State money to fix salmon-blocking culverts falls far short

State biologist Melissa Erkel looks at a culvert along the North Fork of Newaukum Creek near Enumclaw. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
State biologist Melissa Erkel looks at a culvert along the North Fork of Newaukum Creek near Enumclaw. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
By  PHUONG LE, The Associated Press

Washington state is under a federal court order to fix hundreds of barriers built under state roads and highways that block access for migrating salmon and thus interfere with Washington tribes’ treaty-backed right to catch fish.

But it’s not clear how the state is going to come up with the estimated $2.4 billion it will take to correct more than 825 culverts — concrete pipes or steel structures that allow streams to flow under state roads and highways.

The state has appealed the judge’s decision. But in the meantime, the Legislature last week approved millions to correct fish barriers statewide.

The 16-year transportation revenue bill includes $300 million for fish passage, dramatically more than in the past but far short of what the state estimates it needs. The House still needs to pass two Senate-approved bills to complete the transportation package.

“I would like to have seen us put more money toward that,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, ranking member of the House Transportation Committee. “We do need to be working on this. I think it’s a good start and I’m glad we’re doing it.”

Lawmakers have referred to this case as the other McCleary decision, which told the state to fix the way it pays for public schools.

“Ultimately it’s something we’re going to have to address; it’s just a question of timeline for when we’re going to get done,” Orcutt said.

The injunction issued by federal Judge Ricardo Martinez stems from the landmark 1974 Boldt decision, which affirmed the treaty rights of Northwest tribes to catch fish. The judge said fish-blocking culverts contribute to diminished fish runs.

“It is a treaty right. Tribes ceded the entire state of Washington to the federal government. In return, we asked that we have salmon forever,” said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

He said he was disappointed with the state’s appeal and questioned how much money the state had spent in appealing the case that could have gone toward fixing the problem.

 The state Department of Transportation, which is responsible for correcting the largest number of culverts under the court order, has been working on fish passage for a number of decades, said Paul Wagner, the agency’s biology branch manager.

This year, the agency plans 13 fish-passage projects across the state. It also completed 13 such projects in each of the past two years.

But Wagner acknowledged that significantly more money will be needed to meet the terms of the injunction.

 Culverts can be a problem for fish in several ways. Stream flows running through a small pipe can be too fast, making it harder for fish to swim upstream to spawn or downstream to reach the ocean. Perched culverts also can be too elevated for fish to jump through.

“It’s a big, big problem,” said Julie Henning, state Department of Fish and Wildlife habitat division manager.

When culverts are removed or fixed, the benefits are immediate because it opens up miles of critical habitat upstream to fish, said Henning, who also co-chairs the state’s Fish Barrier Removal Board.

 That board, created by the Legislature last year, is working to coordinate with counties, private landowners, tribes, state agencies and others to get the most benefit out of projects to remove fish barriers and recover salmon runs.

“When you think about a fish swimming upstream, it goes through all these jurisdictions,” Henning said.

Counties, cities, forest owners and others have worked independently to remove fish barriers only to find that culverts elsewhere on the stream continue to block fish passage.

 On the North Fork of Newaukum Creek near Enumclaw one afternoon, Henning and Department of Fish and Wildlife fish biologist Melissa Erkel pointed out a project King County did several years ago to replace two aging pipes with a large box culvert that is wide enough to allow the stream to meander.

But less than a quarter-mile upstream, two culverts block access for fish.

Erkel said she has provided technical assistance to the private landowner, who plans this fall to replace them with a 35-foot span bridge to allow more water to pass under the private road.

“Fish passage is really important work. We’re not just doing it because of the lawsuit. It’s something that needs to be done,” Henning said.

Fish migrate into upper Elwha River for first time in century



By Leah Leach, Peninsula Daily News


OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Fish have migrated into the upper Elwha River for the first time in a century.

Olympic National Park biologists confirmed last week that two radio-tagged bull trout had migrated from the lower river through the former area of Glines Canyon Dam and reached at least as far as Rica Canyon above the former Lake Mills, some 15½ miles from the mouth of the Elwha River.

Four bull trout had been detected earlier as they passed a telemetry station upriver from the former Glines dam.

Thursday’s walk along the river with handheld radio receivers confirmed it wasn’t a faulty signal, at least for Fish 167 and Fish 200.

“The fish have made it” for the first time in 100 years, spokeswoman Barb Maynes said Friday.

Clearing the river for migratory fish passage was the point behind the $325 million Elwha River restoration project that began in 2011.

Both Elwha Dam, built in 1912 about 5 miles from the river’s mouth, and Glines Canyon Dam, constructed in 1927 some 13 miles from the mouth, were made without fish ladders and so blocked migrating salmonid passage from a river once known for legendary salmon runs.

The 108-foot Elwha Dam was demolished by March 2012.

The last 30 feet of the once-210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam came down Aug. 26.

The passage of four radio-tagged bull trout was detected even before that final blast, Maynes said.

That was possible because the 30-foot stub of the dam did not extend all the way across the river channel.

Park biologists know a great deal about those two fish — and hope to know more soon.

Fish 167 was captured and radio-tagged May 7 about 3.5 miles above the river’s mouth. It was 19 inches long.

This bull trout swam through the old Elwha dam site in late July before being noted again 8 miles upriver in early August.

Fish 200, measuring 20.5 inches, was radio-tagged June 25 about a mile and a half upstream of the river’s mouth.

It swam past the Elwha Dam site July 20 and swam through Glines Canyon on Aug. 24, just before the final blast.

Did the bull trout originate in the Elwha River?

Researchers don’t know yet, Maynes said, but they plan to perform genetic tests on fin clips taken when the fish were radio-tagged.

Those tests, which so far as Maynes knows haven’t been scheduled yet, would tell biologists the origin for the fish, she said.

Bull trout in the Olympics often get around, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bull trout, which were listed in 1999 as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, may live near areas where they were spawned or migrate from small streams to larger streams and rivers or from streams to lakes, reservoirs or salt water, according to the agency.

In a May 2004 draft recovery plan, the agency said bull trout populations within the Olympic Peninsula Management Unit “exhibit all known migratory life history forms of this species, including fluvial [fish that migrate from tributaries to larger rivers to mature], adfluvial [fish that migrate from tributaries to lakes or reservoirs to mature], and anadromous [fish born in fresh water that migrate to the ocean to grow and live as an adult, returning to fresh water to spawn] populations.”

Biologists will continue to look for signs of migrating fish in the upper parts of the 42-mile river, which with its tributaries offers more than 70 miles of fish habitat.

Eighty-seven fish have been radio-tagged so far, Maynes said.

Of that, 13 bull trout, two winter steelhead, five chinook and one sockeye salmon have been located above the old Elwha Dam site.

Each fish is equipped with a uniquely coded radio transmitter that differentiates it from all other tagged fish.

Radio signals from the tags are then detected by radio receivers and antennas.

Six telemetry stations were installed between the mouth of the river and just above the Glines Canyon Dam site.

These stations continually scan for and record data, documenting when individual fish pass by each station.

Biologists also manually track fish between Rica Canyon and the river mouth using handheld radio receivers and antennas.

Also involved in the radio-tracking program are biologists with the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Washington’s National Park Fund has provided funding, Maynes said.

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