As salmon and steelhead populations dwindle amid habitat degradation and climatic changes, local watershed groups are etching a path to recovery.
Clark County entities furthering these efforts will collectively receive nearly $1 million from a mix of state and federal funding to improve fish habitat.
On Monday, the Washington State Recovery Funding Board and Puget Sound Partnership announced 150 grants for salmon recovery projects in 29 counties, totaling $81.5 million. Nearly half of the grants are pointed toward restoration in Puget Sound.
Projects are designed to aid 14 groups of salmon and steelhead that are listed as “threatened” or endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Efforts vary from creating safe places for spawning, such as creating cool water nooks or planting native vegetation, to removing river barriers.
These efforts mirror decades of similar work to help fish species reach sustainable population goals.
The Snake River sockeye was the first salmon in the Pacific Northwest to be considered at-risk by the federal government in 1991. In the following years, the number of these jeopardized species jumped to 16 being labeled as either “threatened” or “endangered.”
By 1999, these wild fish populations vanished from 40 percent of their traditional breeding grounds in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California, according to the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office.
“Salmon are the foundation and the future of our shared Pacific Northwest identity,” said Jeff Breckel, Salmon Recovery Funding Board chair, in a Monday statement. “We know what it takes to recover salmon, but the challenges are outpacing our progress.”
The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership received $282,097 to work on four key cold-water refuge areas for salmon and steelhead in the East Fork Lewis River. Salmon and steelhead frequent the winding river, which flows west from Green Lookout Mountain in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, eventually twisting through Clark County.
Three of the project sites contain cold pools of water during the summer – a necessary component for fish survival— but are inaccessible.
In these locations, the partnership will design plans to strip obstacles, which could involve river channel excavation, removing blockages and introducing wood and plants in riverbanks. The fourth project site, a side channel, could have lower water temperatures with channel grading and other habitat improvements.
Another organization, the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, will direct its $228,161 award toward Mason Creek, a tributary that meanders closely north to the East Fork Lewis River.
During the summer, Mason Creek is prone to drying, stranding fish traveling upstream. Projects will upgrade 2.5 miles of the northern creek to hold water year-round. The group will place logs to slow rushing water, effectively creating pools, and establish shade-casting plants along the bank.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will use $340,000 to develop a side channel near Eagle Island in the North Fork Lewis River to expand spawning and rearing habitat for chum salmon.
Separately, the department will invest $149,737 to monitor chum salmon in the Columbia River. The analysis will produce estimates for six of the 10 chum salmon populations in Washington, a finding that can guide future restoration efforts.
To learn more about salmon success, visit www.rco.wa.gov/salmon-recovery/progress.
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