Despite their unbreakable connection, salmon harvest and habitat restoration continue moving down separate roads in western Washington. Many people either don’t see or choose to ignore the fact that habitat determines harvest, and that we continue to lose habitat faster than it can be restored.
Indian and non-Indian harvest has been cut to the bone this summer because of expected historically low returns, especially coho. Yet habitat loss and damage – the root of the problem – continues every day throughout our watersheds and nearshore marine waters.
Poor ocean survival conditions certainly played a role in the low salmon returns of the past several years. But even when we can restore or protect salmon habitat, we aren’t helping ourselves enough.
You might be surprised, but fish really do grow on trees. Trees keep water temperatures low, the way salmon like it. Their roots help to prevent soil erosion that can smother salmon eggs. When they fall into a river, trees provide diverse rearing habitat for fish. When the salmon spawn and die, their nutrients feed the trees.
Yet from 2006 to 2011 we lost the equivalent of two Seattle-sized forests or about 170 square miles, according to the treaty tribes’ 2016 State of Our Watersheds Report. The report can be viewed at nwifc.org/sow.
When we lose habitat, we also lose the natural production of salmon it provides. The collapse of our fisheries is simply mirroring the collapse of the eco-systems that support them.
For more than 100 years, hatcheries have tried to make up for that loss, but hatchery salmon depend on the same declining habitat as naturally spawning salmon.
About half of the salmon harvested in western Washington are hatchery fish. Continued habitat loss means we will have to depend on hatcheries for as long as lost and damaged habitat continues to restrict natural salmon production and threaten treaty rights.
Hatcheries are simply a tool. Some provide fish for harvest while reducing harvest pressures on weak stocks. Others serve as nurseries to protect threatened salmon stocks. All are essential to salmon recovery and should be integrated in our salmon recovery efforts for every watershed. We need every tool in the box to reinforce remaining salmon populations as we work to restore habitat.
The importance of this tool should be reflected in its funding, but as the need for hatchery fish has increased, state funding for hatcheries has declined or remained flat. Treaty tribes have stepped up to fill the gap in recent years and provide more salmon for everyone by picking up the costs at a number of state hatcheries where production was threatened by budget shortfalls.
The connection between harvest and habitat is clear. We cannot expect to harvest salmon – either hatchery or naturally spawning – as long as we continue to destroy salmon habitat. In the meantime, hatcheries must continue to help bridge that gap and be included as the essential part of salmon recovery that they are.
Lorraine Loomis is the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
GOLD BAR — A 1.25-mile stretch of forested land along the Wallace River will now be protected forever as salmon habitat.
The land, covering 121 acres on five parcels, was purchased by the environmental nonprofit Forterra in July for $490,000. Forterra, formerly known as the Cascade Land Conservancy, transferred the property to the Tulalip Tribes in November for future management.
A conservation easement ensures the property will never be developed.
“There’s a stewardship plan that we’ll be working on with the Tulalips” to maintain the tract’s value to the watershed, said Michelle Connor, Forterra’s executive vice president of strategic enterprises.
The property on the north bank of the Wallace River consists of five parcels that are a mix of wetlands and mature second-growth forests. It was last logged several decades ago.
“The trees have grown back nicely and the land is actually in pretty good shape,” said Daryl Williams, the Tulalip Tribes’ natural resources liaison.
The tract is located just west of Gold Bar and close to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the Wild Sky Wilderness and other protected lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.
The land lies across the Wallace River from a state salmon hatchery, and provides habitat for bull trout as well as four types of salmon: chinook, coho, pink and chum. The land is also home to black bear, elk, deer and beaver.
Williams said the land is likely to remain in its present state, as it already provides ideal habitat for fish in the water as well as for land mammals.
“Right now we don’t have any money to do anything with the property,” Williams said. “Perhaps we’ll thin some of the trees to allow some of the others to grow faster.”
The deal came together when Forterra learned the owner of the parcels, a property investment firm called Robinett Holdings, soon would put them up for sale, Connor said.
“When we first learned the property was coming on the market, we contacted the Tulalip Tribes to see if (the land) would be conservationally significant,” Connor said.
That turned out to be the case, she said.
“The property itself has historical oxbows and natural features that in and of themselves are very, very important,” she said.
It also fit in with the Tulalips’ efforts to restore the watersheds associated with the Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time and effort trying to restore areas on the watershed,” Williams said.
“With new development and redevelopment, we’re losing habitat faster than we’re replacing it,” he said. “We need to do a better job with what we have.”
“We see that repatriation of indigenous lands is an important part of our conservation mission,” Connor said.
Snohomish County was the primary provider of funds for the land purchase and transfer, providing $280,000 in Conservation Futures funds toward the purchase, and toward other costs associated with obtaining the conservation easements and transferring the property to the tribes.
County Parks Director Tom Teigen said the Conservation Futures Advisory Board often tries to strike a balance between acquiring land for active recreation, agriculture and habitat preservation, but this particular exchange stood out for its potential benefits to salmon.
“At the end of the day, preserving that property and getting that much acreage as well as the riverfront is significant,” Teigen said.
Forterra also received $250,000 from the state Recreation and Conservation Office toward the property purchase.
By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
A heavy burden is easier to carry if everyone who shares in the load does their part to help support the weight.
It’s the same with salmon conservation.
We all value salmon and we all must share the burden to protect and restore this rapidly disappearing resource. We must spread the weight of the burden of conservation across harvest, hatcheries and habitat because these are the factors that most influence the health of the salmon resource.
While each is an equally important part of salmon management, harvest has historically shouldered most of the conservation load. Since the mid-1980s, harvest has been reduced by more than 80 percent to protect weak wild salmon stocks.
As the resource continues to decline, tribal and state fisheries are more regulated than ever before to sustain the resource, yet every day we are losing the fight for recovery. Salmon populations are declining because their habitat is disappearing faster than it can be restored.
Meanwhile, the hatcheries that were built to make up for fish lost because of damaged habitat are under increasingly heavy attack. Opponents want them all closed. They claim hatcheries produce genetically inferior fish that sometimes stray onto spawning grounds and pass along their genes to wild fish.
But if wild fish continue to disappear because of lost habitat, and hatcheries can no longer produce salmon for harvest, there won’t be any fishing for anyone.
Our treaty-reserved rights include the right to have fish available for harvest. We did not give up nearly all of the land in western Washington so that we can put our nets in the water and pull them up empty time after time.
State government budget shortfalls and the effects of climate change are making things worse.
Because of the ongoing loss of habitat, we are becoming more and more dependent on hatcheries to provide salmon for harvest. Today more than half of the salmon harvested in western Washington are hatchery fish.
Tribes are increasingly concerned about the ongoing reduction in funding for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In just the past six years alone, the department has cut more than $50 million from its budget, much of it from hatchery production. We don’t yet know how much funding the agency will receive for the next couple of years, but further cuts could lead to closure of some hatcheries and reduced production at others.
Tribes already are picking up the check more and more to keep salmon coming back for everyone who lives here. From taking over some state hatchery operations to buying fish food and donating cash and labor, tribes are working to keep up hatchery production. This is in addition to the 40 million salmon and steelhead that tribal hatcheries release annually.
Meanwhile, the added effects of climate change are causing more harm to salmon throughout their entire life cycle. A record low snowpack, low stream flows and increasing water temperatures, combined with the results of ongoing habitat loss and declining marine survival, are forcing tribal and state co-managers to implement some of the most restrictive fishing seasons ever seen.
Salmon are in a spiral to extinction today, along with our treaty-protected fishing rights. Something has to change. That “something” is the share of the conservation burden carried by habitat. Right now, the treaty tribes are doing most of the work to protect and restore salmon habitat.
The tribes and state operate safe, responsible hatchery programs that are guided by the best available science. We will need these hatcheries for as long as habitat continues to limit natural production from our watersheds.
If eliminating harvest was the solution to salmon recovery, we would have accomplished it a long time ago. That is because habitat – more than any other factor – determines the health of the salmon resource.
We have lost more fish to disappearing habitat than have been or ever will be harvested. If we want more fish, we have to protect the habitat that both hatchery and wild salmon depend on.
We may not be able to do much to control climate change, but we can do a lot more to stop the loss and damage of salmon spawning and rearing habitat. Let’s start by enforcing laws already on the books to protect salmon habitat and stop the bleeding in our watersheds.
The burden of conservation must be better shared by habitat if we are going to recover salmon. Harvest and hatcheries have been carrying most of the weight for far too long.
Effects of climate change and the ongoing loss of salmon habitat came home to roost at this year’s tribal and state salmon fishing season setting process. The result was some of the most restrictive salmon fisheries ever seen in some areas.
A record low snowpack, low stream flows and increasing water temperatures, combined with the results of ongoing habitat loss and declining marine survival, forced the co-managers to sharply cut harvest this year to protect both hatchery and naturally spawning chinook stocks.
The co-managers set seasons based on the need to conserve the weakest salmon stocks. The goal is to protect the weakest stocks while also providing limited harvest on healthy stocks which are mostly hatchery fish.
Last year’s salmon runs throughout Puget Sound returned far below expectations. Those fish that returned faced low stream flows that led to water temperatures soaring to 75 degrees or more in some places. Water temperatures 70 degrees or higher can be lethal to salmon. Last year many adult salmon – both hatchery and wild – died before they could spawn or reach a hatchery.
This year’s returns of hatchery and wild salmon are expected to be about 30 percent lower across the board than last year’s poor returns. Lake Washington chinook provide a good example of why this year’s fishing seasons needed to be more restrictive.
Hatchery and wild salmon returning to Lake Washington must pass through the most urbanized parts of western Washington where they are confronted by polluted stormwater runoff, barriers and low stream flows. When combined with the effects of elevated stream temperatures, the results can be deadly for salmon.
The Muckleshoot Tribe, which tracks salmon migration into the lake through the Ballard Locks, quickly realized the extent of last year’s low returns and took action to protect the remaining fish. The tribe sharply reduced or eliminated planned harvests, including culturally important ceremonial and subsistence fisheries. But by then most of the damage had already been done. Despite tribal sacrifices, Lake Washington wild chinook populations were further diminished and hatchery egg-take goals were unmet.
Given last year’s poor returns and the increased effects of climate change and habitat loss, the tribes were stunned when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – apparently at the prodding of sport fishermen – proposed even higher chinook sport harvest this year. Their proposal included a mid-Puget Sound fishery targeting chinook in an area where the weak Lake Washington run congregates. But the tribes rejected the proposed harvest increases and the fisheries were withdrawn, leading to howls of protest from some anglers.
The package of fisheries developed by the co-managers for 2015 reflects the reality of lower abundance and reduced fishing opportunity for everyone. Good salmon management requires us to balance the needs of the resource against the desire by some to catch more fish every year. That is why we must have strong leadership to make the tough decisions needed to protect the resource.
The treaty tribes believe that salmon must be managed in the best interest of those who will follow seven generations from now. We will not allow tomorrow’s salmon to be sacrificed for today’s harvest.
The largest dam-removal project in history reached completion last fall, when excavators dredged the final tons of pulverized concrete from the Elwha River channel in Western Washington. Native fish, banished for 100 years from their historic spawning habitat, already were rediscovering the Elwha’s newly accessible upper stretches. Within weeks of the final explosion in August, threatened bull trout and chinook salmon were spotted migrating beyond the rubble.
“It was a thrill,” said Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes. Before the Elwha Dam was built in 1910, the river produced an estimated 400,000 fingerlings per year, a number that dwindled to 3,000 in recent decades. All five native species of Elwha salmon are expected to repopulate the river.
More than 80,000 dams more than six feet high block U.S. waterways, and activists are cheered by the Elwha success story. Two hydroelectric dams once blocked the Elwha; both now are gone. Sediment that was trapped behind them is washing downstream, replenishing habitat. The first 67,000 seedlings (of a planned 350,000) to help restore native vegetation are already planted on the sites of the former dams and reservoirs. A documentary about the project, Return of the River, came out in 2014.
Headache or back pain? Before you reach for the bottle of aspirin, consider aspirin’s ancient precursor: white willow bark. Or perhaps echinacea to boost the immune system, aloe vera to heal burns, and black cohosh to ease hot flashes.
The trend away from the profit-based pharmaceutical industry toward natural, age-old botanical remedies is beneficial for the environment and wildlife as well as for the humans who take medications. A U.S. Geological Survey study found chemicals from prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications in 80 percent of water samples drawn from streams in 30 states; those waters flow into lakes, rivers, and eventually the oceans.
Alain Touwaide, co-founder of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, says pharmaceutical chemists have inverted humanity’s relationship with medicines. “When a sick person used a plant, this person relied on history, the use of the plant over centuries,” he says. Now a researcher starts with a chemical and then experiments to find its uses. Botanical medicine has “an almost philosophical component,” he says, which helps with healing. Users tap into an interactive “sympathy” between humans and the environment, he says.
Photo by Paul Dunn.
Citizen turtle remedies
When a community of threatened Hawaiian green sea turtles began hauling themselves from the ocean onto the northern beaches of Oahu to bask and sleep in the sunshine, word soon spread through the island’s tourism industry. Families began plopping children on turtles’ backs for photos and poking, prodding, and pushing turtles back into the surf.
Concerned, the national Oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA) launched a “Show Turtles Aloha” campaign in 2005. North Shore residents quickly joined in, and in 2007 they created the nonprofit Malama na Honu (Protect the Turtles) to monitor the beach and educate visitors every day of the year. About 60 trained Honu Guardian volunteers take turns patrolling Laniakea Beach, working three-hour daylight shifts. They educate tourists about the ancient species, ask beachgoers to keep a respectful distance, and collect data for NOAA.
Hawaiian green turtles were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. They’ve made a remarkable recovery since then, and their major nesting beach at French Frigate Shoals was added to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006. The number of nesting turtles has grown annually from 67 in the early 1980s to more than 800 today, according to Irene Kelly, NOAA’s regional sea turtle recovery coordinator.
Dennis McClung stands inside what used to be a swimming pool in his backyard in Mesa, Arizona. Now it serves as a closed-loop food-producing farm for his family. Photo by Laura Segall.
Swimming pool becomes backyard farm
It’s a typical Mesa, Arizona, suburban subdivision, except for that corner house with a broccoli patch growing on its low-pitched roof. And those goats, chickens, and ducks roaming the backyard, near the solar panels erected above the entryway to that greenhouse planted in the deep end of an old swimming pool. When Dennis and Danielle McClung bought their ‘60s-era home in 2009, they hatched an eccentric but modest plan to make the best of that decrepit, way-past-its-prime pool. Two days after they moved in, Dennis McClung erected his first in-pool greenhouse, intended to provide food for their young family. He had recently quit his job as a Home Depot department manager; his wife was a nurse. “I convinced my wife of my crazy plan, and she went with it,” he says. “We really wanted to live a more sustainable, self-sufficient life, and we thought this was good idea. And it just kept getting better and better, the more we put into it.”
Today their backyard is a mini-ecosystem—McClung calls it a “closed-loop food-producing urban greenhouse”—and their home is headquarters for the Garden Pool nonprofit organization. Its official aim: sustainable food production, research, and education. At night the chickens roost above the pool’s deep-end rainwater pond so their droppings contribute to an aquaponics habitat for tilapia fish. The McClung’s natural water filtration system uses duckweed and solar energy; their organic greenhouse plants are rooted hydroponically, without soil. Pond snails, which probably hitchhiked in on the duckweed, provide calcium for the egg-laying chickens and help manage a pond-sludge problem.
On a typical day, the system provides the couple and their three children with about half their diet, McClung says. That includes veggies and herbs from the greenhouse; apples, citrus fruit, figs, sugar cane, bananas, and pomegranates picked from a 40-tree grove in their side yard; along with eggs and goat milk.
When gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, we learned valuable lessons about the critical role of large carnivores in balancing an ecosystem. The impact on the landscape was dramatic. Two decades later, stream banks stripped by booming populations of deer and elk are growing new trees and shrubs, and birds and beavers are returning to the feast. Even the physical landscape has been altered, as returning vegetation stabilizes banks and prevents erosion.
Now a growing movement of scientists and conservationists is campaigning to go further to ensure the health and survival of large carnivores: defining and protecting ancient migration corridors across the continent. a key component of this campaign is educating affected communities about the importance—and practicality—of coexisting with species that traditionally were feared and killed.
In her new book The Carnivore Way: A Transboundary Conservation Vision, Cristina Eisenberg says coexistence with wild predators isn’t just possible: it’s critical. “Carnivores protect biodiversity, which creates ecosystems more resilient to climate change. The climate change crisis we are facing makes it critical for us to help carnivores thrive wherever we can,” says Eisenberg, lead scientist at Earthwatch Institute.
The Wildlands Network has identified two initial priorities for protection. The Eastern Wildway runs 2,500 miles from Florida’s Everglades through the forests of Alabama and along the Appalachian Mountains to the boreal forests and Maritime Provinces of Canada. The Western Wildway is a 5,000-mile corridor stretching from Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental to Alaska’s Brooks Range, running along the Rocky Mountains.
Photo from Depave.
Asphalt, be gone
Across the nation, activists are organizing work parties to rip up excess pavement in playgrounds, parking lots, and empty lots, replacing it with pervious surfaces such as porous asphalt, block pavers, and greenery of all sorts. The swaths of impervious pavement that characterize our urban and suburban communities, from sprawling shopping malls to ubiquitous cul-de-sac neighborhoods, have vast ecological impacts. Rainwater—which otherwise would soak into the earth and benefit the habitat—is polluted with oil, antifreeze, and pesticides and then diverted into local streams and rivers.
The Portland, Oregon, nonprofit Depave promotes the transformation of over-paved places, such as schools, while engaging and inspiring communities to reconnect urban landscapes to nature. The organization uses community partnerships and volunteer power, and creates educational events, to pursue its goal of nurturing livable cities where people and wildlife can coexist. Since its initial project in 2008, Depave has transformed more than 123,000 square feet of asphalt, diverting about 2.9 million gallons of stormwater from storm drains. Above, the Creston School depaving project last fall.
Photo from Rebuild by Design.
The devastation wrought in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, including 117 U.S. deaths and an estimated $5 billion in damages to greater New York alone, shocked planners and policymakers into fashioning innovative new tactics to protect communities from future disasters. Rebuild by Design, a unique public-private partnership, is identifying and funding ambitious, creative infrastructure improvements in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A contest initiated by the U.S. government already has allotted $930 million to six winning projects, each crafted with powerful community input.
“Sandy exposed physical and social vulnerabilities of the region. It was not built to withstand the forces of climate change, and now we can rebuild it with better foresight,” said Amy Chester, Rebuild by Design’s managing director.
Major philanthropic partners staffed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development contest, and the project is funded by Congress, along with the Rockefeller Foundation and other private supporters. Design teams worked closely with local residents, businesses, and governments to codesign realistic solutions that carry broad support, Chester said.
In Manhattan, for instance, the community examined how river berms can benefit daily public life. “A wall can be a piece of art; a wall can be a part of a park. A wall should never be something that walls off the communities from the waterfront,” said Chester. One winning proposal: the Big U river fortifications. A 10-mile stretch of Lower Manhattan is to be protected from future storms and rising sea levels with projects including wide, grass-topped berms and rolling hills and bridges, providing new recreational spaces along the Hudson and East rivers.
WASHINGTON—A bill to provide continued funding to improve estuaries in the Puget Sound region that Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, introduced passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today. Larsen introduced the bipartisan bill with Rep. Frank LoBiondo, NJ-02 earlier this summer. H.R. 5266 would reauthorize the National Estuary Program through 2018, funding local efforts to restore and protect sensitive estuaries and their wildlife.
“Estuaries are a critical habitat for salmon, birds and many other species in the Pacific Northwest, where we know that protecting our natural resources is good for both the environment and the economy. In addition to improving salmon habitat, restoring estuaries can have important carbon sequestration effects, as a recent report on the Snohomish Estuary found. Healthy estuaries support our strong fishing industry and are one of the many draws for tourists who visit Northwest Washington because of recreational opportunities. This bill will continue federal support for local efforts to keep these sensitive habitats vital today and for future generations.
“I have long supported estuary restoration in the Puget Sound region, like the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project, which will be one of the largest tidal marsh restoration projects ever completed in our state when it is finished.
“I am pleased to work with Rep. LoBiondo on this bipartisan bill that will ensure local organizations across the country can continue their work to protect and restore estuaries,” Larsen said.
Funding from the National Estuary Program, which is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, helps build the comprehensive plan for Puget Sound recovery through the Puget Sound Partnership.
EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council last week signed off on an agreement that brings it closer to creating salmon habitat on Smith Island.
The county plans to create a 350-acre wetland at the mouth of the Snohomish River. The $25 million project involves removing dikes and allowing the acreage to flood, turning it back into a saltwater estuary.
The three firms, which comprise Diking Improvement District 5, had been negotiating the agreement with the county to clear the way for the project in exchange for assurances that it won’t affect their businesses.
Wednesday’s decision followed a continuation of public comments from the previous week.
Ed Husmann, president of the Farm Bureau, listed a number of concerns his group has had with the project, including that the county hasn’t followed legal processes, that $25 million is an “absurd price” for a project that might return just 800 adult salmon to the area, that the county hasn’t fully investigated the project’s effects on a buried Puget Sound Energy natural gas pipeline, and that no science has been submitted that would show the project would succeed.
“This is not a restoration project,” Husmann said. “There’s no known document that shows Smith Island has ever been salmon habitat.”
Brian Dorsey, deputy prosecuting attorney for Snohomish County, said the signed agreement with the diking district doesn’t commit the county to the project or even authorize the project to begin but, rather, lays down the legal framework under which the project would operate.
The County Council would have to approve a separate ordinance specifically authorizing the work to begin, Dorsey said.
Debbie Terwilleger, the director of the county’s Surface Water Management Program, explained that the project is focused on the creation of habitat for juvenile salmon. The anticipated return of 800 adults to a revitalized estuary could produce up to 250,000 juvenile fish.
Steve Dickson, the special projects manager for the county Public Works department, told the council that the county will need to get approval from Puget Sound Energy before the project can commence.
That agreement should be worked out in the next couple of weeks, Dickson said.
The council voted 3-1 to approve the agreement with the diking district, with Councilman Ken Klein voting against it, citing his opposition to converting agricultural land into an estuary and the need to expand support for local farmers.
“Until I see a reversal of those trends, a reversal of the death spiral of the farming industry, I cannot support one acre being taken out of production in Snohomish County,” Klein said.
Council Chair Dave Somers agreed in spirit but felt that much of the loss of farmland in the county started with converting farmland to development, especially in the Marysville-Arlington area, and restoring salmon habitat was also a commitment the county had to keep.
“We do need to remember that we do have a commitment to everybody, but that doesn’t mean we stop everything in our fish and estuary restoration,” Somers said.
This summer, the Nisqually Tribe, the Nisqually Land Trust and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group are tacking on another 1.5 miles of restored habitat to Ohop Creek.
“In this stretch of creek, salmon aren’t really given much space to feed or hide,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the tribe. “We’ll be restoring the creek back to a natural shape and giving the salmon the habitat they need to survive.”
Over a century ago farmers turned the creek into a straight-flowing ditch in an attempt to dry out the valley floor and create cattle pasture. However, deep clay deposits in the soil continued to hold water year round, and despite the failed effort to completely dry the valley the stream remained channelized.
“It went from a shallow, meandering stream that was very good for salmon to a straight ditch,” Troutt said.
The Ohop Creek restoration will include digging an entirely new channel as well as adding other features, such as logjams and deep pools, that will provide habitat for salmon.
Salmon habitat restoration on the creek began in 2009 with a repaired one-mile channel just upstream of the new site. That channel was constructed to restore a sinuous stream that connected to its floodplain. The floodplain, now replanted with native vegetation, re-creates 80 acres of healthy riparian habitat that controls water temperatures and stabilizes the stream banks.
The project partners have already documented the progress of the upstream restoration. “We’ve seen a lot of changes, down to the types of birds that visit the site,” Troutt said. Early results include increased use by salmon and the return of wildlife species, such as elk, that had not been seen in the valley for decades.
Ohop Creek is one of two major tributaries to the Nisqually River that can support chinook salmon and steelhead, both of which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. “Because there are only a few places other than the mainstem of the Nisqually River where they can spawn, increasing the quality of habitat in those places is important,” Troutt said. Ohop Creek also supports coho and pink salmon and cutthroat trout.
“Throughout Puget Sound, we’re seeing available salmon habitat continue to disappear, despite millions of dollars spent to restore and protect it,” Troutt said. “There is no larger threat to treaty rights than lost salmon habitat. Projects like this are a small step to reversing that trend.”
Beaver are known for their industrious landscaping. They regularly use their skills to rearrange the world around them, much like humans, to build safe places to live and grow the plants they feed upon. Unfortunately, for businesses and homeowners, the beaver’s best-known talent is also one of its least charming attributes.
The solution? Move nuisance beaver from urban areas to Forest Service land in the mountains where their construction skills will both build salmon habitat, and mitigate the effects of climate change. A win-win that Tulalip Wildlife Biologist Jason Schilling is excited to share.
“Beavers are marvels of engineering, we’re hoping to tap into their ability to store water,” he explained. “This was a big vision of Terry Williams [Tulalip Natural Resources], he saw it as a way to restore degraded landscape.”
“Benjamin Dittbrenner [of the University of Washingon], is studying how beaver change water quality,” Schilling continued. “ Particularly he’s looking at stream flow before and after beaver relocation and water temperature, those are two very important things for salmon.”
Dittbrenner is a former Snohomish County employee. While at the County he worked with landowners to ensure that property was protected from beaver activity.
“Beavers have a lot of really great ecological benefits,” he explained. “They take water and slow it down so that it can infiltrate into subsurface soils, increase groundwater and recharge aquifers. This creates backwater habitat for specialist species, and there have been studies to show that beavers and Coho are closely linked, Coho use beaver habitat as juveniles. We suspect that part of the reason Coho numbers are dropping is lack of beaver habitat.”
Dittbrenner continued, “The climate shifts that are predicted in the mountains mean that we’re going to have a lot less snow. That snow directly provides water to streams in spring and early summer. If there’s less water that means there is warmer water, and warmer water means less dissolved oxygen and less successful spawning. We’ve been looking at solutions to cope with less and warmer water.”
The project will work, said Dittbrenner.
“We’re modeling the project after other projects, east of the Cascades, where it’s legal to relocate beavers. Ranchers who once were against beavers are seeing that when the beavers come in, the groundwater levels increase and their pastures stay greener much longer. We’re hoping to see the same great benefits that they’re seeing.”
In a nutshell, the beaver’s dam building creates ponds which helps increase the water table. Beavers slow down water during fast flow times and increase water during the dry season. All of which adds up to more, and better quality water, as well as rearing habitat for salmon. Lastly, as climate change causes the snowpack to decrease, beaver ponds are an effective and natural way to store water for the dry season.
Since it’s such a great solution, why isn’t everyone doing it? Because in Western Washington it’s illegal to transport beaver alive from where they are trapped. It’s still perfectly legal to kill them. Tribes, however, are not subject to state law.
“It really has to do with our management of wildlife, as part of our broader treaty rights in off-reservation resource management,” explained Tulalip Attorney Tim Brewer. “We have the right to manage these resources and we’re working with the feds on federal land and therefore state law is pre-empted.”
Tulalip biologists have 24 beaver friendly sites picked out, but only eight of the sites will be populated initially. The unused sites will be used to as a comparison to demonstrate how effective the project has been.
“We may use them as release sites next year,” said Schilling, “but that will give us some good baseline data for beavers we released.”
Assistant Wildlife Biologist Molly Alves helps take care of beaver while they await relocation. She feeds them, dropping bunches of vine maple and vegetation, into the chum raceways where they are living. The beaver are also offered commercial rat food, but don’t seem to care for it. They sleep in man-made lodges built out of cinder blocks.
“We have to rebuild their lodges every night,” she said. “We weren’t anticipating catching six, and they don’t fit very well in a single lodge. The lodges are built out of plywood and cinder blocks, we have to line the plywood with steel mesh or they will chew through it.”
Alves explained that beaver are highly social and prefer to sleep together. That is one of the reasons they’ll be relocated as a group. Other strategies to ensure the animals don’t leave include scent marking the locations.
“We take these,” she held up the vine maple from the previous day, it’s bark stripped and the wood notched with teeth marks, “we call them chew sticks, and we’ll put them at the release site. They’re more likely to stay there if their scent is already there.”
The family is made up of two adults, three sub-adults and one kit.
“We’ve been setting up camera traps as well, so we know there are two more at the site where we caught this family,” said Alves.
“There’s another kit and a sub-adult. We’ll go back and catch those two and release them [as a pair],” she continued. “We know the sub-adults stick around for a couple of years to take care of the kits, so we know the kit will be fine. They’ll be released as their own family and they’ll probably go to a different spot because by the time we get them, these ones will be established.”
While the cameras are useful, Alves said the biologists knew there were more beaver because the animals can’t stand a leaky dam.
“There were three dams where we caught these guys. We notched the dams, that means we pulled out sticks and mud so there was a trickle of water,” she described, “it drives them crazy. When we went back some of the dams were rebuilt.”
Beaver are nocturnal herbivores, although they don’t hibernate, their planning and construction ensure that they survive winters just fine.
“They eat leaves in the summer and bark year round,” Alves said. “They stay in their lodges all winter and they create caches of food under their lodges. Other animals like muskrats and mice will stay in their lodges too.”
Hatchery visitors can learn about the beaver through series of interpretive signs that describe the relocation project and it’s benefits.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe is wrapping up its four-year study on river otters and American dippers in the Elwha River watershed.
The tribe has been studying how the animals use the river for food and habitat and how those needs have been impacted by the recent removal of the river’s Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.
Since the early 20th century, the dams prevented salmon from spawning beyond the first five miles of the river, denying wildlife an important food source. The upper watershed also was deprived of the marine-derived nutrients that salmon carcasses provide to the surrounding ecosystem.
As the dams have been removed and salmon have been able to move upriver, the otters and dippers have been taking advantage of the new resources, said Kim Sager-Fradkin, the tribe’s wildlife biologist.
Between 2011 and 2014, blood, feather, toenail and tissue samples were collected for genetic and diet analysis. The tribe also tagged 11 otters with radio tracking devices and tagged 246 dippers with small leg bands to track migration patterns.
“Despite disruptive dam removal activities, at least one tagged otter continued to frequent areas around Glines Canyon Dam,” said Sager-Fradkin. “Sediment loads in the river, however, appeared to impact which areas of the river that otters used, with otters using more side channel, tributary and saltwater habitats during periods of high sediment loads in the river channel.“Overall though, we found most of them moving throughout the Elwha watershed and Strait of Juan de Fuca, from as far south as the Glines Canyon dam when it was still fully intact, to as far north and east as Port Angeles harbor.”
Dippers also used tributary and side channel habitats during dam removal and increased sediment loads in the river, she added.
Analyses of the animals’ diets showed that both otters and dippers are eating more marine-derived nutrients now than before the dams started to come down.
“Presumably this is either through direct consumption of salmon or through consumption of aquatic macroinvertebrates that have become enriched with marine-derived nutrients,” she said.
In addition, female dippers breeding in areas without salmon had worse body conditions compared to dippers breeding in areas with salmon. Also, adult dippers found in areas with salmon migration had higher survival than those in areas without salmon.
The Elwha Dam has been fully removed since 2013 and the Glines Canyon is expected to be fully removed by the end of 2014.