Environmental Program

Port Gamble Bay

Port Gamble Bay (Noo-Kayet) is located at the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula opening to the entrance of the Hood Canal. This 1210-acre waterway sustains several culturally significant species, including geoducks, clams, oysters, and many salmon varieties. It is also home to one of the largest remaining herring stocks in the Puget Sound.

For at least the last 1,000 years, Port Gamble S’Klallam members have lived, fished, and harvested in and around the Bay. Today the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s reservation sits on the Bay’s shores with Point Julia a key access point for the many tribal members who continue to practice their treaty rights for cultural, subsistence, and commercial purposes.

Port Gamble Bay cleanup and restoration sequence

Port Gamble Bay Cleanup – Timeline

At least 1,000 years ago: Ancestors of the S’Klallam or Clallam people begin living on the shores of Port Gamble Bay. Early seasonal camps are established.

18th century: First contact between Native peoples and European settlers.

1853: The Puget Mill Company is established on the shores of Port Gamble Bay. The location is chosen for its excellent visibility of surrounding waterways. A S’Klallam ancestral village is already on the site.

1855: The Treaty of Point No Point is signed. The treaties ceded tribal land to the U.S. Government while reserving the Tribes’ preexisting rights, including the right to harvest fish and shellfish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations. This includes Port Gamble Bay.

Old mill and Point Julia

Old mill site on left, Point Julia settlement on right.

1860s-1870s: To make room for the growing mill and its workers, the S’Klallam village is moved across the Bay to Point Julia. By this point, many tribal members work at the mill. They are a significant contributor to its success.

1880s: Puget Mill continues to depend on labor from the S’Klallam people as well as European and Chinese immigrants. By 1889, the mill is the second most productive of the 310 established in the Washington Territory.

1886: Port Gamble S’Klallam families begin purchasing land on the east side of the Bay.

1938: Port Gamble S’Klallam Reservation is proclaimed.

1939-1940: While the Reservation grows with houses and a water system, the village at Point Julia is burned to the ground.

1974: The “Boldt” decision upholds treaty fishing rights.

Aerial photo of log rafts in Port Gamble Bay, 1977

Aerial photo of log rafts in Port Gamble Bay, 1977.

1976: The Port Gamble S’Klallam Hatchery is established. The operation is still going strong today.

1981: The Tribe’s annual net pen transfer operations begins. Each year, several hundred thousand coho salmon smolts are kept in pens in Port Gamble Bay before being released.

Mid-1980s: The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe begins monitoring for pollutants in Port Gamble Bay.

Early-1990s: The Washington State Department of Health and the Department of Ecology take notice of the Tribe’s findings related to their study of Port Gamble Bay. Specifically, concerns are raised related to rising toxicity levels and their effect on human health and marine life as well as water quality.

With these findings, the restoration of Port Gamble Bay takes on new urgency to Tribal leadership. In addition, the Point No Point Treaty Council takes measures to address water quality in the Bay.

1995: Puget Mill closes after 142 years of operation. Many Port Gamble S’Klallam families can trace back several generations who worked at the Mill.

1999: Environmental studies find hundreds of thousands of tons of woody debris in Port Gamble Bay left over from Puget Mill operations. As this material breaks down, it creates a toxic stew of petroleum hydrocarbons, arsenic, chromium, lead, and mercury.

The Department of Ecology begins issuing shellfish closure zones throughout the Bay based on toxicity results from continued testing.

Early 2000s: Pope & Talbot’s parent company, Pope Resources, and the Department of Natural Resources begin negotiations with the Washington State Department of Ecology on a cleanup plan for the Bay.

2006: Port Gamble Bay is listed as a Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) site. MTCA designation identifies contaminated properties that are, or may be, a threat to human health.

2007: Two dock projects are proposed for inside Bay, then cancelled. One is from a private individual land owner; the other is proposed by Pope Resources at the town of Port Gamble. The application for the project is pulled after concerns expressed by the Port Gamble S’Klallam and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 2010, Pope attempts to submit this project again. It is struck down by the Army Corp of Engineers.

2007: The Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe begins a comprehensive study of plankton levels in the Bay and Hood Canal, which is can serve as an indicator of the vibrancy of dependent species.

2008: The Washington State Department of Health institutes strict guidelines for shellfish harvesting within Port Gamble Bay.

2009: Pope Resources introduces the first of several modern-day master plans for the town of Port Gamble. All of the proposed plans have included significant development, which could pose environmental impacts to the Bay. At community hearings, the Port Gamble S’Klallams voice their concerns.

2011: The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe begins negotiating with the Navy on several proposed projects for in and around the Tribe’s U&A. The funds received as a part of these negotiations go to support projects that further the Bay’s protection and restoration.

2012: The Tribe holds the Save the Bay conference, which brings together government leaders, environmental partners, and other major stakeholders to discuss the significance of and need to protect Port Gamble Bay.

From this group, the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project is eventually formed. The Kitsap Forest & Bay Project is a coalition consisting of Kitsap County, the Port Gamble S’Klallams, the Suquamish Tribe, environmental groups, and Pope Resources to conserve 6,700 acres of forest land and 1.5 miles of shoreline adjacent to Port Gamble Bay.

2013: After over a decade of negotiations, an agreement is reached between Pope Resources and the Department of Ecology regarding the cleanup of Port Gamble Bay.

2014: The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe begins the year-long Debris Removal Project, which focuses on removing refuse and discarded items—included abandoned vehicles and vessels—in and around the Bay. The project also involves the removal of an old creosote-piling dock at Point Julia.

2015: The cleanup of Port Gamble Bay begins. The work is scheduled in two phases wrapping up January 2017. It includes the removal of approximately 70,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and wood waste as well as over 6,000 creosote pilings and various overwater structures. The project represents one of the biggest creosote piling removals in Washington state history.

2017: The in-water cleanup of Port Gamble Bay concludes. The Department of Ecology will begin a monitoring program in 2020 to gauge if additional work is needed to meet 10-year restoration goals.

Debris Removal & Beach Cleanup

Sustainable Little Boston beach and tidelands cleanup projectIn June 2014, the Debris Removal Project—a joint effort between the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and the Washington State Department of Ecology—began. The year-long restoration project focused on general debris removal from around Port Gamble Bay and the deconstruction of a derelict pier at Point Julia.

The project kicked off on June 14, 2014 with more than 50 volunteers participating in a cleanup of Point Julia’s beach and shoreline. Similar volunteer events throughout the life of the project attracted dozens of volunteers from on and off the reservation.

While general litter and refuse were the most common cleaned up, other items included washing machines, bicycles, a cast iron burning stove, bucketsful of beach glass, and several car engines. Over 300 tires—many long abandoned and covered in barnacles—and fifteen boats in varying degrees of disrepair and decay were also removed. Then there were the cars: parts, pieces, frames, and whole automobiles. One bluff served as a vehicle graveyard with several piled on top of one another.

The removal of the pier structure at Point Julia was an important project milestone. Constructed in the 1970s, the pier had become a part of the tribal community one summer and fishing excursion at a time. Unfortunately, in its later years, the pier had fallen into disrepair and its creosote pilings conflicted with the Tribe’s restoration goals for Port Gamble Bay.

Even though the Debris Removal Project ended in 2015, volunteer beach cleanups have become a regular activity at Point Julia. The Natural Resources department also proactively monitors Port Gamble Bay’s shore for derelict vessels and other items of potential concern.

Kitsap Forest & Bay Project

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, along with Kitsap County, the Suquamish Tribe, Forterra, Great Peninsula Conservancy, and a coalition of 30 local and state agencies, businesses, and community groups have joined forces in an unprecedented effort to conserve 6,700 acres of land and 1.5 miles of shoreline in North Kitsap County. Much of this land affects the health of Port Gamble Bay.

Since the group was formed in 2012, three parcels of land and shoreline—totaling 1,076 acres—have been purchased and protected. The Port Gamble S’Klallams are a proud partner having donated thousands of hard dollars as well as countless man hours and other resources to the Project.

In 2016, the Project, led by Forterra, began its next phase with its “Return to the Forest” campaign, which seeks to purchase over 3,000 acres of forestland connected to the town of Port Gamble. Port Gamble S’Klallam artist Jeffrey Veregge created the tribal-inspired logo used in the campaign.