OLYMPIA – Restoration of suft smelt spawning grounds, removal of 190 derelict fishing nets and development of materials for a neighborhood salmon conservation easement program in San Juan County are possible with the awarding of $405,830 in grants from the Salmon Recovery Board. The grants are part of nearly $30 million awarded to organizations around the state to help bring salmon back from the brink of extinction.
"These grants do two things: They provide needed money for local organizations to help repair damaged rivers and streams and protect the most pristine areas," said Don "Bud" Hover, chair of the state funding board. "They also create jobs. They will put people to work improving the environment and restoring something that is important to Washington’s economy: salmon."
A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife study in 2006 pegged the economic impacts of commercial and recreational fishing in Washington as supporting an estimated 16,374 jobs and $540 million in personal income. This new round of grants is expected to provide more than 300 jobs during the next four years.
A list of all the grants is available here.
The projects in San Juan County are:
FRIENDS OF THE SAN JUANS GRANT AWARDED: $49,850 CREATING A NEIGHBORHOOD SALMON CONSERVATION EASEMENT PROGRAM
The Friends of the San Juans will use this grant to develop materials for a Neighborhood Salmon Conservation Easement Program. The friends group will create a multiple landowner easement template, inform landowners and test incentives at targeted salmon recovery regions in San Juan County.
Protection of high quality shoreline habitat is the top salmon recovery strategy for the county, but it's not being achieved with regulations and buying land is too expensive. The friends group will create a neighborhood easement tool that protects shoreline habitat along adjacent parcels.
Planning will focus on Waldron, south Lopez and northwest Orcas Island. These three areas are top protection priorities for salmon and forage fish and a culture of environmental stewardship.
The Friends of the San Juans will contribute $8,800 from a grant. See more information about this project.
FRIENDS OF THE SAN JUANS GRANT AWARDED: $99,985 RESTORING BLAKELY ISLAND FORAGE FISH HABITAT
The Friends of the San Juans will use this grant to restore surf smelt spawning habitat and improve shoreline habitat for salmon and salmon prey by removing a historic log handling and beach access facility, associated armoring, fill and beach debris and restoring the area.
In the northern portion of Thatcher Bay on Blakely Island, a historic log handling and beach access structure is damaging surf smelt spawning habitat and other habitats important to salmon and the food salmon eat.
Restoration activities include removing the current structure, as well as associated beach debris, re-grading the upper beach and backshore and replanting vegetation. The project improves habitat for forage fish, Chinook salmon and eelgrass. Friends of the San Juans will contribute $17,730. See more information about this project.
NORTHWEST STRAITS MARINE CONSERVATION FOUNDATION GRANT AWARDED: $255,995 REMOVING ABANDONED FISHING GEAR
Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Foundation will use this grant to remove about 190 derelict fishing nets from around the San Juan Islands, focusing on Hein Bank and along the west side of San Juan Island.
The nets will be removed from salmon migratory pathways. The foundation estimates the nets are degrading 19 acres of habitat and entangling more than 62 mammals, 1,096 birds, 3,460 fish and 117,375 invertebrates every year.
This project will eliminate a direct source of mortality for adult salmon, rockfish and other marine animals and restore 19 acres of marine habitat important to salmon and rockfish for migration, rearing, feeding and refuge. The foundation will contribute $45,699 from a federal grant. See more information about this project.
The projects will reconnect rivers and streams, replace failing pipes that block fish passage and replant riverbanks with the goal of improving places salmon use to reproduce and grow on their way to and from to the ocean.
"Salmon recovery does more than just help salmon, it also helps the many businesses dependent on healthy fish populations," said Hover, who also is an Okanogan County commissioner. "There are many families that rely on salmon, from your mom-and-pop tackle shops to your large commercial fishing fleets. They all need salmon and trout populations to be healthy and harvestable."
Salmon populations in Washington have been declining for generations. In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon, Snake River sockeye, as endangered. By the end of that decade, populations had dwindled so much that salmon and bull trout were listed as threatened or endangered in three-quarters of the state. Those listings set off a series of activities including the formation of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board to oversee the investment of state and federal funds for salmon recovery.
Local watershed groups, called lead entities, are local consortiums that include tribes, local governments, nonprofits and citizens all working together to spearhead local salmon recovery efforts. They encourage and review project proposals and make decisions about which projects to forward to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board for funding. The projects are based on regional recovery plans, which are approved by the federal government. Individual projects are reviewed by regional salmon recovery organizations and the state's technical review panel to make sure each project will help recover salmon in the most cost-effective manner.
"This local, state and federal partnership has made Washington a national model in salmon recovery,” Hover said. “This process ensures that we are funding the projects that the local citizens want and that scientists agree will do the most to recover salmon."
Funding for the grants comes from the federal Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and from the sale of state bonds. In addition, nearly $11.6 million is dedicated to projects in Puget Sound, as part of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s initiative to restore the health of Puget Sound.
"Salmon recovery is key to restoring Puget Sound," said Gerry O’Keefe, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, which is charged with developing a plan for improving the health of Puget Sound. "If we can improve the rivers, streams, lakes and other water bodies so we have healthier salmon, we'll also have healthier places for other fish, wildlife and humans. These grants are an important step in righting past damage done to the environment."
"We owe a big thank you to our congressional delegation for working hard to ensure the salmon recovery funding stays in the federal budget," Hover said. "Salmon recovery simply couldn't happen at the scale that is needed without the federal funding."
Information about the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Recreation and Conservation Office is available online at www.rco.wa.gov.