The Protection Island Story

by Libby Palmer

This island has long been recognized for its natural beauty ... and its wildlife.


In 1792, Captain George Vancouver wrote:

"On landing on the west end of the supposed island, and ascending its eminence which was nearly a perpendicular cliff, our attention was immediately called to a landscape, almost as enchantingly beautiful as the most elegantly furnished pleasure grounds in Europe..."

The expedition's botanist, Archibald Menzies, added:

"We kept along shore to the Southeastward, starting in our way vast flights of water fowl such as Auks, Divers, Ducks, & Wild Geese ... A rich lawn ... on the summit ..[had] a variety of grass clover and wild flowers, here & there adorned by aged pines with wide spreading horizontal boughs..."


In this century, biologists recognized the importance of the island as a wild bird-nesting colony and urged the government to acquire it as a wildlife sanctuary.  No action was taken, however, and years of real estate speculation and development schemes followed, each posing a threat to the island's nesting bird populations.

The above photos, courtesy of USFW, show the island during a period of agricultural use, left, and platted for residential development, right.

Two women, Zella Schultz and Eleanor Stopps, are responsible for the exciting and inspiring climax to the story of the island's protected status.  Zella was an artist and wildlife biologist who had studied its colony of glaucous-winged gulls, making detailed observations of their daily life. Eleanor joined Zella on the bird-banding expeditions, learning about the gulls and the other avian inhabitants of the island, and sharing Zella's goal of seeing the island protected. Zella died of complications from a childhood disease in 1974 and her best friend Eleanor vowed to continue the work.

But not until construction bulldozers started destroying auklet burrows was any action taken. The month Zella died, the Nature Conservancy bought the western end of the island from the developer and re-sold it to the Washington State Game Department, making it the state's first non-game sanctuary. The 48-acre sanctuary was named The Zella M. Schultz Seabird Sanctuary.

Eleanor moved from Seattle to Mats Mats Bay, to be closer to the sea and the birds she had grown to love. With the money raised from selling Zella's prints, she published her book on gulls, On the Wings of the Wild Winds. Soon after, Eleanor founded a chapter of the Audubon Society in Port Townsend and started an "Adopt a Seabird" program, raising $50,000 - enough money to buy 23 lots on Protection Island. At the same time, she got the local Audubon group and Nature Conservancy to start pressuring county, state and national groups, agencies and politicians to take action.

Finally on October 15, 1982, after years of patient lobbying, letter writing and gathering support from a large, diverse constituency, Protection Island was made a National Wildlife Refuge. 

For her efforts through the years, Eleanor received the Nature Conservancy's Oak Leaf, its highest award, in 1992. Add to that the Citizen Appreciation Award by the U.S. Wildlife Service and the Jefferson County Citizen of the Century award - for her wisdom, foresight and determination in the service of both people and nature.

Now, 25 years after starting the struggle and 18 years after seeing it succeed, Eleanor says, "What else could I do? This is the only thing that could be done - for the birds. It had to be done ... and there was no one else around to do it. So I did. You know, it's about our own survival too. Feeding those birds outside the window reminds me each day ... of how we all help each other in this world. Most people think about our problems today as being beyond them. People told me it was hopeless. But it can be done. I just never would take no for an answer."

Learn more about the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Join us on a PTMSC cruise to Protection Island.

Zella Schultz and Eleanor Stopps