This is About Shoreline Restoration

By Don Flora PhD 

“Return with us to the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear” 

Around the Sound local shoreline plans, required by state law, are being updated.  Shoreline restoration is a proposed feature of the new plans for Kitsap County’s mainland, Bainbridge Island, and other places.

 In an earlier note I echoed scientists’ questions about the actual possibility of attaining some idealized long-ago state of nature.  Here I suggest what long ago may have been like. 

Some planners feel that yesteryear means ‘before non-native settlement’.  Okay, say 1800.  George Vancouver, 8 years earlier, scorned Hood’s Canal, with its endless dense vegetation, devoid of both humans and wildlife.  ‘The tracks of deer were no longer to be seen; nor was there an aquatic bird on the whole extent of the canal;  animated nature seemed nearly exhausted…’[1]  He thought it creepy. 

He liked much of the rest of Puget Sound’s shoreline, which was not a uniform tree-based vegetative front.  He saw many open places, [2] some even suggesting agriculture.[3]  Shoreline natives were living in smoke-filled plank houses in winter and mobile homes (canoe-borne woven bark tents) in summer.  Multitudes, often whole communities were dying of imported smallpox.[4]  Weak neighbors were enslaved:  slaves were sometimes eaten.  It appears that most work was women’s work.[5]  Charming country life along sylvan shores.  This was the life-style associated with landscapes some contrive to restore.  Wake  klo-she la-ly[6] 

Those folks may not have shared our social mores but their attraction to far horizons resembled ours.  Their cedar-built long houses were almost always in view of the water, on backshores, spits, and in openings among the trees[7] (close to the bay and thus “nonconforming” by today’s rules).  As much as we, they liked shoreline access and views.  Mar tin lee.[8] 

Another reason for the unevenly vegetated shorelines was fire.  Of necessity, for millennia natives were great burners.  Purposeful fires felled trees, sharpened arrows, removed stumps, subdued hornet nests.  Absent steel blades, fire hollowed canoes and shaped house timbers.  There were warming fires,[9]  signal fires,[10] cooking fires, reed-softening and hide-treating fires, watch fires, vegetation enhancing and brush removing fires.[11]  Inevitably some burns became big burns and considerable stretches of shore vegetation were consumed.  Hi-yu chako klah.[12] 

Can we find, duplicate, or even want, those fire-altered shores?  Find, perhaps.  Duplicate, not likely.[13]


[1]   Vancouver, George.  1801. Journal… 2nd ed.  Portions pertinent to Puget Sound reprinted in Meany, Edmond S. 1907. Vancouver’s Discovery of Puget Sound.  Repinted 1949 by Binfords and Mort, Portland, OR. Pp 85-87

[2]  Vancouver mentions ‘numerous large cleared spots’, ’open verdant spots’, ’clear spaces’, ‘removal of timber and underwood’,  ‘verdant open spaces that have been so repeatedly noticed’, and ‘beautiful lawns’.

[3]   Barsh, Russel and Madrona Murphy. 2009.  Coast Salish Agriculture and Its Impact on Soils and Eco-systems.  Proceedings, 209 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference, Seattle.  Olympia: Puget Sound Partnership.

[4]   Vancouver above.  Also Prosch, Charles. 1904. Reminiscences of Puget Sound. Reprinted 1969 with notes. Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press.  Also Rossi, Louis.  1893. Six Years on the West Coast of America 1856-1862.  Translated and annotated by W.Victor Worley: published 1983 by Ye Galleon Press. Fairfield, Wa.

[5]   Swan, James G. 1857.  The Northwest Coast.  New York: Harper. Reprinted 1966 with head and end notes by G.C. Adams.  Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press.  Also Prosch, above.

[6]   A hard life: Chinook Jargon

[7]   Kirk, Ruth. 1986.  Traditions & Change on the Northwest Coast.  Seattle: University of Washington Press.

[8]   Far offshore:  Chinook Jargon.

[9]   Swan, above.

[10]   Rossi, above.

[11]   Prosch and Kirk, both above.

[12]   Many openings in the woods: The Jargon

[13]   “[John] Cissel [Bureau of Land Management] points out that first, it is impossible to replicate historical landscape dynamics exactly because significant changes have occurred already in these forests, and climate changes over time.  Second the historical variability included some large oscillations, such as large, severe fires that would be unacceptable to most people now.”  Rapp, Valerie. 2002.  Dynamic landscape management.  In: Science Update Issue 3, December 2002.  Portland, OR: US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.


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