Learn more about the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative

We are losing the battle for salmon recovery in western Washington because salmon habitat is being damaged and destroyed faster than it can be restored. Despite massive cuts in harvest, careful use of hatcheries and a huge financial investment in restoration during the past four decades, salmon continue to decline along with their habitat. This More »

Top 10 Threats to Salmon

Indian Country Today breaks down the top 10 threats to salmon from NWIFC’s State of Our Watersheds report, including:

  1. Estuaries are losing functional habitat because of population increases in lower portions of watersheds.
  2. Rapidly increasing permit-exempt wells threaten water for fish.
  3. Degraded nearshore habitat is unable to support forage fish.
  4. Timber harvest has removed vast amounts of forest cover throughout all watersheds.
  5. Streams lack large woody debris.

Read the rest of the list on Indian Country Today.

Will Stelle on Treaty Rights at Risk and salmon recovery

Will Stelle, the regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries, gives a thorough explanation on the federal perspective of salmon recovery and Treaty Rights at Risk. Stelle spoke during the 2013 Salmon Recovery Conference two weeks ago in Vacouver, WA.

You can also watch his talk here.

State of Our Watersheds: Paving in deep South Sound

In the recent State of Our Watersheds Report, the Squaxin Island Tribe points to a drastic increase in impervious surface, especially outside urban growth boundaries. The animation below illustrates the growth in salmon harming pavement and hard surfaces.

From the report itself:

From 1986 to 2006, the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Area of Concern saw a 49% increase in impervious surface (Total Impervious Area, TIA) in the total land area outside of cities and Urban Growth Areas, accounting for an additional 11 square miles. The Chinook Recovery Plan for South Sound identified an objective to promote land-use practices that prevent stormwater flows. This objective calls for the preservation of native land cover and natural drainage systems, while limiting the area and connectivity of impervious surfaces (CRPSS, 2005).

The Squaxin area of concern has several basins that have less than 10% impervious surface and generally more than 65% forest cover. The best conditions are found in the Skookum Creek and Coulter Creek basins. Other basins with relatively low impervious surface and high forest cover include Rocky, Sherwood, Deer, Cambell, Uncle Johns, Cranberry, Malaney, Johns, Goldsborough, Mill, Kennedy, Schneider, Perry, McLand and the upper Deschutes. These basins have the best chance for biological recovery and should be prioritized for Puget Sound restoration. Achieving this protection will be key to the survival of salmon and steelhead in the South Sound.

South Sound is one of the fastest growing areas in the state, exceeding the State’s growth rate consistently since the 1960s. Much of this growth is clustered around Puget Sound’s Inlets, or near and around streams that feed into Puget Sound. Research shows that as development increases beyond 10% impervious cover and less than 65% forest cover, streams and their fisheries are severely degraded, making them expensive or impossible to recover (Booth, Harley & Jackson, 2002).

From the State of our Watersheds report: Forest cover on the Olympic Peninsula

In the recent State of Our Watersheds Report, the Jamestown Tribe documented a decrease in forest cover on the Olympic Peninsula. The animation below illustrates the decrease and the impact it could have on salmon.

From the report itself:

A minimum of 65% forested land cover is needed to prevent severe stream degradation. Four basins in the Focus Area were below this threshold in 2006, including the Dungeness Valley (DV) at 43.8%. While some forest cover is regained through plantings in working forests, much more is lost as forestland is developed. Three basins lost 4 to 10% of their forest cover from 1992 to 2006, the most being the Siebert McDonald basin (SM) at 9.5%.

Forested land cover is a vital component to the health of stream ecosystems at the watershed and riparian corridor scale (Stewart et al, 2001). The Hood Canal and Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca Summer Chum Salmon Recovery Plan (HCCC, 2005) states that the “removal and modification of native riparian forests increases water temperatures, reduces stability of floodplain landforms, and reduces large woody debris recruitment to stream channels.” Loss of forested land cover causes degradation to aquatic systems even when the level of impervious surface is low (Booth et al, 2002). The threshold for minimal to severe stream degradation is 65% forest cover (Booth et al, 2002); however, any level of disturbance has an impact on stream biology (Morley, 2000). Restoring forest cover through riparian and riparian-adjacent vegetation planting is a vital element in the restoration efforts of salmon habitat in the Dungeness River (DRRWG, 1997).


From the State of Our Watersheds: wells on the Kitsap Peninsula increase 300 percent

Suquamish wells

In the recently released State of Our Watersheds report, the Suquamish Tribe reported a 300 percent increase in exempt wells on the eastern portion of the Kitsap peninsula. The  animation  below illustrates this drastic impact to salmon:

From the report itself:

Between 1980 and 2010, there was an increase of about 300% in the number of permit-exempt wells in East Kitsap focus area. In the Port Madison Water Resource Area (PMWRA), the increase was over 337%. Exempt wells are not subject to the same restrictions and regulations as other water diversions in Washington State. They contribute to the overappropriation of groundwater and to the decline of aquifers. The cumulative effect of exempt wells reduces water levels in wetlands, springs, streams and rivers. Local zoning and development ordinances rarely provide sufficient protection for groundwater and its critical contribution to summer base flows.

In Chico Creek, minimum instream flows were not met from June to September in the 13 years for which data was available. Grover’s Creek in the PMWRA appears to be similarly impacted (Suquamish Tribe’s John O’Leary, personal communication). Many studies in the Pacific Northwest have documented the relationship between low stream flow and poor salmonid survival (Quinn and Peterson, 1996; Mathews and Olson, 1980; Hartman and Scrivener, 1990).

From State of our Watersheds: Nisqually watershed impervious surface

In the State of Our Watersheds report the Nisqually Indian Tribe points to increases in impervious surface and the impact it could have on salmon. The animations below show the shift in paved land in 1986, 2006 and (estimated) 2026.

From the report itself:

As the population continues to increase, so will the impervious surface area, causing a disruption of both the ground and surface water ecology. This disruption will negatively impact the ecosystems dependent upon the proper function of the hydrologic cycle. “Tributary watersheds important for chinook (Mashel and Ohop) are mostly managed for forest products in the upper portions of their drainage areas. Our analysis identified a concern that, in the future, portions of these watersheds may convert to a higher percentage of urban or rural-residential use” (Nisqually Chinook Recovery Plan, 2001).

Impervious surface causes increases in stream temperatures, decreases in stream biodiversity, as evidenced by reduced numbers of insect and fish species, and contributes to pollutants in stormwater runoff, which can contaminate local aquatic systems (Schueler, 2003). Currently, the Nisqually watershed is in relatively good condition, but there is a trend as population continues to grow within the watershed that the impervious surface will likewise increase. Without proper management and resource protection the forecast is for impervious surfaces to have grown to an “impacting” level within 15 years.

Responding to comments at the Seattle Times: “How about calling off fishing for a few years?”

The Seattle Times’ article on Treaty Rights at Risk and the decline of salmon habitat in western Washington sparked a massive online response. By Monday afternoon there were 157 comments posted on the article, mostly negative. Most comments focused on tribal sovereignty, the meaning of the Boldt decision or tribal economics. But some focused on fisheries management, specifically the idea that fishing was the cause of the decline of salmon.

From malby:

How about calling off fishing for a few years? Let the stocks recover?


Take the nets out of the river’s for 4 years and watch a miracle happen.

In places where salmon habitat is declining, simply shutting down fisheries doesn’t mean more fish will return in the future. That’s because degraded habitat can support only a limited number of fish. Habitat, not harvest, is the limiting factor for these populations.

A great example of this is the Stillaquamish chinook fishery. Since the early 80s the harvest rate (the overall percentage of chinook caught in all fisheries) has declined.

So, obviously, more fish are making it through the fisheries and onto the spawning ground (solid line below). But, that doesn’t mean more wild fish are leaving the Stillaquamish River. The dotted line shows wild chinook in the river, and it is flat despite cuts in harvest.

The Stillaquamish chapter of the State of our Watersheds Report outlines various habitat issues in the watershed, including the increased winter floods that are hurting wild salmon  productivity:

Based on data from the USGS stream flow gage on the North Fork Stillaguamish near Arlington, a peak flow that would have happened once in 25 years in the 1930s now happens once every 2 years.  Six of the largest floods recorded at the North Fork gauge have come in the last 10 years, with the largest flood on record coming December 2010.

Essentially, one of the reasons for declining wild chinook on the Stillaquamish isn’t fishing, it’s because floods are happening more often. There are other habitat issues, but this is a pretty important one. But, why are floods getting worse?

Again, from the State of our Watersheds Report:

Suspected human factors impacting peak flow hydrology in the North Fork Stillaguamish watershed are:

  • The conversion of mature forests to immature forests through industrial forest practices.
  • The associated building of forest road networks throughout the upper North Fork watershed to support industrial forestry.
  • The filling of wetlands and and slough habitats, and the disconnection of those habitats from the mainstem North Fork river.

All of these factors have reduced natural water storage in the basin, resulting in more water being available more often during peak flows.

Data: impervious surface and the Upper Skagit Tribe

In the State of Our Watersheds report the Upper Skagit Tribe point to drastic increases in impervious surface and the impact it is having on salmon. The animations below show the shift in paved land in 1986, 2006 and (estimated) 2026.

From the report itself:

The Skagit Chinook Recovery Plan recommended that impervious surface area be kept below a threshold of 7% in any tributary watershed. Increases in impervious surface area as result of development disrupt both ground and surface water ecology with negative consequences to stream health and productivity. Impervious surface has increased 25% between 1986 and 2006, with 79% of the increases occurring within the floodplain or in the catchments immediately draining into the floodplain.

If impervious surfaces continue to expand as they did from 1986 to 2006, impacts will intensify throughout the lower Skagit delta and floodplain. The core of Mount Vernon and Burlington will be heavily impacted by impervious surface (12-50%). Burlington east to Sedro-Wooley will be heavily impacted, and north and east from Sedro-Wooley will be potentiallyimpacted (7-12%). Impacts will also continue to intensify in and around Anacortes and along most of the shoreline of Fidalgo Island.

Billy Frank Jr. on Treaty Rights at risk (at NW Straits Annual Meeting)

Via Olympic Peninsula Environmental News. From the blog:

If you have never heard Mr. Frank speak, or if you do not have a good understanding of what drives the Tribes demands for their treaty rights, this is a must listen recording. In it, he clarifies the history behind the struggle for treaty rights and legal interpretation of them, and the personal battles that he has endured to attain them. He also talks directly to the group of Marine Resource Committee members that were attending this meeting, many of the volunteers, all working to protect Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Washington Pacific Coast.

Millie Judge on why we’re failing at salmon recovery in western Washington.

Last week Millie Judge (author of the Judge report) spoke at the South Sound Science Symposium. Her talk outlined four reasons (lack of funding, legal protections, political support and monitoring) we’re not making progress on salmon recovery).

Watch highlights from her talk below.