A newsman's overview of Willapa

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

For five years editor Matt Winters has followed the efforts of the nonprofit Willapa Alliance for the Chinook Observer, based in Long Beach, Wash.

Matt Winters: "Economic development is long-term and hard to nail down sometimes. Groups like the Willapa Alliance can work for years at a time without knowing their impact. At first, Ecotrust and the Nature Conservancy were fairly dictatorial toward what was ostensibly a local group. But they've learned.

"The alliance has good people who know how to cut through the local jealousy and suspicion that attends any group that has an environmental handle. There are still plenty of folks who are suspicious of them. But the county is in the throes of a big transition. In the last census, 55 percent of the residents were newcomers, and the trend has accelerated. Long-time residents who would have resisted change are in a minority.

"The alliance has served as a clearinghouse for money flowing in for displaced timber workers. Now they've got a $300,000 grant to restore the Bear River watershed. It still has some wild runs of chum, also known as dog salmon. Indians fed them to their dogs - it's a little oilier than coho or chinook.

"Around here we also call Willapa Bay Shoalwater Bay. It's more a river delta that's been pushed in by the Pacific, and our peninsula is really a sand bar closing off much of the bay. Mud shrimp infest the bay, partly, it's thought, because chum isn't here to hold them down. The chum were intentionally killed off to help the coho and chinook. So mud shrimp and invading spartina (grass) are the big ecological issues.

"Up to 1 billion pounds of mud shrimp in the bay churn up the mud into a thick milkshake and make it difficult if not impossible to grow oysters, which is one of our largest employers, and the underlying reason why the bay has stayed as clean as it is. They (the oyster growers) are the bedrock environmentalists."

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