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A few years ago, the tribe completed another fish friendly project when they replaced an aging, outdated boat ramp with a new ramp that would allow sediment to more naturally move.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.
Washington’s people and environment potentially at risk
Press Release: Washington State Department of Natural Resources
OLYMPIA – Increased oil train traffic on Washington’s aging rail system puts the state’s people and ecosystems at risk, according to an opinion piece by ten tribal leaders and the Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, published today in the Seattle Times.
“Crude By Rail: Too Much, Too Soon” calls for federal regulators to improve safety protocols and equipment standards on Washington rail lines to deal with a forty-fold increase in oil train traffic since 2008. Trains carrying crude oil are highly combustible and, if derailed, present serious threats to public safety and environmental health.
Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Nation; Jim Boyd, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Brian “Spee~Pots” Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; William B. Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe; Maria Lopez, chairwoman of the Hoh Indian Tribe; David Lopeman, chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe; Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation; Charles Woodruff, chairman of the Quileute Tribe; Herman Williams Sr., chairman of the Tulalip Tribes; and Gary Burke, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation joined Commissioner Goldmark in urging policymakers to address critical issues around the increase of oil train traffic through the state.
“The Northwest has suffered from a pollution-based economy,” said Cladoosby in a statement. “We are the first peoples of this great region, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our ancestral fishing, hunting and gathering grounds are not reduced to a glorified highway for industry. Our great teacher, Billy Frank, Jr., taught us that we are the voices of the Salish Sea and salmon, and we must speak to protect them. If we cannot restore the health of the region from past and present pollution, how can we possibly think we can restore and pay for the impact of this new and unknown resource?
“We are invested in a healthy economy, but not an economy that will destroy our way of life. We will not profit from this new industry, but rather, we as citizens of the Northwest will pay, one way or another, for the mess it will leave behind in our backyard. We will stand with Commissioner Goldmark and our fellow citizens and do what we need so those who call this great state home will live a healthy, safe and prosperous life,” said Cladoosby.
“Good public policy demands that we make informed decisions using information based on the best science and perspective that must include cultural values and traditional knowledge,” said Quinault President Fawn Sharp. According to her statement, the Quinault Tribe is leading a movement against three oil terminals in Grays Harbor and most recently joined more than 700 Washington state citizens to testify at an October hearing held by the Department of Ecology.
“The Quinault are national leaders of long-standing in natural resources protection and strive to protect the oceans and waterways across the Northwest,” said Sharp.
For Tulalip Chairman Herman Williams, Sr., endangerment of fish runs by oil train pollution is a key concern.
“For generations we have witnessed the destruction of our way of life, our fishing areas, and the resources we hold dear,” said Williams in a statement. “The Boldt decision very clearly interpreted the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott to reserve 50 percent of the salmon and management to the tribes. The federal government must now partner with tribes to protect the 50 percent of what remains of our fishing rights. The Tulalip Tribes will not allow our children’s future to be taken away for a dollar today. Our treaty rights are not for sale,” said Williams.
According to Commissioner Goldmark, tribal leadership on the oil train issue is essential.
“Tribal leaders bring unique perspective and concern about threats to our treasured landscapes,” said Goldmark. “It’s an honor to join them in this important message about the growth of oil train traffic in our state and the threat it poses to public safety, environmental sustainability, and our quality of life.”
The Squaxin Island Tribe is conducting snorkel surveys throughout the Deschutes River watershed, looking for stretches where coho go to feed and grow.
Each spring for the last three years, the tribe has released 100,000 juvenile coho into the Deschutes. They then follow up for months with snorkel surveys to see where the fish go. “What we’re looking for is coho habitat to protect and restore,” said Scott Steltzner, salmon biologist for the tribe. “And, obviously, the coho know where the best coho habitat is.”
The problem, however, is that low runs of coho to the Deschutes in recent decades mean there aren’t even enough coho to fill the available habitat. “We can guess what sort of habitat coho want, but the best way is to get out there and find out first hand,” Steltzner said. “But, to find where the good coho habitat is in the Deschutes, we need to put some coho in the river first.”
Because coho salmon spend an extra year in freshwater before heading out to the ocean, they are more dependent on river habitat than other salmon species.
In the past, the Deschutes River was the largest producer of coho in deep South Sound. Coho have been returning in low numbers for over 20 years since a landslide sent tons of sediment into the river. “The landslide wiped out coho in their main stronghold on Huckleberry Creek and they haven’t been able to re-establish themselves,” Steltzner said.
New forest practice rules put into place since the landslide would likely prevent the same type of catastrophic event from happening again.
The tribe will use the information from the snorkel surveys to plan on-the-ground restoration and protection efforts. “Finding where salmon rear in the Deschutes is the single largest data gap in proceeding with much-needed habitat work,” Steltzner said.
Because the upper Deschutes River is relatively undeveloped – less than 10 percent has been paved over – it’s still possible to restore salmon habitat and productivity. “There is a chance here to restore salmon productivity to historic levels,” said Andy Whitner, natural resources director for the tribe.
“Our way of life, our culture and economy have always been based around natural resources,” Whitener said. “Protecting and restoring salmon habitat is the most important thing we can do to restore salmon in the Deschutes and protect our treaty right to fish.”
Washington State has two choices: a 10-times-higher rate of cancer among its population, particularly those who eat a lot of fish, or a bedraggled economy. That is, assuming you believe big business in the long-running and little-noticed debate over our “fish consumption rate,” a debate that Governor Jay Inslee is expected to settle, with significant consequence, within the next few weeks.
The phrase “fish consumption rate” sounds arcane and nerdy, for sure, but it really matters, and here’s why: There are a plethora of toxic chemicals—things like PCBs, arsenic, and mercury—that run off from our streets, into our waters, and then into the bodies of fish. The presence of those pollutants puts anyone who eats fish (especially Native American tribes and immigrants with fish-heavy diets) at higher risk of developing cancer.
Knowing this, the state uses an assumed fish consumption rate (FCR) to determine how great cancer risks to the general population are and, in turn, to set water-cleanliness standards that could help lower cancer rates. Currently, Washington’s official fish consumption rate is just 6.5 grams per day—less than an ounce of fish. Picture a tiny chunk of salmon that could fit on your fingertip. That’s how much fish the state officially believes you eat each day. But that number is based on data from 40 years ago. Everyone admits it’s dangerously low and woefully out of date.
Three years ago, Oregon raised its FCR up to 175 grams (imagine a filet of salmon), the highest in the nation. Now it’s up to Governor Inslee to update Washington’s FCR. Jaime Smith, a spokesperson for the governor, says he’ll make the final call in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, as with anything else, there are groups lobbying Inslee on either side. The business community—including heavyweights like Boeing, the aerospace machinists, local paper mills, the Washington Truckers Association, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce—want our FCR to be lower. In a letter to Inslee on April 1, they warned that a higher FCR would result in “immeasurable incremental health benefits, and predictable economic turmoil.” In other words, the letter says, a one-in-a-million cancer risk for people who eat a lot of fish would hurt the economy, while a one-in-a-hundred-thousand risk is more reasonable.
Smith, the governor’s spokesperson, says the governor wants to raise the FCR in a way “that won’t cause undue harm to businesses. Obviously business has a stake in this.”
But, Smith says, “at the same time, we have people who eat a lot of fish.” Businesses have hired consultants who’ve painted worst-case scenarios, she explains, “that probably aren’t realistic.”
At the end of the day, does the governor’s office have any evidence that raising the fish consumption rate would actually kill jobs? “Not necessarily,” Smith says. She hinted that Inslee will raise the rate to a number close to Oregon’s.
In fact, businesses like the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association made the same dire predictions before Oregon increased its FCR to 175 grams per day. What happened? “We are not aware of any business that has closed that was directly attributable to those rules,” says Jennifer Wigal, a water quality program manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Were there job losses? “Not that I’m aware of,” she says. Broadly, Oregon employment rates have continued to trend upward since the recession, while the job availability in the paper and pulp industry, she says, has long been slowly declining.
Opposite the business community are Native American tribes, environmental groups, public-health experts, and the Seattle Human Rights Commission. (In a strongly worded March resolution, the commission said the state should raise its fish consumption rate to same level as Oregon’s.) Jim Peters, of the Squaxin Island Tribe, says the waters of Puget Sound, where tribal members have always fished, need to be better protected from pollutants. “It’s part of our life,” he says. “It’s part of our culture.” The tribes are “pro jobs,” Peters says, but “Boeing has been unwilling to come and talk with us.”
This is a defining moment for Inslee: Where he sets this number, the FCR, will send another signal about his willingness to stand up to Boeing (after his support of $8.7 billion in taxpayer subsidies for the company last year). It will also show whether or not he’s serious about following through on his commitments to do battle on behalf of the environment, promises he ran on. So keep an eye out. And in the meantime, says University of Washington public-health professor Bill Daniell, don’t eat the fish near Gas Works Park.
The Squaxin Island Tribe’s natural and cultural resources departments recently moved into a new building that reflects the tribe’s dedication to the environment and their own culture. The new office includes elements of green building and reflects the cultural identity of the tribe. “It literally looks like a long house,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe.
“We are the People of the Water,” said Whitener. “Every time someone comes in here, they’ll be reminded of that.” All of the rain hitting the roof of the building is routed to two water features that bookend the entrance of the building. The rainwater will flow down two slopes that look like of fish scales.
Even the heating system indoors – driven by warm water pumped through the floor – will be reminiscent of the tribe’s connection to water.
Several systems throughout the building are lighter on the earth than traditional buildings. For example, much of the light will come from natural lighting. “When there isn’t enough light outdoors, the building’s system will kick in more light to make up for it,” said Jeff Dickison, assistant natural resources director. “In the end, we’ll use a lot less electricity.”
The building’s impact on stormwater is decreased by two large rain gardens and a pervious pavement parking lot. “Instead of water flowing off the property, increasing floods and pollution, it will seep into the soil in a more natural way,” Dickison said.
Even the computer networking system makes it easier to manage the temperature inside the building. “This building won’t have one big server room that will need to be cooled, using a lot of electricity,” Dickison said. “We’re using a cloud based system, which will take that work totally off site.”
“We have dedicated staff that work hard to protect our treaty rights and preserve and protect out natural resources,” said Whitener. “It makes sense that our new building would reflect that mission.”
The Squaxin Island Tribe is getting to the bottom of Lake Isabella, to find out if water temperatures are affecting salmon populations downstream.
“Warm water can really hurt juvenile salmon before they migrate out to the ocean,” said Sarah Zaniewski, habitat biologist for the Squaxin Island Tribe. Warm water can spawn diseases and carries little of the dissolved oxygen that salmon need to breathe. Because salmon are cold blooded, warm water increases their metabolic rate forcing them to use energy needed for survival.
“We’re taking a closer look at what exactly causes warming and cooling of Lake Isabella, Mill Creek, and all it’s tributaries, and how that would impact salmon,”said Erica Marbet, the tribe’s hydrologist.
Throughout the summer, tribal researchers will take the temperature of the lake, and throughout Mill Creek, the lake’s downstream tributary. “One of the important things to find out is how the lake’s temperature changes as you get deeper,” Marbet said. “That way, we can figure out how important the lake is to the temperature in the creek.”
The researchers will also walk portions of the creek to find out why it warms and cools at different places.
“Because coho salmon spend their first year of life in freshwater they are especially vulnerable to changes in freshwater habitat,” Zaniewski said.
This year’s temperature study follows on an intense habitat survey by the tribe last year of Mill Creek. Like most South Sound streams, Mill Creek coho production dropped off about 20 years ago. “We don’t have a clear understanding why after no obvious changes in the past 20 years, that Mill Creek doesn’t have more adult spawners,” Zaniewski said.
The tribe’s work on Mill Creek is a part of a larger regional effort by the tribe to restore and protect salmon habitat. “Making sure salmon have quality habitat is the best way we can bring back decreased runs,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the Squaxin Island Tribe.
HELENA – The Flathead Reservation is among 21 Indian reservations that will be the focus of the next phase of a $1.9 billion program to buy fractionated land parcels owned by multiple individuals and turn them over to tribal governments, Interior Department officials said Thursday.
Besides the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, other Montana participants are the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation; Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation; Crow Tribe; and the Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation of Montana.
Government officials will work with tribal leaders to plan, map, conduct mineral evaluations, make appraisals and acquire land on the reservations from Washington state to Oklahoma in this phase, which is expected to last through 2015.
Other reservations could be added to the list, but the 21 named Thursday meet the criteria, particularly tribal readiness, said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn.
“We knew it wouldn’t be successful unless tribal leaders were interested in the program,” Washburn said.
The land buyback program is part of a $3.4 billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by Elouise Cobell of Browning, who died in 2011. The lawsuit claimed Interior Department officials mismanaged trust money held by the government for hundreds of thousands of Indian landowners.
The 1887 Dawes Act split tribal lands into individual allotments that were inherited by multiple heirs with each passing generation, resulting in some parcels across the nation being owned by dozens, hundreds or even thousands of individual Indians.
Often, that land sits without being developed or leased because approval is required from all the owners.
The land buyback program aims to consolidate as many parcels as possible by spending $1.9 billion by a 2022 deadline to purchase land from willing owners, then turn over that purchased land to the tribes to do as they see fit.
So far, the program has spent $61.2 million and restored 175,000 acres, said Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor. To buy even that much land, officials had to locate and contact owners in all 50 states and several countries to find out if they were willing to sell, Connor said.
The work primarily has been focused on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation until now.
Last month, tribal leaders from four reservations criticized the buyback program’s slow pace and complained they were being shut out of decisions over what land to buy. The leaders from tribes in Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington state spoke before a U.S. House panel.
Rep. Steve Daines, R-Montana, who called for the congressional hearing, said he welcomed Thursday’s announcement by the Interior Department.
“However, I am concerned their efforts here may not provide tribes with the necessary tools to ensure the Land Buy-Back program is properly implemented,” Daines said in a statement.
He said the Interior Department should use its authority to give tribes more flexibility, and it should move swiftly to address consolidation problems on other reservations not included in the announcement.
Washburn said Thursday that his agency has entered into or is negotiating cooperative agreements with many tribes in the buyback program, though others say they want the federal government to run the program.
21 reservations next up in consolidation program
These are the American Indian reservations the Department of Interior plans to focus on in the next phase of a $1.9 billion buyback program of fractionated land parcels to turn over to tribal governments. The program is part of a $3.4 billion settlement over mismanaged money held in trust by the U.S. government for individual Indian landowners.
– Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana.
– Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the Cheyenne River Reservation, Wyoming.
– Coeur D’Alene Tribe of the Coeur D’Alene Reservation, Idaho.
– Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Montana.
– Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Oregon.
– Crow Tribe, Montana.
– Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation of Montana.
– Gila River Indian Community of the Gila River Indian Reservation, Arizona.
– Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Reservation, Washington.
– Makah Indian Tribe of the Makah Indian Reservation, Washington.
– Navajo Nation, Arizona.
– Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Montana.
– Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota.
– Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kansas.
– Quapaw Tribe of Indians, Oklahoma.
– Quinault Tribe of the Quinault Reservation, Washington.
– Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota.
– Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, North Dakota and South Dakota.
– Squaxin Island Tribe of the Squaxin Island Reservation, Washington.
– Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota and South Dakota.
– Swinomish Indians of the Swinomish Reservation, Washington.
The Capital Land Trust and the Squaxin Island Tribe are working to bring back salmon habitat and protect an important shellfish growing area by restoring a former golf course on Oakland Bay. The land trust recently purchased the 74-acre Bayshore Golf Course, which includes the mouth of Johns Creek and over a thousand feet of Oakland Bay shoreline.
The tribe and the land trust will remove a 1,400 foot dike, restoring the Johns Creek estuary and important marine shoreline. “Taking the dike out will provide salmon with additional acres of saltwater marsh to use as they migrate out to the ocean,” said Jeff Dickison, assistant natural resources director for the tribe..
Eventually, the golf course fairways will also be replanted with native vegetation, restoring a streamside forest that helps provide habitat to salmon.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Squaxin Island Tribe, the Port of Olympia, the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG), and private landowners are joining together to clear toxic derelict pilings and other structures from much of the southern end of Budd Inlet in Olympia.
The work, which is funded by the 2012 Jobs Now Act, begins this week and continues through March 14. The project is expected to cost roughly $278,000.
The Squaxin Island Tribe’s involvement in the project began when they received three acres of tideland as a donation from a family estate. The tidelands included 224 pilings from a former industrial site.
“We saw this as an opportunity to restore these tidelands by taking out the pilings that are leaching pollutants into Budd Inlet,” said Andy Whitener, Natural Resources Director for the tribe. “There is a lot of work to be done in Budd Inlet to restore its ecological function. Getting these pilings out of here is a great start.”
By mid-March some 400 derelict pilings and 7,000 square-feet of abandoned docks and piers that represented the last reminders of a lower Budd Inlet shoreline once lined with lumber and plywood mills will be removed and shipped to the Roosevelt Landfill in Klickitat County.
It marks the latest step in a slow but steady transformation of West Bay Drive in Olympia from an industrial corridor to a collection of parks, office buildings and shoreline property undergoing hazardous waste cleanup and redevelopment.
The piling and dock removal project stretches across 1.2 miles of shoreline in lower Budd Inlet. It is spearheaded by the state Department of Natural Resources and also features four properties owned by the Port of Olympia, West Bay Reliable, the Delta Illahee Limited Partnership and the Squaxin Island Tribe.