KINGSTON (Jan. 24, 2002) — When Captain George Davidson of the US Coast Survey mapped Hood Canal beginning in 1855, he probably didn’t realize that his work would one day give modern scientists a map to restoration. Davidson was leading an expedition to plot the coasts of the northwest for the federal government, in preparation for settlement by American pioneers. But, now his maps are being used to peer back in time.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish Tribes, in cooperation with the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group and the Point No Point Treaty Council, are using old maps to see what the canal looked like over 150 years ago. “As beautiful as it is today, a lot of changes have been made to the Hood Canal since Captain Davidson was here,” said Steve Todd, habitat biologist with the Point No Point Treaty Council. “The original surveyors saw the Hood Canal in a pristine, fully functional state. We can use what they saw to help restore habitats that have been degraded since settlement, or lost entirely.”

Bob Huxford, consultant cartographer, was hired to manipulate the old U.S. Coast Survey maps, and using specific places, reference the maps with newer versions of the same area. In three steps of cleaning, converting, and registering Huxford moved the maps from being just aged documents to maps that truly represent old shorelines in real world accuracy. When he first looked at the coastal maps, “they were for all intents and purposes just pretty pictures,” he said.

After converting the paper maps to an electronic scanned image, Huxford went through a laborious process of cleaning up the old maps. Using an image editing computer program, he removed scratches, stains and distortions before attempting to register the images with newer US Geological Service topographic maps.

Because old documents also tend to shrink and distort over time, Huxford also had to stretch and straighten the maps electronically in a process known as rubber sheeting. “The corrected maps can then be tiled together to show us what the Hood Canal looked like over a century ago,” said Huxford. “Then by overlaying these older maps onto current maps or photos, we can examine how much shorelines and estuaries have changed over time.”

Some areas have seen significant changes since the 1850s. For example:

  • A salt flat near Belfair on the north shore of Hood Canal has disappeared and now is the site of a parking lot.
  • In north Kitsap County, a sandy spit has been extended with fill, making the construction of a housing development possible, while also covering the estuary of a small creek.
  • On the Duckabush River, the Rt. 101 causeway cut off a major alternative channel of the estuary

A second phase of the project sponsored by the Point No Point Treaty Council will extend the maps from the north end of Hood Canal and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. “This will give us a more complete picture of the types and degree of changes across a large area,” said Todd. In addition to the 1800s maps used in the Hood Canal project, maps from the 1920s and 1950s will be used in the Strait to show progression over time.

“These maps will give us a baseline for what we have on the Hood Canal right now,” said Ted Labbe, habitat biologist for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. “We will be able to interpret contemporary features of Hood Canal through the eyes of someone 150 years ago.” This work will help inform habitat restoration planning and better characterize the rate and pattern of coastal wetland loss. “We need to do our homework — we need to know what our shorelines looked like before we begin to restore them for salmon. And the full history of our shorelines needs to be told so that people can begin to appreciate how precious they are,” said Labbe.

Other organizations involved include the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Kitsap, Jefferson, and Clallam counties, the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, the Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team, the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

For more information, contact: Steve Todd, habitat biologist, Point No Point Treaty Council, (360) 297-6526. Bob Huxford, consultant, (360)-866-0749. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 297-6546, eoconnell@nwifc.org.

Images available of overlays and original chart. Contact Emmett O’Connell at above number. Can be sent e-mail, high resolution.