Clark County group gets share of salmon recovery grants

It receives $322,000 of the $19.2 million distributed statewide

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Conservation organizations throughout the state will receive $19.2 million in grants to restore salmon habitat, the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board announced Monday.

Grant recipients will use the majority of the money to remove in-water barriers that prevent salmon from migrating, create natural habitat for the salmon, and replant riverbanks with shrubbery and trees to shade and cool the water.

In Clark County, the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group will receive $322,008 for two of its projects aimed at reviving areas for salmon to reproduce, feed and hide from predators.

The work is part of a decade-long attempt to boost dwindling salmon numbers.

"Salmon are integral to the state of Washington," said Susan Zemek, spokeswoman for the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. "They're part of the culture here."

One of the projects will improve spawning habitat within the North Fork of the Lewis River.

The other will rehabilitate rearing grounds for six different populations of salmon and steelhead at the confluence of Cedar Creek and the North Fork of the Lewis River, four and a half miles downstream from Merwin Dam.

As part of that project, the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group will install large

logs and tree roots donated by PacifiCorps throughout a quarter-mile stretch of the creek to provide habitat for chum, chinook and coho salmon, along with steelhead trout.

The state also expects economic benefits to come from the grant-funded work, citing a University of Oregon study showing that restoration grants result in an average of 15 to 33 new or sustained jobs for every $1 million spent.

Using that formula, the state believes the projects will create more than 280 jobs statewide during the next four years, worth more than $48 million in economic activity.

Money for the grants comes from the federal Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and the sale of state bonds. In addition, nearly $1 million came from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund.

Zemek says the restoration grants are one attempt to resuscitate dwindling salmon populations, which showed signs of decimation in the late 1980s.

By the end of the 1990s, populations had dwindled so much that salmon and bull trout were listed as threatened or endangered in three-quarters of the state.

In recent years, conservationists have seen salmon returning to streams in larger numbers as a result of restoration efforts, Zemek said.

"Generally, what we're seeing in many areas of the state is that the decline is stopping," she said. "It seems like we've stopped the bleeding."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com.