Governor Inslee unveils salmon protection and recovery strategy
Governor Jay Inslee announces his 2022 proposals for salmon protection and recovery on the banks of the Skagit River, which the Swinomish people have called home since time immemorial (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.

Governor Inslee unveils salmon protection and recovery strategy
Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee announces his 2022 pro­pos­als for salmon pro­tec­tion and recov­ery on the banks of the Swinomish Chan­nel, which the Swinomish peo­ple have called home since time immemo­r­i­al (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“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.

Swinomish tribal members provide a welcome
The speak­ing pro­gram was pre­ced­ed by the offer­ing of a tra­di­tion­al wel­come by the Swinomish Canoe Fam­i­ly (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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