Seals, Sea Lions Slowing Salmon Recovery

“Being Frank”

By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

A population explosion of harbor seals and sea lions along the Washington coast and in Puget Sound is interfering with recovery of weak salmon and steelhead stocks, threatening tribal treaty rights and posing increasing threats to public safety throughout our region.

At the root of the problem is the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972, a well-intentioned law that was needed at the time, but today has led to unintended consequences.

Tribes historically lived in balance with marine mammals, salmon and all other elements of the environment. But commercial hunting and state-directed control measures had driven down many West Coast marine mammal populations by the time the MMPA became law.

Today their populations are healthy and growing steadily. Since the 1950s, California sea lions have increased from about 10,000 to more than 300,000. Harbor seal populations along the Washington and Oregon coasts have grown from about 3,000 to 40,000. West Coast Steller sea lions numbered about 18,000 in 1979; today there are about 80,000.

But while harbor seal and sea lion populations have steadily increased over the past four decades, the opposite is true for many salmon and steelhead stocks in western Washington, which continue to steadily decline.

No one is claiming that the increase in harbor seals and California sea lions is the main reason for the loss of salmon and steelhead. We know that the cause is ongoing loss and destruction of salmon habitat.

Still, the increasing loss of salmon and steelhead to seals and sea lions sends ripples through the whole marine ecosystem. Harbor seals and sea lions can eat from about 10 to more than 100 pounds of fish every day. While they eat other fish too, their impacts can be significant to the weakest salmon and steelhead stocks we are trying to protect and restore.

That means there are fewer salmon and steelhead available for others species that depend on the ocean ecosystem. Threatened orcas, for example, must compete for salmon – their preferred food – with steadily growing seal and sea lion populations and steadily shrinking salmon populations.

As the salmon decline, the fishing rights of the Salmon People – the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington – are increasingly threatened. Our treaty-reserved rights depend on salmon being available for harvest.

As seal and sea lion populations increase, so do their encounters with humans, especially fishermen. Experts at stealing fish from nets and fishing lines, they have been seen taking fish right out of boats tied up to the dock. In many marinas, sea lions lay claim to docks, causing thousands in damage and lost revenue and threatening anyone who gets too close.

With each encounter they become less afraid of people and more aggressive, putting fishermen and everyone else at increased risk. Control measures – such as rubber bullets and firecrackers – just don’t work because seals and sea lions quickly learn to avoid or ignore them.

Federal government action is long overdue to address the problems being caused by the overpopulation of harbor seals and sea lions in Washington marine waters. One encouraging recent development is the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act introduced by U.S. Reps. Jamie Herrera Beutler of Washington and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. The act would streamline the current lengthy process for state and tribal natural resources managers on the Columbia River to remove problem animals if attempts to chase them off are unsuccessful. That is a good step in the right direction. We must reduce the added pressure that these marine mammals are putting on these already diminished resources. We must focus our management efforts on the resources that need the most protection.

Harbor seal and sea lion populations must be brought back into balance with the reality of today’s ecosystems, which cannot support their steadily increasing numbers. We need to focus our efforts on protecting and restoring habitat to successfully recover salmon populations so we can have both sustainable strong runs of wild salmon and healthy marine mammal populations.



NOAA plan will speed up review of hatcheries

By Kimberly Cauvel, Skagit Valley Herald


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has withdrawn its draft environmental impact statement on Puget Sound salmon and steelhead hatcheries.

The draft was in preparation of a full review of all 133 hatchery genetic management plans into one EIS.

Reviews will now proceed on a smaller scale with individual or watershed-level plans, according to NOAA’s March 26 announcement.

NOAA West Coast Region fisheries manager Rob Jones said the withdrawal will allow the federal agency to move through the review process more quickly.

“We can move ahead right now with review and approvals as the plans come in the door,” he said. “What we’re going to do is take advantage of all the work that was done — to get to a draft EIS — and then we’re going to put that to use as we receive updated plans from the state and tribes.”

The review is needed to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Steelhead and chinook salmon are listed as threatened under the act, meaning they are at risk of becoming endangered.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to assess the impacts of the hatchery genetic management plans through an environmental review. Part of the review process is deciding whether an EIS is necessary.

“We think this is a better and faster way to comply with the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act,” Jones said. “We’re working on (updated plans) as they come in the door instead of waiting to do all 100 or so at the same time. That means decisions are going to start rolling out the door this spring.”

Three hatcheries operate in the Skagit River system — the Marblemount, Upper Skagit and Baker Lake. Six hatchery programs run out of those facilities contribute to chinook, coho, chum and sockeye runs.

Five of the six programs were submitted to NOAA for review a decade ago, but were held back while the federal agency waited to have all 133 plans in hand, Jones said. By the time NOAA was prepared to proceed, a lot had changed in the way hatcheries are managed.

The plans need to be updated to reflect the 2007 listing of Puget Sound steelhead under the ESA, new scientific information and the closure of some facilities.

State and tribal representatives say NOAA’s review is important to ensure hatcheries are not at risk of litigation, as in the case of last year’s lawsuit by the Wild Fish Conservancy, which resulted in a 12-year closure of the Skagit River’s winter steelhead program.

Area tribes support the federal agency’s decision to withdraw the draft study.

“NOAA fisheries determined, and tribes agree, that a watershed-specific approach would be a more effective approach to focus and assess the potential environmental effects of hatchery programs,” Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission spokeswoman Kari Neumeyer said in an email.

Swinomish Indian Tribal Community fisheries manager Lorraine Loomis, who is chair of the commission, agrees.

“Many of these hatchery programs are critically important to maintaining treaty-protected fishing rights,” Loomis said in a prepared statement. “We are quickly approaching a crisis in the Pacific Northwest as salmon runs and their habitat continue to decline. It is important that NOAA is provided the resources to complete its statutory responsibilities under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) as quickly as possible.”

Though NOAA had already started its review of the state’s hatcheries, Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, introduced in the state Legislature this year Joint Memorial Bill 8007, which calls on the federal government to review Puget Sound hatchery genetic management plans to avoid lawsuits.

Pearson also sees the withdrawal as a step in the right direction.

“NOAA knows that the joint memorial (Bill 8007) is coming, and this is helping put pressure on them to get our hatcheries certified. I’m very pleased to see some movement on this front and I hope all of our hatcheries can get certified soon,” he said in an email.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound treaty tribes co-manage all but one of the region’s hatcheries. The only one not co-managed by the state and tribes is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hatcheries are a tool to help provide fish for harvest, but should be managed with consideration for threatened or endangered species, according to the fisheries service.

Orca Baby Boom Hits Puget Sound

In this photo taken March 30, 2015, and provided by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a newborn orca whale swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be the mother, in the Salish Sea waters off Galiano Island, British Columbia. Jeanne Hyde/Maya's Legacy Whale Watching/AP Photo

In this photo taken March 30, 2015, and provided by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a newborn orca whale swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be the mother, in the Salish Sea waters off Galiano Island, British Columbia. Jeanne Hyde/Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching/AP Photo


By PHUONG LE, Associated Press

The endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters is experiencing a baby boom with a fourth baby orca documented this winter.

The newborn was spotted Monday by whale-watching crews and a naturalist in the waters of British Columbia, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 29 whale-watching operators in Washington and British Columbia.

The orca was swimming with other members of the J-pod, one of three families of orcas that are protected in Washington and Canada.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor, confirmed the birth to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The center keeps the official census of endangered southern resident killer whales for the federal government.

The birth brings the population to 81, still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.

“This one looked quite plump and healthy,” said Balcomb, who reviewed photographs of the newborn. “We’re getting there. We wish all these babies well. They look good.”

PHOTO: In this Feb. 25, 2015 photo provided by the NOAA, a new baby orca swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be its mother, about 15 miles off the coast of Westport, Wash.

Candice Emmons/NOAA/AP Photo
PHOTO: In this Feb. 25, 2015 photo provided by the NOAA, a new baby orca swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be its mother, about 15 miles off the coast of Westport, Wash.

While he and others hailed the birth of four baby orcas since December, they cautioned that the survival rate for babies is about 50 percent.

“Given where we were four months ago, it’s certainly the trend we’re hoping for,” Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said Tuesday.

“It’s still far too early to think we’re out of the woods yet,” said Hanson, who studies the orcas.

Michael Harris, executive director with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, “Who doesn’t love baby orcas, right?” But he, too, urged measured optimism.

“We’re going to keep a careful watch on these babies and our fingers crossed,” he added.

The newest orca was spotted Monday swimming with a calf that was born in December and a female whale. Another calf was born to the J-pod in early February, while a calf in the L-pod was observed in late February.

Balcomb said he thinks the baby’s mother could be J-16, the female whale it was swimming with Monday. But it may be some time before the relationships are sorted out, he added.

Pro-coal Montana tribe weighs in on Cherry Point terminal

Representatives of Cloud Peak Energy and Montana's Crow Tribe sign an agreement Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, that gives the mining company leasing options on 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the Crow Indian Reservation, in Billings, Mont. Pictured from left are Cloud Peak legal counsel Amy Stefonick, company chief executive Colin Marshall, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and Tribal Executive Secretary Alvin Not Afraid. The deal would expand mining on the reservation with the coal likely to be exported overseas. MATTHEW BROWN — AP

Representatives of Cloud Peak Energy and Montana’s Crow Tribe sign an agreement Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, that gives the mining company leasing options on 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the Crow Indian Reservation, in Billings, Mont. Pictured from left are Cloud Peak legal counsel Amy Stefonick, company chief executive Colin Marshall, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and Tribal Executive Secretary Alvin Not Afraid. The deal would expand mining on the reservation with the coal likely to be exported overseas. MATTHEW BROWN — AP


BY RALPH SCHWARTZ, The Bellingham Herald


Lummi Nation, which has fished the waters off Cherry Point for centuries, and Crow Nation, a tribe in Montana sitting on billions of tons of coal, have taken opposite stances on a proposed coal terminal on the Lummis’ historic fishing grounds.

Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote wrote the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Jan. 20, asking the federal agency to bring the two tribes together to discuss Gateway Pacific Terminal.  The Crow letter was in response to request on Jan. 5 from Lummi Nation to the Corps, asking the agency to reject the terminal because it interfered with the Lummis’ ancient fishing practices, which were reinforced in U.S. law by an 1855 treaty.

The terminal is currently under environmental review.

“We are concerned about recent news reports that Lummi is asking the (Corps) to stop the environmental review process based on perceived impacts to their treaty fishing rights,” Old Coyote wrote.

In its  response, dated March 10, the Corps said it would not organize meetings between the tribes. The agency suggested the Crow ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“The Corps wouldn’t be the appropriate agency to facilitate such a meeting,” Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said on Friday, March 20, in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

Leaders at Crow Nation were not available for comment on Friday.

The Corps said it would meet a different request from the Crow, to keep the tribe informed about the Corps’ review of Gateway Pacific Terminal and to include in that review, when appropriate, the Montana tribe’s position.

What’s at stake for Crow Nation is the 2013 agreement between the tribe and Cloud Peak Energy that would allow the mining company to extract 1.4 billion tons of coal from Crow land. The deal has already enriched the Crow by at least $3.75 million and would be worth millions of dollars more, depending on the amount of coal mined.

That, in turn, could depend on whether Gateway Pacific Terminal is built. Coal that would pass through the Cherry Point terminal would come from Montana and Wyoming.

“The Gateway Pacific Terminal project will ensure access to markets for Crow coal,” the tribal chairman’s letter said. Old Coyote has said in media reports that two-thirds of the Crow’s budget comes from coal revenue.

The Lummis have hosted the Crow at Cherry Point and have told the Montana tribe about the anticipated disruptions to Puget Sound fishing areas, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew said.

“We’ve done extensive fact finding with other governments, including the federal government and other tribes,” Ballew said in an interview on Thursday, March 19. “We’ve come to the decision that our treaty right cannot be mitigated.”

“We have an explicit treaty fishing right that the Corps needs to respond to,” Ballew added. “That letter and request from the Crow is not a setback.”

The Lummis  on March 5 sent the Corps details about the tribe’s fishing practices in response to a request from the Corps for more information, to support the tribe’s Jan. 5 request that the coal terminal be stopped. Ballew said Thursday the tribe had not yet heard back from the Corps.

Read more here:


Whale of a good story: Humpback comeback and new orca


Photo courtesy of Mike Malleson.

Photo courtesy of Mike Malleson.





ANACORTES, Wash. — In a sea of bad news, some good news regarding whales on two fronts came out of the Pacific Whale Watch Association conference Monday in Anacortes.

Government researchers said the four recent newborn orca could be the beginning of a trend, anticipated because the number of female Southern Resident Killer Whales at calf-bearing age is at its highest known levels.

Additionally, the number of humpback whales in the Salish Sea has reached its highest documented level: 90 different humpbacks were photo identified in 2015, according to data unveiled Monday by photo ID expert Mark Malleson of Prince of Whales whale watch cruises.

The Salish Sea includes Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands as well as British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. The name recognizes and pays tribute to the first inhabitants of the region, the Coast Salish.

“The newborns are definitely an optimistic point that I’m really excited about,” said orca researcher Eric Ward of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While some researchers believe southern resident Killer Whale females generally require a family structure to bear a surviving calf, Ward believes viable females are the most important factor.

“We think now that based on the kind of age structure of the southern resident population there is more potential to produce calves than there ever has been in the past,” he said.

After whalers nearly pushed humpback whales to extinction and killed roughly 1,000 in the Salish Sea, according to historical accounts discussed at the PWWA conference, they’ve made a dramatic rediscovery of Salish Sea habitat in recent years. New data from Malleson says humpbacks identified last year were three times more than were spotted just three years ago. Humpbacks were first spotted regularly returning to the Salish Sea about a decade ago.

The good news doesn’t stop with whales.

Andrew Trites of the University of British Columbia said all of the 11 marine mammals found in the Salish Sea are generally increasing in population. Seal populations are increasing at exponential rates so much so that they have been competing with killer whales for salmon, concerning some researchers. But others believe Harbor Seal populations are leveling off because they are a favorite food of meat-eating transient killer whales, whose numbers are also increasing.

Trites and others are about to roll out a test attachment to about 20 seals that will measure whenever they eat salmon smolt, or young salmon. Researchers want to better understand just how many salmon smolt are being eaten each year by seals.

Trites called it a “new natural balance.”

“One reason we find that numbers oversell are doing so well is because maybe we have not done such a bad job after all of stewardship of the coastline and rivers that are spilling into the Salish Seal,” he said.

Gray Whales are expected to arrive in the Salish Sea as early as next week. Humpbacks are due in July. And all three pods of Southern Resident Killer Whales should be in the Salish Sea by May.

More information is available online.

Ocean Acidification Lawsuit In Seattle Federal Court

Associated Press, February 10, 2015


SEATTLE (AP) — A lawsuit that accuses the federal Environmental Protection Agency from failing to protect Washington and Oregon oysters from ocean acidification is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in Seattle.

The agency is being sued by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization that works to protect endangered species and habitat.

The center is challenging an EPA decision three years ago that said Washington and Oregon sea water meets water-quality standards meant to protect marine life.

More Oil Trains Could Roll Through Puget Sound To Shell Refinery

More than 100 people attended the hearing in Skagit County for a proposal by Shell Oil to build a rail expansion to receive oil trains at its Anacortes refinery. Matt Krogh

More than 100 people attended the hearing in Skagit County for a proposal by Shell Oil to build a rail expansion to receive oil trains at its Anacortes refinery.
Matt Krogh


By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

Shell Oil wants to build more tracks at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, to receive oil by rail. At a packed hearing in Skagit County on Thursday, more than 100 people turned up to comment on the proposal.

Shell’s refinery in Anacortes is the last of Washington’s five oil refineries to apply for permits to receive oil by rail from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Skagit County had previously approved the necessary shoreline permits granting the go-ahead to Shell to construct expand rail at its Anacortes refinery to receive mile-long oil trains, six of them per week. Environmental groups appealed the decision, calling for a more comprehensive review of the potential health and environmental impacts.

The room was packed Thursday, when the Skagit County Hearing Examiner heard public comments pertaining to the shoreline development and forest practice permits necessary for Shell to proceed with its proposed expansion.

Roughly 15 oil trains already travel along Puget Sound each week, servicing the US Oil, BP Cherry Point, Phillips66 and Tesoro refineries.

“That’s a lot of trains, with no studies whatsoever about human health impacts, chronic exposure, risks, all that sort of thing.” said Matt Krogh of ForestEthics, which has raised concerns about the increase in oil train traffic in the region. “There’s pent up frustration.”

In November, a car in an oil train arrived at the BP refinery 1,611 gallons short, with an open valve and a missing plug, according to a report from McClatchy, a news organization.

There were 30 Shell refinery employees at the hearing, and six of them registered to give testimony.

The company says that the rail expansion project is not intended to increase the refinery’s capacity but to partially replace crude oil that currently arrives by marine tanker.

“Shell is committed to following the permitting process and taking all appropriate measures to meet rigorous safety and environmental standards,” said Tom Rizzo, Shell Puget Sound Refinery general manager, in an emailed statement. “Shell needs the ability to bring oil in by rail to ensure enough crude to keep the refinery viable so that it can continue to produce gasoline and other fuels for Pacific Northwest consumers, and to generate jobs, economic development and tax revenue for the local community.”

The Skagit County Hearing Examiner will decide whether an environmental review must be conducted before final permits are issued for the Shell Refinery to build the necessary rail spur to receive oil trains.

The Army Corps of Engineers is also reviewing permits for the project.

Become a WSU Snohomish County Extension Beach Watcher



Do you love to spend time at the beach?   Do you want to craft your own volunteer experience?  Then become a WSU Snohomish County Extension Beach Watcher. Receive in-depth training and help protect Puget Sound’s waters, wildlife and landscape through education, research and stewardship.

Receive 80 hours of intensive core training by local experts in classrooms and in field locations and 20 hours of experiential training. Then, continue learning while volunteering at least 100 hours over two years on education, research or restoration projects that you select. Projects range from doing low-tide education at beaches to fish egg sampling to newsletter article writing. You can join a team or work on your own. You are also welcome to bring your own ideas!

The core training will be offered every Friday between April 3 – May 16 AND September 11 – October 16 from 9 AM – 3:30 PM.  The training is based out of McCollum Park, 600 128th St. SE, Everett and there is a $35 materials fee (waivers available).  Applications are due on March 13, however we will begin reviewing them as they are received, so don’t wait to get your applications in!

For more information, please contact Chrys Bertolotto at<> or (425)-357-6020, or check our website at  The training application, flyer and a cover letter are attached.

The WSU Snohomish County Extension Beach Watcher training is jointly funded by Snohomish County, the City of Mukilteo and Washington Department of Ecology.


Puget Sound Restoration Gets a Boost from USDA

Local farms, shellfish, salmon and clean water will benefit.

Source: The Nature Conservancy

SEATTLE–Farms, shellfish, salmon and water quality in the Puget Sound Region will get a $9 million boost from a new federal conservation program included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Awards come through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a new program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“This is a big win for local people who are working together to maintain local sources of food, clean water and our quality of life,” said Mark Clark, Director of the Washington State Conservation Commission, which will manage funding for the Puget Sound project.

Governor Inslee included $4 million in his proposed budget for the non-federal matching funds required by the grant. It’s up to state lawmakers to approve the matching funds as part of the 2015-2017 biennial budget, which is under consideration during the 2015 Legislative session underway now.

Early-action projects in the Puget Sound region are:

  • Farmers in Thomas Creek, a sub basin of the Samish River, will be eligible for voluntary incentives to reduce runoff that impacts shellfish beds. There is also $500K for a farmland protection project along the Samish River (Skagit Conservation District).
  • Farmers in the Snohomish and Skykomish river valleys will receive assistance to manage nutrients and restore riverfront land, as part of Snohomish County’s Sustainable Lands Strategy. (Snohomish Conservation District)
  • Dairy, livestock and crop farmers along Newaukum Creek, in King County’s largest agricultural production district,  will be eligible for voluntary incentives to  plant vegetation and install fencing to keep livestock out of the creek. (American Farmland Trust)

“This new program furthers the broad-based work that we need to engage in for Puget Sound recovery,” said Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council. “Thanks to our congressional delegation, particularly Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Suzan DelBene, for their leadership in securing this new funding source for Puget Sound. We also greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with NRCS as they bring these new resources that will strengthen the collaborative restoration and protection efforts around Puget Sound.”

“The Tulalip Tribes, as part of the Sustainable Lands Strategy, was delighted to hear that we have been included in the RCPP funding,” said Terry Williams, Tulalip Tribes Treaty Office. “Building partnerships between farms, fish, and environment has proven to be a game changer here in Snohomish County.  Working together to understand the problems we are all facing has helped us find mutual solutions.”

“We all have a stake in a healthy Puget Sound, clean water, and thriving local farms and other food producers,” said Heidi Eisenhour, Pacific Northwest Regional Director of American Farmland Trust

“This is significant recognition and support for locally-led conservation efforts, and a testimony to the power of the diverse coalition of farm, shellfish, tribal and conservation interests that has come together to support this effort,” said George Boggs, of the Puget Sound Natural Resources Alliance. “Thanks to The Nature Conservancy for its leadership in bringing this coalition together to advocate for this program.”

The Puget Sound Natural Resources Alliance will serve as the advisory committee for this project. The Alliance is a collaboration of agriculture, aquaculture, business, conservation groups and tribes working together to protect the lands and waters of Puget Sound and strengthen the long term viability of our natural resource industries and tribal treaty rights. The Nature Conservancy is a member of the Alliance and will also serve on the steering committee.

“In Washington state, we know how critical it is to protect our natural resources, not only for the environment, but also for our economy,” said Senator Murray, D-WA.  “This funding from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will support local farmers and build on the great work being done to restore the Puget Sound region, grow the economy, and create jobs.”

“I’m thrilled that this proposal was awarded. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program was made possible through the Farm Bill, and I am pleased to work with such a great coalition of partners to support this proposal,” Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) said. “The project will help improve water quality and habitat for many species, as well as the overall ecosystem, while preserving the beautiful nature of the Pacific Northwest.”

RCPP is a public-private partnership designed to focus conservation efforts on the most critical watersheds and landscapes. Under the program, local partners propose conservation projects specific to their region to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat and other natural resources on private lands.

See the USDA announcement of award recipients here.

“Being Frank” Attention, Action Needed For Salmon Recovery


By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


Why have salmon been pouring back into the Columbia River in record numbers recently while returns to the Washington coast and Puget Sound continue to drop? One big reason is that for the past decade someone in a position of authority has been in charge of protecting and restoring Columbia River salmon.

That person has been U.S. District Court Judge James Redden. Three times during the past 10 years he has rejected plans to operate hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River basin that would have jeopardized salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. He ordered more water spilled over the dams to aid fish passage, even though that meant less water to generate power. He has also insisted on specific habitat improvements to aid in the recovery of salmon. Redden recently stepped down from the case, but has been replaced by federal court Judge Michael Simon.

That kind of attention and bold, targeted actions are exactly what we need to turn around salmon recovery in western Washington. Salmon recovery is failing because federal and state governments allow salmon habitat to be destroyed faster than it can be restored. This trend shows no sign of improvement despite drastic harvest reductions, careful use of hatcheries and extensive habitat restoration projects.

The ongoing loss of the salmon resource affects entire tribal communities in western Washington. Salmon is one of our most important traditional foods and a foundation of our cultures. Every year we try to set aside salmon to feed our families in the winter and to put fish on the table for ceremonies and funerals, but every year it is becoming more difficult. As the salmon disappear, our treaty-reserved  harvest rights are threatened more every day.

That is why our late chairman, Billy Frank Jr., and other tribal leaders created the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative three and a half years ago and took it to the White House. Our goal is to have the protection of treaty-reserved rights institutionalized in the federal government through the White House Council on Native American Affairs. President Obama created the council nearly two years ago. Addressing tribal natural resources concerns was one of five main foundations of the council, but the Council has yet to address this charge. As President Obama prepares to leave the White House in 2017, our need becomes greater every day.

The failure of salmon recovery in western Washington is the failure of the federal government to meet its trust responsibility to protect salmon and the treaty-reserved rights of tribes. Treaty Rights at Risk calls for the federal government to assume control and responsibility for a more coordinated salmon recovery effort in western Washington. But so far, the federal government’s lack of progress has been disappointing. There has been plenty of discussion, but little action to reverse the negative trend in the condition of salmon habitat in this region. That needs to change.

We shouldn’t need a federal court judge to provide the proper attention, protection and targeted actions to restore salmon. We would prefer to work together with our state and federal co-managers through the White House Council on Native American Affairs. Together, we could take effective action to recover salmon runs.

We have already developed recovery plans and identified barriers to salmon recovery in western Washington’s watersheds. Now we need a commitment from the White House to tackle the most pressing obstacles in each watershed and provide the leadership necessary to put those salmon recovery plans into action.

If salmon are to be in the future of this region we must act now before it is too late.