Resource Specialist.  The area of work stoppage must be adequate to provide for the security, protection, and integrity of the material or artifact(s) discovered.

Prehistoric Cultural Resources (May include, but are not limited to, any of the following items):

  • Lithic debitage (stone chips and other tool-making byproducts)
  • Flaked or ground stone tools
  • Exotic rock, minerals, or quarries
  • Concentrations of organically stained sediments, charcoal, or ash
  • Fire-modified rock
  • Rock alignments or rock structures
  • Bone (burned, modified, or in association with other bone, artifacts, or features)
  • Shell or shell fragments
  • Petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Fish weirs, fish traps, and prehistoric water craft
  • Culturally modified trees
  • Physical locations or features (traditional cultural properties)

Historic cultural material (May include any of the following items over 50 years old):

  • Bottles, or other glass
  • Cans
  • Ceramics
  • Milled wood, brick, concrete, metal, or other building material
  • Trash dumps
  • Homesteads, building remains
  • Logging, mining, or railroad features
  • Piers, wharves, docks, bridges, dams, or shipwrecks

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Economic Resources at Risk – Summary

Socio-economic sensitive resources are facilities or locations that rely on a body of water to be economically viable.  Because of their location, they could be severely impacted if an oil spill were to occur.  Economically sensitive resources are separated into three categories: critical infrastructure, water-dependent commercial areas, and water-dependent recreation areas.  Another section lists economic resources for this planning area.

General Information

Sites recommended for alternative shoreline protection

These places have resources at risk but traditional booming strategies may not be effective or practical in most circumstances.  The Planning and Operations Sections should consider alternative options such as sorbents, enhanced on-water skimming, or other tactics to prevent oiling of these sites.

Open to read more
Name General Area Latitude Longitude Resource Contact
Bird Rocks Rosario Strait 48.48538 -122.76175 San Juan Islands NWR (USFWS)
Clements Reef Sucia Island 48.76971 -122.87924 San Juan Islands NWR (USFWS)
Davis Bay Decatur Island 48.51587 -122.79151 San Juan Islands National Monument (US BLM)
Goose Island San Juan Channel 48.45786 -122.95718 The Nature Conservancy
Hall Island Middle Channel 48.43496 -122.91171 San Juan Islands NWR (USFWS)

Flight restriction zones

Flight restriction zones may be recommended by the EU, in consultation with the Wildlife Branch, for the purpose of reducing disturbances that could result in injury to wildlife during an oil spill.  By keeping a safe distance or altitude from identified sensitive areas, pilots/operators can lessen the risk of aircraft/bird collisions, prevent the accidental hazing of wildlife into oiled areas, and avoid causing the abandonment of nests.

Implementation of Flight Restriction Zones will take place within the Air Operations Branch (Operations Section) after the Unified Command is formed.  The EU will work with the Air Ops Branch Director to resolve any potential conflicts with flight activities that are essential to the spill response effort.  Typically, the area within a 1,500-foot radius and below 1,000 feet in altitude is restricted to flying in areas that have been identified as sensitive; however, some areas have more restrictive zones.  In addition to restrictions associated with wildlife, Tribal authorities may also request notification when overflights are likely to affect culturally sensitive areas within reservations.  See Oil Spill Best Management Practices (NWACP Section 9301) for more information on the use of aircraft and helicopters in open water and shoreline responses.

Wildlife Deterrence

The Wildlife Branch (Operations Section), in consultation with the appropriate trustee agencies and the Environmental Unit, will evaluate wildlife deterrent options for the purpose of keeping wildlife away from oil and cleanup operations and will manage any such activities during a response.  Deterrence options might include the use of acoustic or visual deterrent devices, boats, aircraft or other situation-appropriate tools.  For more information see the Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (NWACP Section 9310) and Northwest Area Wildlife Deterrence Resources (NWACP Section 9311).

Oiled Wildlife

Capturing oiled wildlife may be hazardous to both personnel and the affected animals. Incident personnel should not try to approach or capture oiled wildlife but should report any observations of oiled wildlife to the Wildlife Branch (Operations Section).

For more information see the Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (NWACP Section 9310).

Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness Areas

The San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is located within the planning area.

Aquatic Invasive Species

The waters of this region may contain aquatic invasive species (AIS) – species of plants and/or animals that are not native to an area and that can be harmful to an area’s ecosystem. If so, preventative actions may be required to prevent the spread of these species as a result of spill response activities and the EU is able to recommend operational techniques and strategies to assist with this issue.

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