Thirty years ago, you couldn’t find a map using the term “Salish Sea” for the Puget Sound region. There were Seattle galleries and t-shirt shops aplenty selling Northwest Coast Native art, but the masks, totem poles and sinuous formline animal prints were designs from hundreds of miles away, not from here.
Thirty years ago, no major art museum in Washington had mounted an exhibit highlighting Native created works of our own lands and waters. Artists were indeed working – Musqueam visual pioneer Susan Point was making innovative prints based on ancient carved designs. Ron Hilbert was painting bold scenes of spiritual practices and Lummi weavers Bill and Fran James were making sumptuous blankets and intricate baskets. But the critical interest and most gallery attention was focused on art from the Canadian coast.
In 1989, the balance started to tip. Washington State’s Centennial exhibit of Native arts opened, managed by Patricia Cosgrove (now Director of the White River Valley Museum) with Kenneth Watson as part of the exhibit staff. Both art historians were on a mission to convince Seattleites that totem poles are not indigenous and that Salish art in all its creative branches is. The exhibit was incredibly successful, and soon many influences aligned to literally change the landscape of the Native art market.
Ever since, both Cosgrove and Watson have worked hard to see the word ‘Salish’ enter the mainstream vocabulary, and to insure that the characteristic sweeping lines and subtle patterns of Salish arts become recognizable and emblematic of the Seattle area.
Through the effort of many, this vision has come true. High quality galleries like Seattle’s Stonington Gallery and Steinbrueck Native Gallery feature experienced and rising artists from across the Salish Sea region. Generations of new artists have risen in skill and popularity. Today, Salish art is an explosion of innovation and creativity that still has a firm foundation in our region’s earliest Salish generations.*
That innovation and creativity of Coast Salish artistry is currently on full display at the White River Valley Museum, located in Auburn only blocks away from the Muckleshoot Reservation. Inside the museum mounts an unprecedented six-month-long exhibition titled Salish Modern: Innovation Art with Ancient Roots.
“I’m really thrilled that we have works from artists who are rock stars in the Native art world, such as Louie Gong (Nooksack), Susan Point (Musqueam), and Shaun Peterson (Puyallup),” states Patricia Cosgrove, Museum Director and Salish culture enthusiast. “People are surprised when they see the ancientness of the tradition and then recognize the elements of it all around them in these very modern pieces. This is a perfect exhibit to celebrate this vital, fabulous modern art world.
“For museum visitors and people who see the exhibit, I’d like them to know that Salish cultures are alive and can be very modern. In my opinion, modern Salish art is some of the most elegant, divine visuals that you can find,” continues Patricia. “I’d love to see Salish art take the place of totem poles and form line design in Seattle as its visual identity.”
Salish Modern: Innovation Art with Ancient Roots will be on display through December, 17. The exhibit is supported in part by the Tulalip Tribes Charity Fund. Included among the many elegant Salish artworks is a rare painting by Ron “Chadusqidub” Hilbert (Tulalip and Upper Skagit) depicting a ceremonial smokehouse dance from 1989.
TULALIP — From the deck of a 30-foot research boat owned by the Tulalip Tribes, Terry Williams pointed out the remnants of a bulkhead along Mission Beach where not long ago there was a string of beach houses.
In 2013, the leases on the tribal property weren’t renewed and the homes were removed. The main concern was erosion of the beach and the bluffs overhead damaging the fragile marine environment below.
Williams, who is the Tulalips’ treaty rights commissioner, said increased rainfall and stronger windstorms would saturate the sandy bluffs and cause them to slide down onto the houses below.
“It gets to the consistency of a milkshake and tends to fall,” Williams said.
On a bright fall day, several parts of the bluff showed clear evidence of slides. Houses were visible above.
Coastal landslides tend to silt up the nearshore environment, which is considered a critical piece of the salmon ecosystem.
“Those areas are really important for forage fish for threatened and endangered salmon,” said Joshua Meidav, the Tulalip Tribes’ conservation science program manager.
The beaches were created and rejuvenated over millennia by the gradual erosion of the bluffs. Development along the shore, including bulkheads, docks and clifftop homes, interrupted that natural process.
Now when the bluff slides, it tends to come down all at once, Williams said.
“The reality is that this is all changing,” he said.
An issue of rights
Climate change is a concern to Williams and the Tulalips in ways that go well beyond the usual worries about flooding and slides. It’s an issue of treaty rights.
While treaty rights are most commonly understood in the context of dividing the salmon harvest, their reach extends beyond the fishing grounds to tribal relationships with local, state and federal governments, said Ray Fryberg Sr., the Tulalips’ Executive Director of Natural Resources.
Most commonly that manifests in cooperative work with federal, state and local governments, and even private landowners, on many kinds of projects designed to restore salmon habitat.
On other occasions, the tribes have sought redress in the federal courts when they felt government wasn’t living up to its obligations.
“We’re like the last vanguard,” Fryberg said. “They have policies and procedures but there’s no enforcement.”
Most recently, that manifested in the “culverts case.”
In 2001, 21 tribes argued successfully that Washington state violated their treaty rights because culverts that carried streams under roads harmed salmon runs.
It was a significant advancement of treaty rights into the realm of habitat restoration.
“The culvert case is the case that says there has to be a restoration so that ongoing harm doesn’t continue,” said Robert Anderson, a law professor and the director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington.
In this case, the state of Washington was found to have damaged habitat for salmon, and was ordered to make repairs.
Habitat protection and restoration were key elements in the second phase of a landmark decision by U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt.
In 1974, the first phase of the Boldt decision provided the basis for the co-management system, in which tribal and non-tribal fishermen divide the salmon harvest each year. The second phase, decided in 1984, focused on the habitat for the salmon.
“Phase II said that there’s not going to be a treaty resource of the salmon unless the environment is protected,” Fryberg said. “We get a certain amount of say-so in that.”
The part of the Phase II Boldt decision that obligated the federal government to restore habitat was overturned on appeal. However, the federal appeals court still said that the state of Washington and the tribes needed to take steps to protect and enhance the fisheries.
What those steps should be was left unstated.
“It’s difficult to argue that the federal government has an obligation to restore the ecosystem to, say, pre-treaty conditions, or treaty-time conditions,” Anderson said.
Some of the damage to habitat had already been done by that time, he said. Also, it’s a lot harder to assess the damage done by small changes, such as a single tide gate on private land, compared with the cumulative effects of the state’s culvert construction.
Momentum for restoration work can be created, however, when treaty rights are considered in tandem with the Endangered Species Act’s listing of various populations of salmon and steelhead.
“I think there’s a strong argument with the federal government to take steps to restore habitat,” Anderson said. “Maybe not a legal argument, but a treaty trust obligation to do it, and that they should do it.”
A seat at the table
In practical terms, that means that the tribes have been aggressive in forming partnerships to pursue environmental projects.
Tribes also have broad leeway to take on projects of their own that help restore habitat, or at least halt the progress of degradation.
It’s not a blanket authority to do anything anywhere, but it means tribes have a seat at the table whenever a treaty trust resource is affected.
As a coordinating body among the 20 treaty tribes of Western Washington, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission has a role supporting restoration programs to have a greater impact.
A lot of the commission’s work focuses on the marine nearshore environment, said Fran Wilshusen, the NWIFC’s habitat services director. That also means studying how the marine environment interacts with estuaries, river systems and the upland watersheds.
“We’re trying to pull the lens back and look at how the whole system is connected,” Wilshusen said.
That includes small projects, such as the Tulalips’ 2013 pilot study to release beavers in the western Cascades, where their activity of building dams is expected to help return the upper reaches of streams to their natural state, which happens to be better spawning territory for salmon.
One project under way is an agreement between the Tulalip Tribes and the U.S. Forest Service to maintain a 1,280-acre tract in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as a source of wild huckleberries.
There aren’t that many places left in the mountains that are accessible by road that still provide habitat for the berries, which are important to tribal culture, said Libby Halpin Nelson, a senior environmental policy analyst with the Tulalips.
“They are healthy and they are a traditional food that is always looked for in ceremonies,” Nelson said.
The project includes removing small conifers that could “shade-out” the berries. In essence, the tribe is mimicking the effect forest fires used to have before fire suppression became standard response, she said.
Rights at risk
For all the work that’s been done to protect and restore salmon habitat, the fish runs continue to decline.
In spring, projections of low numbers of returning salmon, especially coho, led to a breakdown of negotiations between the tribes and the state. Tempers flared and fishermen protested when tribes were given permission to catch a small number of spring Chinook while the non-native sportsmen had to wait.
The challenges looming on the horizon are even more formidable.
A poster on Fryberg’s office wall has a picture of the late Nisqually leader Billy Frank Jr. and his warning to all Native American tribes: “As the salmon disappear, so do our tribal cultures and treaty rights. We are at a crossroads, and we are running out of time.”
With each new study, it becomes clearer that changes are elapsing at an increasing speed.
“Ten, 15 years ago, what we said would happen in 50 years is already happening,” Fryberg said.
Williams’ entire career has been focused on building bridges between tribal, state and federal governments.
Shortly after the Boldt decision, he was involved in setting up the co-management regime in the state, and then negotiating the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada and its First Nations, backed by research developed by Tulalip staff scientists.
In the 1990s he was tapped to open the Indian Office in the Environmental Protection Agency. But many efforts to restore salmon runs were coming up short.
“We were putting tremendous amount of money into restoration and we were losing ground,” Williams said.
He realized that many federal and state agencies operated in their own silos, and often they might set regulations that aren’t in line with each other or broader goals.
“It’s the authority of each individual agency, federal, state or local, that gives them the ability to create rules and standards,” Williams said. “Eleven agencies have independent programs and authorities in Puget Sound. Most are not geared toward Puget Sound recovery goals.”
While a court has allowed some of that work to start up again, the government’s order came with an announcement that the federal government would consult with tribes on major infrastructure projects in the future.
The consultation process already existed since President Obama created a cabinet-level position to coordinate government-tribal relations, Anderson said.
“Here the Obama Administration seems to be signaling that, ‘Hey, maybe we ought to be doing more,’” he said.
That may lead simply to more federal agencies talking to each other and more often with tribal governments, which is still a step forward.
From the Tulalip research boat, Williams pointed out a section of Hermosa Point where he’s lived since the 1970s. Here too, the bluffs have slid, and some of the houses are perched on the edge, hanging over the lip.
“When I bought my house we were looking at getting closer to the bluff, but decided that wasn’t a good idea,” he said.
If stronger regulations are enacted, it would prevent some houses from being built, and that would translate into lower insurance costs for government. That would also help protect fragile ecosystems.
“The more we can understand it, the better we can prepare,” Williams said.
“What we’re seeing in climate impacts right now is just the beginning.”
By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
I am glad that the treaty tribes in western Washington were finally able to reach agreement with the state on a package of conservative salmon fisheries for Puget Sound. It took more than a month of overtime negotiations to make it happen, but cooperative co-management showed us the way.
Western Washington is unique because 20 treaty Indian tribes and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife jointly manage the salmon resource and share the harvestable number of fish returning each year.
That job was a lot easier when there were more fish to go around. But salmon populations have been declining steadily for decades because their habitat is disappearing faster than it can be restored. Salmon returns the past couple of years – especially coho – have taken a sharp turn for the worse.
Some say just stop fishing and that will fix the problem. It won’t. From birth to death, habitat is the single most important aspect of a salmon’s life. As the habitat goes, so go the salmon and tribal culture and their treaty fishing rights.
For millions of years, salmon were abundant in western Washington. Their sheer numbers, naturally high productivity and good habitat provided resiliency from the effects of disease, drought and a host of other environmental factors. We must rebuild that resilience.
As salmon populations grow smaller, management becomes increasingly difficult, and the co-managers struggle to divide a steadily shrinking pie. We must make the pie bigger.
The non-stop loss of salmon habitat in western Washington must be halted so that our habitat restoration efforts can successfully increase natural salmon production. In the meantime, we need to rely on hatcheries to provide for harvest and help offset the continuing loss of habitat.
We also must build resiliency in the co-manager relationship created by the 1974 ruling in U.S. v. Washington that upheld tribal treaty-reserved rights and established the tribes as salmon co-managers.
We remember the bad old days of the late ’70s and early ’80s when the tribal and state co-manager relationship was new and mistrust ran deep. We spent a lot of time, money and energy fighting one another in federal court hearings rather than focusing together on the resource.
Things didn’t begin to change until former state Fish and Wildlife director Bill Wilkerson said enough was enough and sat down with the late NWIFC Chairman Billy Frank Jr. The result was the birth of cooperative co-management in 1984 which led to the annual development of agreed fishing plans that allowed the tribes and state to focus on managing the fish instead of fighting each other in court.
This year, for the first time in more than three decades, the tribal and state co-managers failed to reach agreement on a joint package of Puget Sound salmon fisheries within the North of Falcon process timeframe. Instead we developed separate fishing plans for consideration by NOAA Fisheries under their ESA authority.
But in the true spirit of co-management, we kept the door open to further negotiations, and it worked. We weathered the storm together and we are stronger for it.
We know our relationship will be tested again in the years to come. But this year has shown us that we can survive those challenges as long as we keep cooperation at the heart of co-management.
The Squaxin Island Tribe is working with the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group to restore vital forage fish habitat by removing a 70-foot-long boat basin and a 137-foot-long boat ramp to reconnect a large drift cell along the shoreline.
“This kind of habitat, that forage fish use to spawn in, is critically important for deep South Sound,” said Scott Steltzner, salmon biologist for the Squaxin Island Tribe. A drift cell is a portion of shoreline that has a common source of sediment. When the habitat within these cells is disconnected, the actual amount of habitat available to forage fish can shrink.
The boat basin takes the form of a perpendicular cut into the beach near the mouth of Hammersly Inlet. Ten foot high walls were designed to protect a resident’s boat from the surf and tide and the boat ramp provided access to Puget Sound, but they also cause a lot of problems for what salmon like to eat.
After removing the concrete boat basin and ramp, the Tribe will restore the original slope of the beach, recovering the spawning habitat lost to forage fish This will allow sediment to naturally move supplying sediment to beach spawning forage fish and those off shore.
Forage fish, such as herring, sandlance, and surfsmelt, are important food for juvenile and adult salmon. Where they spawn marks critical habitat for salmon. “Forage fish spawn in the same places as juvenile salmon feed,” said Scott Steltzner, salmon biologist for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “Restoring this habitat will mean more food for salmon, which will help recovery depressed stocks.”
A few years ago, the tribe completed another fish friendly project when they replaced an aging, outdated boat ramp with a new ramp that would allow sediment to more naturally move. “This boat ramp is not only important to tribal fishers, but for shellfish companies and the general public,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe. “When we set out to replace it, it seemed fitting we’d do it in a fish friendly manner.”
In addition to providing more room for forage fish, nearshore habitat also provides important rearing areas for juvenile salmon before they move out to the open ocean. Nearshore habitat is a productive swath of land close in to the coast that serves an important role in the life-cycle of salmon.
Researchers find oil can harm herring and salmon at much lower levels than once thought. The work raises questions about Puget Sound pollution.
By Hal Bernton, Seattle Times
Federal scientists based in Seattle and Alaska have found that oil — by impairing heart functions — can cause serious harm to herring and pink salmon at far lower concentrations than previously documented.
The research, published Tuesday online in Nature’s Scientific Reports, could help unravel the mystery of why herring stocks in Prince William Sound collapsed after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Their work also has implications about the effects of low levels of chronic oil pollution in Puget Sound and elsewhere in the world.
“What this study shows is that in very, very low concentration of oil, embryonic fish … get born with a mild heart defect,” said John Incardona, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration toxicologist at a Seattle fisheries science center. He is one of 10 co-authors of the study.
Those fish may look OK on the outside, but the heart defect makes them less fit, so they can’t swim as fast. They may succumb to predators at higher rates than other fish and may be more vulnerable to infections, according to Incardona.
The findings reflect years of studies that explored the effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, compounds released by crude oil spills, but also contained in many other forms of fossil-fuel pollution such as tailpipe emissions from Puget Sound motorists that condense and are carried into the water by runoff.
The research examined the effects on fast-growing zebrafish, and then replicated the heart damage in more complex experiments that exposed embryonic herring and pink salmon to oil.
The researchers found that oil’s effects are greatest in cold-water environments, where fish embryos are less able to metabolize the pollutants. And herring, with much smaller eggs than the pink salmon, suffered the most severe effects from the polycyclic aromatics.
In the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that dumped nearly 11 million gallons of crude in Prince William Sound, Alaska became the first — and so far only state — to create a water-pollution limit for the polycyclic aromatics, according to Incardona.
That Alaska state limit is 10 parts per billion, but the researchers found herring embryos could be affected at levels 10 to 50 times lower than that. At those levels, herring that returned to spawn in Prince William Sound in 1989 as well as subsequent years could have produced offsprings with damaged hearts.
Those offspring would have hatched, but few may have survived long enough to reach spawning age. That could be a big reason spawning stocks of Prince William Sound herring crashed four years after the 1989 spill.
“The thresholds for developmental cardiotoxicity were remarkably low, suggesting that the scale of the Exxon Valdez impact in shoreline spawning habitats was much greater than previously appreciated,” the researchers wrote.
In the more than quarter century since the Exxon Valdez spill, Prince William Sound herring stocks have failed to recover even as oil pollution has declined to levels unlikely to affect them.
The study published Tuesday does not try to explain the herrings’ current problems, although Incardona says once fish stocks get knocked to a very low level, recovery can be very difficult.
The situation is very different in Puget Sound, which has the highest levels of polycyclic aromatics of any estuary due to ongoing chronic pollution, according to Incardona. The Puget Sound levels are not that far below those found to have effects in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez, and raise questions about whether this pollution is harming Puget Sound’s struggling herring stocks.
Incardona, who said that federal researchers hope to work with Washington state biologists to try to answer that question.
SEATTLE – Several Puget Sound cities are one step closer to water restrictions as the region’s record-setting hot, dry summer continues.
Seattle, Everett and Tacoma are all activating the first phase of their drought and water shortage plans, starting Tuesday. Those cities supply about two-thirds of all of the water used by Puget Sound residents and businesses – about 180 million gallons a day in the summer.
The conservation measures aren’t as drastic as in California, where people in some municipalities can’t water their lawns or wash their cars.
But city officials agree it is now imperative to begin with some voluntary steps, with local rivers running at historically low levels – killing off the oxygen fish need to survive.
Each city’s plan is a little bit different – but the basics are the same in each case. Residents are being asked to:
• Water plants early or late in the day – before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. – to prevent evaporation.
• Water longer but less frequently – a good soaking lasts longer.
• Fix leaks on faucets and toilets to stop wasting water.
• Use a broom instead of a hose to clean off driveways or patios.
Right now, all of these ideas are voluntary, but it’s clear that will change if conditions get worse – as we head into another round of hot weather this week.
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.
For Healthy Rivers, Farms, Communities in the Face of Climate Change
Written by Cathy Baker, Federal Director of Government Relations, April 21, 2015
Photograph by John Marshall
On the eve of Earth day, the White House recognized Puget Sound as a model for climate change adaptation, making it one of four places in the U.S. where increased cooperation will aid in preparation for the impacts of climate change –including sea level rise, drought, flooding and wildfires.
The Puget Sound region was showcased in the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative for outstanding efforts in local, state, federal and tribal partnerships around Puget Sound recovery. The release highlights recent successes and builds momentum for efforts to restore floodplains, preserve farmland and reduce flood risk through the innovative Floodplains by Design program and Snohomish County’s Sustainable Land Strategy.
“We are living with the evidence of a changing climate,” said Mike Stevens, Washington State director for The Nature Conservancy. “Longer and more intense winter flooding, low river flows in the summer, and rising seas are affecting both cities and farmlands in the Puget Sound region. “
In Snohomish County, local leaders have developed the Snohomish Sustainable Lands Strategy which brings together Tulalip and Stillaguamish Tribes, government agencies, and local agriculture, and other interests to tackle these issues together.
“Thanks to Sustainable Lands Strategy partners, leadership by Snohomish County Surface Water Management, and the support of the Floodplains by Design program, the county has an assessment of risk and a plan to make the river valleys more resilient in the face of those risks, to the benefit of both people and nature,” Stevens said.
“We are trying to prepare for the future under changing climate conditions,” said Terry Williams of the Tulalip Tribes, a key partner in collaborative efforts underway in Snohomish County. “In the Snohomish River Delta we are getting 500-year-floods more frequently, early spring flooding, early drought. Eighty percent of the delta was diked 100 years ago, and we lost a lot of fish habitat. Mix that with land use that includes forestry, agriculture and urban development—all of that affects the landscape.”
“We’re figuring out how to address these landscapes, these changing conditions, and capitalize on them so we become stronger, rather than weaker,” he said.
“This designation speaks volumes about what we’ve accomplished,” said Tristan Klesick, of Klesick Family Farms. “It’s not easy work, but it’s valuable and important. We have to be stewards of the environment and the economy – we have to have a place for salmon and salamanders, corn, broccoli and milk, homes, schools and hospitals.“
“We look forward to engaging in this opportunity to build upon our efforts to bring government and our communities together to address the natural resource challenges we face,” said Snohomish County Council Chair Dave Somers.
The Nature Conservancy has contributed both science and leadership to this work.
Chris Thomas, Public News Service – WA, April 6, 2015
SEATTLE – Sometimes moving to a new neighborhood is the best choice for everyone. That’s the theory behind a research project by the Tulalip Tribes of Washington to relocate beaver families. The critters have become a nuisance in the lowlands but in higher elevations, their hard work can benefit the entire Snohomish watershed.
Ben Dittbrenner is a graduate student of University of Washington Environmental and Forestry Sciences and he’s working with the Tribes to trap and move beavers and study the effects of their dam-building. When less snow is predicted with a changing climate, he says a beaver dam is just the right type of eco-friendly barrier to moderate spring runoff.
“It will just flow right down to Puget Sound and it won’t stay in the system for more than a couple days,” says Dittbrenner. “But if we can trap it high up in the watershed, we can keep it there for months and hopefully continue to keep those systems healthier for a longer period of time.”
This will be the second year for the project. Dittbrenner says one family’s big dam in the pond that is its new home has raised the water level by four feet.
Jason Schilling, the Tribes’ wildlife biologist, says beaver dams are engineering marvels, holding back sediment and creating more complex stream systems and good habitat for fish feeding and spawning. In this part of Washington, he says that’s especially important.
“The Snohomish ecosystem is the second-largest salmon-producing system in Puget Sound and there are some limiting factors for salmon production, the biggest ones are water temperature and sedimentation,” says Schilling. “It just so happens that beavers are very good at fixing those problems.”
Relocation starts again in June. The goal is to trap and move at least ten families. Schilling explains beavers tend to stick together as family units and are more likely to settle into an area and get to work if they arrive together.
The project is one of 22 conservation projects across the country, among 13 Native American Tribes, to receive grant funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.