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News / Clark County News

Groups see opportunity in Inslee’s salmon plan

Governor's budget has $187M to prop up fish populations

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 23, 2021, 6:03am

The lower Columbia River may receive funding to address salmon recovery in a statewide effort to protect and conserve fish populations.

Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his $187 million budget proposal to address the Pacific Northwest priority on Dec. 14 at the annual Centennial Accord meeting. This proposal is part of a larger $626 million climate action plan.

Inslee’s approach invests $123 million in riparian habitat protection and more than $16 million in water quality and temperature improvements, as well as $5 million in infrastructure and $6.5 million to improve science and further management.

Steve Manlow, Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board executive director, said the group is beginning to sort out what initiatives are statewide and what might be specific to the Columbia River.

“What we see is the governor’s effort to really accelerate that recovery work,” he said.

The plan delves into regulatory and incentive-based approaches for recovery. Local governments may be responsible for implementing efforts to protect an ecosystem’s baseline, which can look like regulating permit processes or creating protective ordinances, he said. This can determine that there are buffers along streams to sufficiently protect fish from developments or other projects.

As for active restoration, regional lead entities can manage state grant programs that are focused on rebuilding habitats, Manlow said.

More than 70 percent of salmon and steelhead populations are not keeping pace with recovery goals, and some are in crisis of fading altogether, according to a 2020 report from State of Salmon in Watersheds. Salmon runs in the Columbia River are at their lowest abundance in 10 years — a stark contrast from their peak 10 to 16 million population.

Inslee’s plan recommends reintroducing salmon above dams, such as the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams, and other barriers caused by humans to honor native people’s treaty rights. It also aims to build climate resiliency, as well as align hatchery and hydropower efforts with restoration.

“This is probably one of the most important opportunities we’re going to have to move recovery forward,” Manlow said, “one we haven’t seen in about 20 years.”

A large factor contributing to the looming threat of decreased salmon populations is a lack of funding, according to the State of Salmon in Watersheds report. Washington has invested less than 22 percent, or around $1 billion, of the necessary funding needed for salmon recovery since 2010.

With Inslee’s proposed budget and proposals, there is an increased chance that positive change will occur, Manlow said.

Washington is also set to receive funding for salmon recovery and ecosystem preservation from the federal infrastructure package that passed in August.

Until conservation groups and other organizations can implement Inslee’s proposed recommendations, they must wait to see whether state legislators support the recovery initiatives.

Columbian staff writer