San Juan Islands receive $277,742 for salmon recovery projects

  • Fri Sep 25th, 2020 1:30am
  • News

Submitted by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board

The Salmon Recovery Funding Board awarded $18 million in grants on Sept. 17 to organizations around the state to repair rivers, remove barriers blocking fish passage and replant riverbanks in an effort to recover salmon from the brink of extinction.

The grants, given annually, went to 91 projects in 29 of the state’s 39 counties. In addition, the funding board approved Puget Sound projects, requesting $38 million, to be funded from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund, which awaits legislative approval next year.

“These grants are the lifeblood of our salmon recovery efforts in Washington State,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “They fund the core of our efforts and attract $37.5 million from other sources. These grants, along with the hard work invested by thousands of people working in our state to save salmon, have gone a long way to slowing the decline of salmon.”

San Juan County was granted $277,742 for the following projects:

• Friends of the San Juans was awarded $40,000 to remove a toxic bulkhead on Shaw Island’s Broken Point. Removal of the bulkhead will restore beach habitat and near-shore processes in an area used by salmon and salmon prey. The Friends of the San Juans will remove 235 linear feet of creosote wood and rockfill bulkhead and fallen rock debris from an adjacent beach and relocate a shed inland. The area is used by forage fish that salmon eat, including Pacific sand lance and surf smelt, and by Chinook salmon, which is a species listed as threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Friends of the San Juans will contribute $23,150 in donated labor and materials. This is part of a $131,164 project that is requesting additional funding from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund. Learn more about this project at https://secure.rco.wa.gov/prism/search/projectsnapshot.aspx?ProjectNumber=20-1562.

• Friends of the San Juans was also awarded $35,750 to identify new Pacific sand lance spawning beaches in San Juan County with the goal of improving their protection and restoration. Sand lance are one of the most important sources of food for Chinook salmon. Pacific sand lance spawn on sandy intertidal beaches and are vulnerable to the impacts of shoreline development such as armoring. There are only nine documented spawning beaches in San Juan County and research suggests that local populations of Pacific sand lance are at significantly higher densities than what the nine known spawning beaches could produce. The friends’ group will use state standard field and sample processing protocols, research results, partnerships, and extensive community participation to conduct three seasons of surveys. The results of these surveys likely will expand restoration, conservation, and regulatory protection of sand lance spawning habitat. Marine shorelines in San Juan County provide important feeding and rearing habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon from across the Puget Sound region as they migrate through on their way to the ocean. Chinook salmon is a species listed as threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Friends of the San Juans will contribute $14,108 in a private grant and donations of labor. This is part of a larger project that was funded previously by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. Learn more about this project at https://secure.rco.wa.gov/prism/search/projectsnapshot.aspx?ProjectNumber=18-1746.

• San Juan County was awarded $122,587 to design a restoration project that will remove heavy armor from about 1 acre of Jackson Beach shoreline and bank and grade the beach to a more natural slope, in an effort to restore habitat for forage fish, which are an important source of food for salmon. Jackson Beach is a known surf smelt and sand lance spawning beach. The future project also would relocate two utility poles and grade and replant another 3 acres of the upper floodplain. In this first phase of the project, the county will complete a feasibility analysis, design, and pursue permitting. Because the armor was placed with very large mining equipment, the granite boulders are too large and heavy to be moved with conventional equipment. Part of this initial effort is to determine the most cost-effective way to deliver this project. The area is used by Chinook salmon, which is a species listed as threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act. Learn more about this project at https://secure.rco.wa.gov/prism/search/projectsnapshot.aspx?ProjectNumber=20-1040.

• San Juan County was also awarded $79,405 to finish the planning for a project to improve tidal and fish access to a large saltmarsh north of Crescent Beach Road on Orcas Island. Currently, a too-small culvert is plugged with sand and restricting tidal exchange between Ship Bay and a lagoon. Culverts are pipes or other structures that carry water under roads and often block fish migration because they are too steep, too tall, or too small to allow fish to pass through easily. The county will complete a hydraulic study and design alternatives. Ship Bay is the core spawning habitat for the herring, and Crescent Beach is a spawning beach for Pacific sand lance. Salmon eat both of those species. San Juan County will contribute $18,000 in donated labor. This is part of a larger project that was funded previously by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. Learn more about this project at https://secure.rco.wa.gov/prism/search/projectsnapshot.aspx?ProjectNumber=19-1451.

Salmon on the brink

As Washington’s population grew, its salmon dwindled. In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon in the Pacific Northwest as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. That listing was followed by a flood of additional listings in the late 1990s. By the end of the century, wild salmon had disappeared from about 40 percent of their historic breeding ranges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. In Washington, the numbers had dwindled so much that salmon and steelhead were listed as threatened or endangered in nearly three-fourths of the state. Today, 17 species of salmon, steelhead and bull trout in Washington have been put on the Endangered Species Act list. The Legislature created the Salmon Recovery Funding Board in 1999 to determine how best to funnel state and federal funding into recovery projects. No new species of salmon have been added to the Endangered Species Act since 2007.

“For the past 20 years, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board has been awarding grants for on-the-ground projects around the state,” said Phil Rockefeller, board chair. “These projects are making a difference, not only to salmon, but to the other animals that rely on salmon for food, such as orcas, and to the people that rely on them for their livelihoods. We also appreciate and value salmon as part of our heritage and want to ensure they will survive for future generations.”

Commercial and recreational fishing in Washington is estimated to support 16,000 jobs and $540 million in personal income. Recreationally, an estimated $1.5 billion is spent annually on fishing and shellfishing in Washington, supporting many rural families and businesses.

Salmon are a keystone species, upon which many other animals rely. One report documented 138 species of wildlife, everything from whales to flies, that depend on salmon for their food.

Investing in salmon recovery also has economic benefits. Every $1 million spent on forest and watershed restoration generates between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs. About 80 percent of that funding stays in the county where the project is located. Overall, salmon recovery funding since 1999 has resulted in more than $1 billion in economic activity.

“Personally, I can’t image a Washington without salmon,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which provides support to the funding board. “Without these grants, I think that’s what we’d see. I’m grateful that Congress and the state Legislature have continued to fund these important projects.”

How Projects are Chosen

Projects are selected by lead entities, which are watershed-based groups that include tribes, local governments, nonprofit organizations and citizens. The projects are based on federally approved, regional salmon recovery plans. Lead entities vet projects through citizen and science committees. The projects then are reviewed by regional organizations and submitted to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board for funding. Regional salmon recovery organizations and the board review each project for cost-effectiveness and to ensure they will benefit salmon.