It’s no secret to environmentally aware Pacific Northwesterners that Cascadia’s salmon are in grave danger and need humanity to act urgently to ensure their survival. Today, acknowledging the threats salmon face, Governor Jay Inslee traveled to Skagit County and unveiled a new salmon recovery strategy at an event on the banks of the Swinomish Channel with representatives of tribal nations.
The multi-pronged strategy consists of several facets. Those are:
- Protect and restore vital salmon habitat.
- Invest in clean water infrastructure for salmon and people.
- Correct fish passage barriers and restore salmon access to historical habitat.
- Build climate resiliency.
- Align harvest, hatcheries and hydropower with salmon recovery.
- Address predation and food web issues for salmon.
- Enhance commitments and coordination across agencies and programs.
- Strengthen science, monitoring and accountability.
The governor is proposing that the state commit $187 million in total to salmon recovery efforts. The Legislature should appropriate much more than that.
“We are on a mission. Protecting and restoring our salmon is personal to me — it’s a legacy left to us by previous generations and we should do the same for our grandchildren,” Inslee said from underneath a large Swinomish Cedar Hat.
“I’m committed to taking greater steps to ensure their survival. I will work closely with tribal partners and other leaders throughout the state to get the job done. It’s a mission that requires coordination across our government and a comprehensive approach — and my budget and policy priorities reflect that.”
The centerpiece of the strategy is the Lorraine Loomis Act, gubernatorial request legislation that seeks to create a new salmon habitat standard “based on the height of trees that grow in that area to create the right size of riparian zone.”
In addition to protecting habitat, Inslee also wants to reduce pollution from stormwater and wastewater treatment plants, deal with tire chemicals, and increase the use of reclaimed water, along with getting rid of more of the thousands of culverts and barriers that block salmon passage.
The proposal includes just $654,000 for fish passage programs (about half of which would go to rulemaking). That’s a figurative drop in the bucket, but the governor and legislative leaders are currently negotiating a transportation package that could appropriate a lot more money to fish passage programs.
The state and its local governments spent decades erecting barriers to fish passage (including dams as well as culverts). Now, to save our salmon, the region will need to move quickly to build a lot of new fish-friendly infrastructure.
Many barriers to fish passage are under the jurisdiction of local governments that lack funding to remove and replace them, as The News Tribune’s Alexis Krell reported yesterday in an article that focused on the situation in Gig Harbor.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fish passage map identifies city-owned culverts that need to be fixed.
There are fourteen.
Like similar work happening across the state, that won’t be cheap.
Carl Schroeder with the Association of Washington Cities said there’s currently an estimated 1,600 city-owned culverts in Washington that are barriers to salmon recovery, and that it’ll cost roughly $2.9 billion to fix them.
“Cost is very site specific, how much fill, or how deeply buried the culvert is, length of the culvert, what sort of correction is needed such as a large box culvert versus a bridge, that sort of thing,” Schroeder said via email. “We have cities who own culverts of salmon bearing streams that stretch for over a mile under developed area of town, something like that would be very expensive to fix.”
The article goes on to cite this fact sheet from the Association of Washington Cities, which explains that the state’s efforts thus far to fix state-owned culverts won’t be enough. “Fixing only state-owned culverts will make the state’s investment incomplete at best and ineffective at worst,” the AWC argues.
“On average, there are two downstream and five upstream culverts associated with each state barrier. Investing only in state-owned culverts without addressing all barriers will not achieve the goal of salmon recovery.”
The AWC is correct. So are our tribal nations, who have been sounding the alarm for many years now and trying to get the region’s attention.
Washington needs an investment in the billions just to address the barrier problem alone. The good news is that by making such an investment, we can also solve a lot of other problems at the same time. We can make our infrastructure more flood-resilient and seismically safe. Such an investment needs to be proposed and included as part of the Legislature’s next transportation package.
Governor Inslee is also proposing that the state strengthen its monitoring of recreational and commercial salmon harvests, with tougher enforcement for fisheries crimes. $6.9 million is proposed for salmon harvest monitoring, $1.2 million for fisheries enforcement, and $852,000 for environmental prosecution.
You can see all of the proposed investments listed at the end of this policy brief:Saving our struggling salmon: Policy brief
Washington’s senior United States Senator Patty Murray hailed the publication of the policy brief and praised the new plan unveiled by Inslee’s office.
“Saving our salmon is absolutely essential to Washington state’s economy and cultural heritage — it is an urgent undertaking that will require federal, state, local, and Tribal partnership. I commend Governor Inslee for his leadership in supporting the Pacific Northwest’s vital salmon populations, and I am going to make sure the federal government is doing its part to recover our iconic salmon runs,” said Murray, who will face Washington State voters in 2022.
“I’m glad we were able to secure important federal investments in the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] to help bolster salmon populations, such as money for culvert repair, the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, and important habitat restoration efforts. And I’m pushing for further investment in Build Back Better because we have got to do everything we can to save our salmon.”
The investments Murray is hoping to secure in the Build Back Better Act include $1 billion for Pacific salmon restoration and conservation, $300 million for salmon hatchery infrastructure, $500 million for salmon stock assessments, and $6 billion for “projects that conserve, restore, and protect coastal and marine salmon habitats and increase climate resilience of coastal communities.”
All of the aforementioned federal investments would be channeled through NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA would, in turn, provide grants and direct funding to state, local, and tribal governments.
Our team at NPI is pleased that the governor made salmon protection and recovery a key theme of his 2022 budget rollout. But the Legislature should go even further by increasing the size of these proposed investments. We are running out of time to save our salmon. We need bold action now. Lawmakers must recognize that we’re at a perilous moment and respond accordingly.