PENINSULA PROFILE: Couple have private refuge for waterfowl
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Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
Debbie and Arnold Schouten live just outside Port Angeles beside Dry Creek — which in fact is a healthy stream running through lush forest.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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Get ready for BirdFest

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Just in time for the spring influx of new life, the Olympic BirdFest offers nearly two dozen field trips and other activities across the North Olympic Peninsula next Friday through Sunday, April 5-7.

The outings include visits to Dry Creek Waterfowl, Arnold and Debbie Schouten's sanctuary just outside Port Angeles, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. next Sunday.

This trip's cost is $25, with proceeds going to the Dungeness River Audubon Center, the nature center in Sequim's Railroad Bridge Park.

Other excursions include the Totem Tour at the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Center east of Sequim at 9 a.m. Friday; the cost, including lunch at 7 Cedars Casino, is $30.

Birding trips to Sequim Bay and John Wayne Marina, Dungeness Bay, Dungeness Spit, the Elwha River mouth and Salt Creek County Park, Ediz Hook and Port Angeles Harbor are also part of the festival, as are cruises to Protection Island on Sunday and to the San Juan Islands from Sunday through Tuesday, April 7-9.

For nature photographers, Stephen Cunliffe of Port Townsend will teach an in-depth workshop, “Putting Your Best Images to Good Use,” from
12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon; admission is $40 and space is limited to 12 people.

Saturday brings a “Dawn Chorus” walk through Railroad Bridge Park, a new bird drawing class with artist Robert Amaral in the afternoon and the BirdFest banquet dinner at the Jamestown tribal center Saturday night.

Since many of the trips and workshops have limited space, early sign-ups are encouraged. For complete information, phone the Dungeness River Audubon Center at 360-681-4076, visit the center at 2151 W. Hendrickson Road or explore the website,
PORT ANGELES — Since he was a young boy on a densely populated island, Arnold Schouten has cared for animals. Growing up in Long Island, N.Y., he raised reptiles and amphibians, fed wild birds — but most of all, he took to the waterfowl. With their iridescent plumage and easy grace, these birds charmed him.

And Arnold was a waterborne creature himself. In the 1960s, he and a few friends were among the small contingent of surfers off Long Island.

Then came the Navy and an assignment to the opposite coast: the Naval Air Station at Moffett Field in California. This is where Arnold was set up on a blind date with a woman from nearby San Jose.

Arnold and Debbie Schouten have been together 41 years now; they're spending their 33rd spring at Dry Creek Waterfowl, a bird sanctuary they built just west of Port Angeles.

Out here, with nearly 300 ducks, 15 ponds and 2 miles of looping trails, the Schoutens have created a one-of-a-kind community.

They raise waterfowl for breeding and research projects — scores of ducklings will start life here this spring and summer — and seldom open the 50-acre property to the public.

BirdFest tours

But during the Olympic BirdFest next weekend, Dry Creek Waterfowl will be among the field trip destinations: The Schoutens will take small groups on tours Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. Proceeds from the field trips, which cost $25 per person, will benefit the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and Sequim's Dungeness River Audubon Center.

On a recent sunny day, everything and everybody was in bloom here — most of all the male ducks. King eiders, longtails, buffleheads, scaly-sided mergansers, harlequin ducks, smews, wood ducks, scoters, goldeneyes — these and more populate the Schoutens' sanctuary.

Two factors brought the pair to Port Angeles. After Arnold got out of the Navy, they had money saved, and thought about spending it on an extended trip across Europe. Instead, they invested it in the land that, back in 1980, they could afford. That was reason
No. 1.

Reason 1-A was Olympic National Park, which “inspired us from the very beginning,” Debbie says.

But the couple didn't move onto the Dry Creek property at first. Their first house was off O'Brien Road, east of town. They also established a bird sanctuary there.

But Arnold, a dreamer and builder, envisioned a much larger avian haven, as well as a more energy-efficient house.

Like the park

When he and Debbie first saw the property on Dry Creek, its emerald-green foliage dazzled them.

“We thought, 'Oh my gosh, it's like a piece of the park,'” Debbie remembers.

Like so many construction projects, building their house and wildlife refuge took longer than just the one year Arnold had figured it would.

“We lived in an 18-foot travel trailer for three and a half years. That's the closest we've ever been,” he deadpans.

The couple finally moved into their house in 1983. They brought their flock of waterfowl over from O'Brien Road in pet kennels.

In 1984, the Schoutens entered another new era: With partners Gerry and Kay Mills and Paul and Colleen Moore, they formed Lumber Traders Inc. and bought Angeles Millwork and Hartnagel Building Supply of Port Angeles.

While they ran the two businesses, the Schoutens also became involved in environmental work on the North Olympic Peninsula and across the West.

Then came Dec. 21, 1985.

The Arco Anchorage, carrying 814,000 barrels of Alaskan crude oil, ran aground, hitting rocks north of the Rayonier mill as it entered Port Angeles Harbor.

The crew was able to stop the leak, but 239,000 gallons of oil had poured out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Thousands of helpless, oil-covered birds lay in the harbor and elsewhere along the strait.

Bird rescue

Arnold remembers the heart-rending sight of the birds, many of them unrecognizable. He, alongside some 2,400 other volunteers, mounted a rescue effort.

Together, they washed the winged survivors, putting in 12- and 16-hour days at the care centers set up first at Port Angeles High School and later inside a warehouse on South Oak Street.

About 1,560 birds made it to the centers funded by Arco, the petroleum company since absorbed by BP LLC. But only 18 percent, 280 birds, made it back into the wild.

The response to the 1985 spill, Arnold said, “was an amazing experience to be part of.”

He since has participated in cleanup efforts following two other spills, as well as beach care with the Surfrider Foundation.

After the 1985 oil spill, the Schoutens brought three pairs of longtailed ducks to their sanctuary. One, whom he named Arco, survived for 22 years there. She didn't breed at first. Then, after 13 years, she finally laid eggs, adding her ducklings to the flock.

100 ducklings a year

The Schoutens hand-rear up to 100 ducklings each spring and summer.

They have a heated house for their early weeks of life, and when they're old enough, they may be shipped off to zoos or other sanctuaries in North America and Europe.

Arnold is known internationally for his captive breeding program, which allows for scientific research without having to take more birds out of the wild. Last fall, the International Wild Waterfowl Association, an organization founded in 1958, inducted him into its Waterfowl Breeders Hall of Fame, and this past March, the Sons of Norway honored the Schoutens for their work on behalf of wildlife, hailing them as “well-respected, contributing members of the Port Angeles community.”

For this pair, deep satisfaction comes in helping a threatened or endangered species survive.

“The longtail is the most challenging of all of the ducks we raise,” Arnold says.

“It's also my favorite duck.”

The Schoutens don't go for the showy swans or geese. They do have a few avocets and ruddy ducks, who provide entertainment with their chatter and comical descent, which looks like web-footed water-skiing.

As passionate as they are about the sanctuary and home, the Schoutens also love to fly off to faraway places. Arnold surfs, and Debbie indulges her love for photography. Both are hikers well-tuned by Olympic National Park's trails. They have hiked to Machu Picchu, caught waves in El Salvador and beheld Stonehenge.

Debbie has documented it all, publishing her pictures — of surfers as well as waterfowl — in national magazines.

Back to business

In 2008, the couple retired from Angeles Millwork and Hartnagel, which they had converted to employee ownership. The stores marked their 50th anniversary in 2010 as employee-owned and -operated businesses.

As the local economy took a turn for the worse, however, the Schoutens were needed again. Two and a half years ago, they came out of retirement, Arnold to serve as CEO and Debbie as chief financial officer.

Theirs is a “supportive leadership role,” she said.

Coming home to a bird sanctuary is still a good thing, for them both.

They hike the trails, care for their flock, and watch as the spring rituals unfold again.

“You'll come out here and start watching [the ducks],” Arnold says, “and an hour will pass. All of a sudden, I'll realize that I'm soaking wet because it's raining.”

Neither of the Schoutens seems to mind the moisture. Debbie, in fact, has become a runner and completed the St. Patrick's Day Dash through wind and rain a couple of Sundays ago.

What is the secret to mating for life, for staying together, through the building of sanctuaries, homes and businesses?

The Schoutens pause and look at each other.

Then Debbie answers.

“Love,” she said, “gets you through.”

Last modified: March 30. 2013 6:33PM
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