OLYMPIA - A new report from the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office says that many salmon populations are at the "brink of extinction", and without drastic changes to how Washington addresses climate change and population growth, may not survive.
The report, titled State of Salmon in Watersheds, says 10 of the 14 species of salmon and steelhead in Washington listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act are not making progress. Of those, five are in crisis, according to the report.
“We have come a long way in addressing the factors killing salmon,” said Erik Neatherlin, the executive coordinator of the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office. “Some salmon populations are strong and nearing recovery. Unfortunately, many challenges are outpacing restoration efforts, holding back recovery of the majority of salmon.”
The report indicates that the predicament of salmon is expected to worsen as the climate warms and mountain glaciers, which feed cold, clean water to salmon-bearing streams in the summer, continue to disappear. In addition, Washington’s human population is expected to grow from 7.6 million today to 9 million people by 2040, adding the equivalent of three more Seattles to the state.
“More people means more demand for water and for land along waterways, both of which conflict with what salmon need,” Neatherlin said. “It’s important to remember that Washingtonians rely heavily on salmon to support jobs in the fishing and tourism industries, as a food source, for traditional tribal culture and for recreation. In addition, salmon are key indicators of the health of our environment. Washingtonians know that what is good for salmon is good for people. We are at a crossroads, and as we look forward, we need to come together to find solutions that work for salmon and people. We need to shift our thinking. Just as we develop long-range plans for roads, powerlines, development and other infrastructure, we need to begin to do the same for salmon if we want them to be around in the future.”
The report recommends a suite of actions geared toward reducing the many factors that kill salmon. Following are a few of the report’s recommendations:
- Adapt land-use and other regulations to accommodate salmon. Integrate and giving priority to the needs of salmon and other natural resources in land-use plans, long-term infrastructure planning processes and related regulatory programs. The report also calls for increasing compliance and enforcement of existing land-use laws.
- Ensure clean, cold water in streams by reconnecting floodplains and protecting sources of groundwater and cold springs, which feed salmon-bearing streams in the late summer and during droughts.
- Improve fish passage by removing barriers to migration and re-introduce salmon to places above dams where they’ve been blocked.
- Support Governor Jay Inslee’s commitment to work with Indian tribes in Washington to establish a statewide standard for protecting fully functioning and healthy land along streams and rivers (riparian habitat) for salmon.
- Fully fund salmon recovery, which currently receives only 22 percent of the estimated need.
The report also highlights the accomplishments made in the past 20 years, including the following:
Removal of large dams that were blocking salmon from reaching high-quality habitat, such as dams on Trout Creek and the Elwha, Middle Fork Nooksack, Pilchuck and White Salmon Rivers. There are additional efforts underway to improve passage such as at Mud Mountain Dam near Enumclaw and to place salmon above dams where they have not been for nearly 100 years such as at Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport and Grand Coulee Dam near the town of Grand Coulee.
Washington has been making steady progress restoring habitat. Since 2005, 20,013 acres of riparian areas have been treated and 12,008 acres of estuaries and near-shore areas have been treated.
“Since our restoration efforts got underway, we have prevented more salmon from being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. None have been added since 2007,” Neatherlin noted. “We are making progress. However, we still are losing more ground than we’re gaining. We must come together and we must step up our actions. We know what needs to be done and we have the people in place to do the work, we now just need to make saving salmon a priority across Washington and provide the funding and resources to get it done. We must save salmon.”