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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘Ecosystem restoration’

Puget Sound grants continue ecosystem restoration

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

About $22 million in state and federal grants were awarded last week for Puget Sound ecosystem restoration, another installment in the struggle to nurse Puget Sound back to health.

About $12 million in state and federal funds came through the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, or ESRP, under the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. As the name suggests, these funds are focused on improving nearshore and ecosystem processes.

Another $10 million came from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) Fund, which is focused mainly on salmon restoration. More of those funds will be awarded before the end of the year.

Reporter Tad Sooter and I wrote about the West Sound projects in Friday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription required), focusing a good deal of our attention on a key acquisition of property on the Bainbridge Island shoreline along Agate Passage.

The property includes 4.5 acres of tidelands, including 550 feet of undeveloped beach, along with 7.5 acres of upland woods and meadows, all to be preserved by the Bainbridge Island Land Trust.

Brenda Padgham, stewardship director for land trust, told Tad that this property is one of the last intact nearshore habitats on Bainbridge Island. “The whole reach is so pristine,” she said.

Of the $1.2 million provided for the Bainbridge Island purchase, $810,000 came from the PSAR funds and $396,000 came from the ESRP.

Betsy Lions, who manages the ESRP for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said most of that money this year will go toward removing unnecessary bulkheads, replacing culverts that block salmon passage and restoring tidal functions.

The 20 ESRP grants are described in a news release from Fish and Wildlife.

The salmon recovery money was approved Thursday by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. In a news release yesterday, Gov. Jay Inslee stressed the economic value of preserving the state’s salmon runs:

“These projects will increase salmon populations while giving a boost to the economy. Salmon are important economically to Washington state and these projects will provide construction jobs and help countless numbers of Washington families and businesses, including tackle shops, charter operators, restaurants and hotels, that rely on the world-renowned Pacific salmon.”

David Troutt, chairman of the SRF Board and natural resources director of the Nisqually Tribe, made this comment:

“Puget Sound Chinook are about one-third as abundant as they were a century ago. As we have developed our urban and rural landscapes, we’ve damaged many of the estuaries, floodplains and rivers that salmon need to survive. These projects have been selected as ones that will make big impacts on Puget Sound and salmon recovery. Those two things go hand in hand. Puget Sound needs healthy salmon, and salmon need a healthy Puget Sound.”

The 11 PSAR projects are outlined in a document (PDF 106 kb) on the state Recreation and Conservation Office’s website. By the way, projects in Hood Canal were held up until October, as members of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council continue discussions about priorities.


Skokomish restoration now focused on ecosystem

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Flood control is no longer a primary objective of federal restoration work on the Skokomish River — but improving the ecosystem is likely to reduce flood problems for people who live in the valley.

The Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) surveys an area where the Skokomish River has wiped out all vegetation and left a massive gravel bar.
Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt

We don’t need to be reminded that the Skokomish is the most frequently flooded river in the state. Although I’m not sure how soon another river might take over that dubious distinction, it’s easy to see that a lot of time and money is being spent to get the river back to a more natural condition.

The Army Corps of Engineers, known for massive projects such as dikes, dams and dredging, won’t be adopting those sorts of projects for the Skokomish River.

Jessie Winkler, Skokomish project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, explained it this way:

“Clearly, flooding is a problem in the basin. But because of limited residential and commercial activity, it would be very difficult to justify a flood-control project. In order to be justified as a federal project, the economic benefits must be greater than the cost.”

For further explanation, check out my story in Monday’s Kitsap Sun.

The good news is that the Corps has not turned its back on the Skokomish. In fact, the river is considered so important to the Hood Canal region that the agency is considering some large-scale projects focused on environmental restoration — including possibly relocating Skokomish Valley Road.

Other interesting ideas include creating sediment traps to capture gravel in selective locations, relocating existing dikes to create a wider river channel, forming new side channels to relieve flow on the main river and even aeration pumps to boost oxygen levels in Hood Canal.

Many of the projects designed for ecological improvement will also reduce the flooding problems.

A report, scheduled to be released in late spring or early summer, summarizes all information collected so far in the $4.7 million study of the Skokomish River watershed. The report will cover current ecological conditions, future ecological conditions without restoration and a list of potential restoration projects — including preliminary design, estimated costs and ecological benefits, Winkler told me.

Potential projects are only conceptual at this point, though experts have begun to look at locations along the river where different types of efforts may be fruitful. Further study will narrow the list of to a plan to be submitted to Congress for funding.

The upcoming report will begin to explore which of the following actions are most likely to succeed in specific locations:

  • Remove or breach levees/dikes
  • Construct setback levees/dikes
  • Create salmon spawning habitat
  • Reconnect wetlands, side channels, backwater areas, and tributaries
  • Substrate modification
  • Install aeration or oxygenation system in Annas Bay
  • Reconnect dendritic channels in estuary
  • Large woody debris
  • Engineered Log Jams
  • Fish passable weir
  • Channel stabilization
  • Riverbed and wetland vehicle exclusion
  • Enhance vegetation – riparian & estuarine
  • Control invasive species
  • Channel rehabilitation or new channel creation
  • Selective gravel removal on gravel bars
  • Spot-dredge
  • Sediment trap
  • Culverts: a) add; b) remove; c) replace; d) upgrade
  • Road modifications
  • Rehabilitate bank lines
  • Cool water diversion to Annas Bay

Researchers poised for Elwha ecosystem studies

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The Elwha watershed promises to be an outdoor laboratory for the revival of an ecosystem after two dams are removed from the Elwha River.

Elwha Dam construction begins. (Click on image for webcam page.)
Olympic National Park photo

Dam removal began Thursday at Glines Canyon Dam, as I traveled to Port Angeles for a conference of more than 350 scientists and other interested persons. This group came together to learn about baseline studies conducted to date and to hear about anticipated changes in the ecosystem. Check out my story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Meanwhile, a controversy over a fish hatchery operated by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe threatens to erupt into a lawsuit. Several environmental groups have issued a 60-day notice to sue under the Endangered Species Act, saying raising steelhead from another area — Chambers Creek — could imperil the recovery of threatened chinook salmon and bull trout in the Elwha. See reporter Lynda Mapes’ story in the Seattle Times.

Will Stelle of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversees federal protections for salmon, said discussions about the hatchery are ongoing, but federal treaties assure the tribes a right to fish, and those rights cannot be ignored. A five-year moratorium on fishing has been imposed, but tribal officials say they may need hatchery-reared fish when fishing resumes.

About a year ago, I briefly described the restoration plan for each species — including salmon and steelhead — in a package of stories for the Kitsap Sun. See “Elwha Project Expected to Blast Open Nature’s Door to Bountiful Fish Runs.”

As for last week’s Elwha River Science Symposium, it was a remarkable group of researchers who discussed all aspects of ecosystem restoration, from physical processes like water and sediment, to all kinds of plants and animals. To get a taste of the presentation, read through the conference abstracts (PDF 584 kb).

I mentioned a few of the presentations in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, and I could talk about them for hours. There was one presentation about birds that surprised me, and I wanted to share some of the conclusions with you.

John McLaughlin of Huxley College at Western Washington University explored the question of how birds might help restore vegetation in the reservoirs and flood plains associated with the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.

Of 39 major native plants in the watershed, 23 have their seeds dispersed by birds. That’s 59 percent of the plants of interest. If managers could get the birds working for them, they might not need to plant as much vegetation by hand.

That 59 percent is higher than most temperate regions of the world, where normally birds disperse seeds from 25 to 40 percent of the plants, McLaughlin said. But it’s a lower percentage than for most tropical regions, where birds may disperse up to 90 percent of all the plants in the area.

By watching birds fly from vegetated areas to more barren areas and collecting samples of their scat, McLaughlin found that robins disperse more seeds than all other birds combined. In fact, the total was close to 100 percent for robins. While there are plenty of other bird species in the ecosystem, most typically do not fly from one habitat type to another, McLaughlin told the gathering.

He also found that most of the seeds deposited by robins ended up in and near logjams and piles of woody debris.

“Birds are agents of restoration,” he told the group, “but for them to work with us, you have to give them what they need, and that’s large woody debris.”

If one wants to use birds to replant the forest, the first step is to consider which plants you want to disperse, he said. Then downed trees and limbs could be pulled together into a pile, or one could simply leave existing piles in strategic locations. The woody piles must be located far enough from the desirable plants that the birds can make a difference in dispersing seeds. But if the piles are too far away, the birds may not cooperate with the plan.

As for the concern about birds dispersing invasive plants as well as desirable ones, many of the undesirables were removed from the area around the dams in preparation for dam removal. The concern about invasives is reduced further by understanding that only five of the 20 invasive plants are dispersed by birds.


Puget Sound targets will stretch restoration efforts

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Last week, the Puget Sound Partnership completed work on its ecosystem targets, the first time in history that goals have been established for the restoration of Puget Sound. See the story I wrote for Saturday’s Kitsap Sun.

Early in her first term, Gov. Chris Gregoire established a goal of restoring Puget Sound to health by the year 2020. What we have learned since then is that nobody can define precisely what that means. There is no battery of tests to be given to the waterway that would allow a team of doctors to declare their patient in fine condition.

In human terms, one can say a healthy person is one free of serious disease. But for some people that is not enough. Some are satisfied with nothing less than top athletic form. It’s even more complicated for Puget Sound, where some parts of the water body can be pristine while others are in need of intensive care.

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Recession pushes and pulls on Puget Sound cleanup

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

In some ways, the recession we are going through has been very good for Puget Sound, at least if we’re talking about ecosystem restoration.

Gov. Chris Gregoire spies an eagle flying over Oakland Bay during Friday’s media tour.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

In an effort to stimulate the economy and create jobs, Congress appropriated lots of money for projects that were ready or nearly ready to be built. The Puget Sound Partnership lists 614 projects with a price tag of $460 million since 2008. An estimated 15,640 jobs were created in the process, according to the PSP.

But the recession also helped another way. It turns out that when restoration and public-works projects were put out to bid, most of them came in well under their original estimates. Contractors apparently needed the work so badly that they were willing to cut their profit margins and compete hard for the available work. That freed up money for additional projects.

On Friday, Gov. Chris Gregoire led a media tour to some of the projects being built with special federal and state appropriations. One was the Belfair sewage treatment plant, designed to remove nitrogen from Hood Canal to address the low-oxygen problem. Her message was that Puget Sound restoration must not be placed on the back burner until the recession is over.
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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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