By Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News staff writer
Kit pictured at the Tulalip Marina on the Tulalip Reservation
TULALIP, Wash.- Kit Rawson has a smile that makes you instantly feel welcome, he’s quick to laugh and ready to get down to business, and he has been a part of the Tulalip Natural Resources team that has worked to restore salmon to Tulalip Bay for the last twenty-six years. Throughout his year with Tulalip, has seen drastic changes, such as the beginning of the current working relationship between Tulalip Tribes and the State of Washington, which started after the Boldt Decision, to declining resources for salmon habitat, and finally to a full circle of fishing management at Tulalip. Now Kit Rawson, the mathematician of fish, is ready to say goodbye and pass on the torch.
A biology graduate from the University of Arizona, Kit says he had a knack for data, fish data to be specific. Taking those skills in math and statistical analysis, Kit made a career working with the State of Alaska Department of Fish & Game as a biometrician, crunching numbers on fishery information. His niche was salmon, where he first worked with coder wire tagging to identify where the fish were coming from. During his years with Alaska Fish & Game, he was responsible for statistical analysis on the state’s hatchery programs, and accessing the number of fish the hatcheries were putting out, and whether the fish they were putting into the wild areas were contributing to increasing the runs that they were hoping to boost.
This experience would later lead him to a position he heard about through the grapevine down in a place called Tulalip.
It was August 1, 1986, a typical warm day in the Pacific Northwest when Kit toured the Tulalip Reservation along with Terry Williams, who was Fisheries Director then, and Dave Summers, during a job interview.
“We drove all around the reservation and I met Cliff and the whole hatchery crew. I met Francy Sheldon at the office along with Terry. I talked with Stan Jones down on his boat. He was the chairman of the Tribe then, and there was this board meeting so they took me in the meeting and had me say a few words without telling me they were going to do that, and the room was full,” chuckled Kit.
“It was a great job interview and I started September of 1986 as the Harvest Management Biologist. It was a good job for me, because it involved a lot of number crunching, and that was what I was really good at.”
During the fifteen years that Kit worked as the Harvest Management Biologist he started to notice the decline in salmon. Despite the efforts of the tribes to preserce the remaining habitat, the industrial boom from the surrounding areas put a strain on the already weak salmon runs.
“I came in ten years after the Boldt Decision, so during that 10 years before I started, things went from everybody going to court to finally working out ways to work together. When I started in the 80s there was still a pretty large salmon fishing fleet here, pretty good fishing every week for coho, chum, and even steelhead. We have seen the number of most our salmon species go down over time, they fluctuate up and down, but generally speaking, the overall production of salmon and steelhead has gone down. And when the numbers go down, there is less opportunity to open fishing for the Tulalip tribal members to exercise their treaty rights,” said Kit.
To combat these issues Kit took his knowledge of statistical analysis and paired up with Terry to examine the problem as a whole, through a conservationists
Kit, center, is pictured with state and tribal biologists from Tulalip, Stillaguamish, Swinomish, Upper Skagit, and Sauk-Suiattle at a 2013 pre-season salmon forecast meeting held at Tulalip
“After 15 years, I started seeing that even though we were doing a really good job in managing fisheries and not over harvesting, the salmon weren’t coming back. I realized we had habitat problems and marine survival problems. We had a lot of people working on that, but the piece that was missing was kind of putting all those things together,” explained Kit.
“Terry really had the vision to put that office together. What I do with conservation biology is, I bring the knowledge of harvest management together with the knowledge of how we manage hatcheries. Since the 1990s, I have been working on salmon recovery plans within the area that Tulalip works in, which is the Stillaguamish Watershed, Snohomish Watershed, Island County and San Juan Islands.”
Kit explains that his job, through extensive planning, is to make sure that hatchery fish do not compete with wild fish, and that the hatchery fish are not spawning with wild fish, and have what they call a genetic interaction. He looks at how other tribal and state hatcheries are run to make sure the system, as a whole, remains in sync.
Conservation planning includes working with the different divisions within the Tulalip Natural Resources Department, state natural resources programs, and other tribal natural resources personnel to examine how habitat is being affected. Kit explains that habitat conditions includes rivers located in the mountains where salmon spawn, river and stream channels that run through forests, estuaries where salmon feed for strength to make the transition to the ocean, and finally the ocean.
“We are gaining some of those habitats back, but we are not getting the rivers back to being able to meander and move around to form new channels which is needed for spawning and rearing of salmon. The climate is getting warmer, our ocean water and the Puget Sound water is getting more acidic and that affects the survival of fish as well. We have all these factors that in general are causing the salmon returns to go down. These are number of factors that we look at in our recovery plans,” said Kit.
Throughout the last 26 years, Kit has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the plight of salmon habitat and the declining numbers, bother personally and professionally. Along with his work at Tulalip, Kit is also on the board of the SeaDoc Society that works in Marine Conservation Research.
“This Tribe works really well with other entities. To talk about changes, to see the Tulalip Tribes actually doing the full cycle of fisheries management is very exciting for me, because that was a long term goal and we realized it now. But with the uncertainties of the future, climate warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification, the Tribe is going to have to adapt to those things, and I think the Tribe is quite capable of doing that.”
“This is the most important work that there is. Conservation of natural resources is required for humans to survive on this planet. A lot of us who are not tribal see working for the tribes as the best way to do this work, because the tribes have this culture that is based on sustainable natural resources. There is a reason why a lot of us work here and why we stay. The values of Tulalip and all the tribes that say, we have to have these resources in order to survive, is a value that I share,” said Kit.
“I have learned so much here at Tulalip about the importance of natural resources from people who really have that ingrained in their culture. It is not just the fish either, it is the trees, it is the plants that produce food, it is the animals, it is the wildlife, it is the birds, and everything that goes into all the stories of creation, they will stay with me forever.”
Kit’s last day as the Tulalip Tribes Conservation Science Program Manager will be March 5th. He plans to tour overseas by bicycle with his wife after spending time with his parents.
“I am not just going to drop conservation, I hope to be in touch with a lot of my co-workers and the fishermen, and I am definitely hoping that I can come back here and continue to buy fish from the guys.”
“I’ll miss the people the most. This is hard work that we all do, all our fishermen work really hard, and everybody is dedicated, and we do this work because we love it.”
Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402; firstname.lastname@example.org