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Bear Creek ecological assessment first in 50 years

ecological assessment by Wendy Walsh
Upper Bear Creek has been chosen for a pilot project involving citizen volunteers who will document the biological inventory of county properties in the Waterways 2000 program.
   According to Senior King County Biologist Bob Fuerstenberg, there have been no in-depth biological assessments done in the county for about 50 years. "The county needs information about the recently-acquired lands in order to create future management plans, and this is a way for citizens to be closely involved," he said. Fuerstenberg initiated the concept of the inventory project.
   About 20 people were at the Woodinville Library last week for an introduction to the program. Those attending included both local citizens and those from other watersheds, who came to learn how to do a complete biological inventory of plants and animals and the relationship between them.
   For example, the last study of freshwater mussels was done in 1928. As the county acquires properties under various programs, it is important to learn what is on the property, and then in 5, 10, 20, or 50 years see what changes, Fuerstenberg said.
   "We know there have been changes from the time that Denny's arrived, but we don't know exactly what changes have occurred. We also know that there are biological cycles on land, but we haven't recorded them locally, so that we know what is a natural evolution and what isn't," he said.
   The assessment includes four types of habitat: forest, meadow, riparian, and wetland. Volunteers were trained to use forms documenting what is found on the property being studied. When completed, the forms will be turned into the Surface Water Management (SWM) biologists for tabulating. The information will then be transferred to the new computerized Geographic Information System (GIS), where it is pinpointed on maps. This information will be available to the general public.
   For example, county biologists can follow the endangered freshwater mussel populations by calling them up on the GIS to see locations and determine how many are in stream systems.
   The GIS programs are standardized for use in all government agencies, universities, and libraries. They are used as a tool for understanding the nature of landscapes across the country. King County has never taken this kind of responsibility before, according to Fuerstenberg.
   After the classroom orientation, Fuerstenberg and Ray Heller, Bear Creek Stream Steward, took the group to the headwaters property and walked the 42-acre site for an overview, so the surveyors will know what kind of area they will be covering.
   The goal is to have this pilot project be a model for future projects on all relevant county properties. Other watersheds will include Green River, Patterson Creek, Snoqualmie and Cedar Rivers, and more, eventually. Fuerstenberg estimates it will take at least two to three years before site management plans will begin.
   Since county conservation properties are surrounded by other uses, part of the study will include looking at the best future use of these lands. Some may be appropriate for parks, trails, or recreation. Others may be best left alone as wilderness.
   Citizen volunteer Terry Lavender, a former teacher, is enthusiastic about the program. She says the Waterways 2000 program is about "saving the last best places," and that this is a chance to track how these places are. "With this information, we will be able to really get to know our ecosystems." she said.