Category Archives: Restoration efforts

Leaders from ‘national estuaries’ seek increased funding from Congress

Laura Blackmore, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, was among six leaders from so-called “national estuaries” who spoke to Congress last week about the need for increased funding.

Laura Blackmore, Puget Sound Partnership

The natural beauty of Puget Sound and its recreational opportunities have attracted people and businesses, including 11 of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies, Laura told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Unfortunately,” she added, “Puget Sound is also slowly dying. Southern Resident orcas, chinook salmon and steelhead are all listed under the Endangered Species Act. We continue to pollute our waterways and our shellfish beds, and habitat degradation outpaces restoration.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Laura was willing to air Puget Sound’s dirty laundry in the halls of Congress to call attention to the need for federal funding to bolster state and local dollars. I suspect it was somewhat easier to make that plea this year, after the Washington Legislature provided significant money to tackle numerous environmental problems from orcas to oil spills. Laura’s testimony can be heard in the first video on this page, and check out Jeff Rice’s report on state funding in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Will Baker, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Puget Sound is not alone when it comes to environmental degradation. All 28 of our “national estuaries” have been provided federal funding to carry out ecosystem-recovery plans as part of the National Estuary Program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Besides Laura, the five others who spoke about their problems and needs were Preston Cole, secretary of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Dave Pine, chairman of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority board; Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Kristi Trail, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation; and Tom Ford, director of the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program.

Tom Ford, Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program.

One can listen to their oral testimony and read their extended comments, as well as hearing introductory remarks by committee members on the hearing’s website. I’ve also posted the video of the full hearing on this page, followed by the testimony of Baker and Ford.

Last Tuesday — the same day as the hearing discussed here — the full House approved an appropriations package containing increases in many of the programs that will benefit Puget Sound and other waterways.

The House Interior Appropriations Bill includes a $5-million increase — to $33 million — for the Puget Sound Geographic Program. That EPA program provides grants for ecosystem-restoration projects to benefit salmon and other creatures.

If approved, the National Estuary Program would be boosted by $3 million, with each of the 28 estuaries receiving at least $100,000 more than their previous appropriation.

The House budget includes $1.5 million for Puget Sound orca recovery, with the money to be spent on monitoring and research.

The ongoing Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, used to help threatened and endangered salmon populations, would receive $65 million to be shared throughout the Northwest under the spending plan.

Some $30 million was proposed to implement the newly ratified Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S and Canada, with funding for research and salmon hatcheries. Another $25 million was proposed for hatchery and fish-passage activities under the Mitchell Act, which helps compensate for dam losses. In addition, $15 million would go to small communities experiencing fisheries disasters.

Other funding would address forest health, climate change, earthquake preparedness, and tribal conservation programs.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, who said he is proud to champion the increased environmental funding, provided a fairly detailed explanation of the spending proposal.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

“This bill continues to make progress on important priorities for our region — like protecting the environment and investing in our natural landscapes, making our communities safer, honoring commitments to Indian country, supporting affordable housing, and bringing broadband to more rural areas,” he said in a news release.

When I spoke to Rep. Kilmer in May at his Washington, D.C., office, he appeared optimistic that increased spending would not only make it through the House but would have a fair chance of success in the Senate. You can read my report in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

I wish I could tell you what the Republican-controlled Senate is proposing with respect to environmental funding, but they won’t disclose much until spending “caps” are approved by congressional leaders. Without an agreement on caps, the 2011 Budget Control Act would require cuts to below current levels of spending, despite budget increases in 2018 and 2019.

“Absent a new agreement, the BCA caps will impose deep cuts in 2020 on both defense and NDD (non-defense discretionary) programs,” writes Richard Kogan of the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Moreover, if Congress and the president fail to negotiate a more substantial budget agreement and agree instead only to freeze funding at current levels (and to raise the caps accordingly), the results would still be damaging — particularly for NDD programs.”

Kogan’s article provides a good explanation about the complicated federal budget process and the quandary in which both parties find themselves as a result of the budget-constraint law. Because both parties have their own spending priorities, Kogan anticipates a deal at some point. But we have seen some pretty quirky decisions and non-decisions under the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, when it comes to increased federal funding for the environment, I guess we’ll remain unsure about what might happen until it happens.

New facts and findings about the European green crab invasion

The ongoing story of the European green crab invasion offers us scientific, social and even psychological drama, which I would like to update by mentioning four new developments:

  1. The somewhat mysterious finding of a partially eaten green crab on the Bellingham waterfront,
  2. A “story map” that spells out much of what we know about European green crabs in Puget Sound, including maps, photos and videos.
  3. Information about Harper Estuary in South Kitsap and other areas where groups of citizen scientists are on the lookout for green crabs, and
  4. Reports of a new breed of European green crab in Maine that attacks people and may prove to be more destructive than the green crabs that have lived in the area for a very long time.
Green crab found in Bellingham

Since my last report on green crabs (Water Ways, May 9), a partially eaten carcass of an invasive crab was spotted along the Bellingham waterfront in Squalicum Harbor, where the crab was being eaten by a seagull.

Partially eaten European green crab found on the Bellingham waterfront
Photo: Angela Foster/WDFW

The big question, which might never be answered, is where did this crab come from? If it grew up locally, it would be the first sign of a green crab anywhere in Whatcom County. Since 2016, a trapping program designed specifically to catch green crabs — including two monitoring stations near Bellingham — has turned up no green crabs in the area.

The seagull could have caught the crab from the bay or nearby shorelines, or sport or commercial crab harvesters could have dumped the crab from their pots, according to Emily Grason, who manages the Crab Team volunteer trapping effort for Washington Sea Grant.

Casey Pruett, director of Marine Life Center in Bellingham, spotted the gull eating the crab at the boat ramp adjacent to the center in the busy Squalicum Harbor marina, Emily noted. Casey told her that green crabs have never been reported in crab pots in the harbor nor along the shoreline.

Marinas are often home to large Dungeness and rock crabs, which are good competitors and even predators of green crab, Emily wrote in the Crab Team Blog.

“In our region, green crab tend to do best in very muddy isolated habitats, such as saltwater lagoons, pocket estuaries and salt marshes,” she wrote. “If green crab become abundant enough elsewhere, however, some population spillover could occur into habitats like marinas where they have lower survivorship.”

The hunt for European green crabs throughout Puget Sound is meant to provide an early warning to hold the population in check wherever the invaders first show up. On the East Coast, where the crabs have become established, they have been known to eat large numbers of shellfish and destroy important habitat, such as eelgrass beds.

The single partially eaten crab in Bellingham has set off cautionary alarm bells, but since the discovery at the end of May, the monitoring traps have captured no other green crabs. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is planning a more extensive trapping effort next month, Emily told me.

Meanwhile, 44 green crabs have been trapped so far this season along Dungeness Bay near Sequim, which has turned out to be a hotbed of invaders. That number is fairly close to what was seen during the same time period the past two years, so we can hope that the population is not expanding. Another single crab was trapped in nearby Sequim Bay, but a more extensive trapping effort turned up no additional green crabs.

Green crab “story map”

In a new “story map” produced in a collaboration between Puget Sound Institute and Washington Sea Grant, the viewer is able to scroll through text, maps and video that explains what researchers know about the European green crab invasion.

An entertaining and instructive video from 2016 recounts the first sighting of a green crab in Puget Sound, following years of trapping that thankfully never caught a green crab. The video was produced by Katie Campbell of EarthFix, a partnership of public radio and television stations in the Northwest. A second video, produced in 2017 by the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, updates the story with images from Dungeness Spit.

The expansion of the green crab population is mapped on a worldwide,
West Coast and Puget Sound scale. The impacts of the crab and efforts to keep the population under control are described in the story map, along with a practical outlook for long-term success.

The production can be launched from this page. Be sure to click on the full-screen option. The project is housed on the UW’s ArcGIS online portal, where one can find other interesting projects.

Credit for the design of the story map goes to Kris Symer of Puget Sound Institute. Emily Grason provided scientific expertise and editing of the material.

Harper Estuary crab hunt

In many areas of Puget Sound, community volunteers get together regularly to participate in a ongoing hunt for green crabs in their local waters, a hunt they hope will not be successful. I first wrote about the Crab Team in 2016 for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. Coincidentally, my story, which featured volunteers at Zelatched Point on Hood Canal, was published just a month before the first green crab in Puget Sound was found in the San Juan Islands.

Earlier this year, I joined another team of volunteer scientists on Fidalgo Bay, where a single shell of a green crab was found last year. The story, also published in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, was mostly about the state’s aquatic reserves and how citizen scientists play a key role in studying the environmentally valuable areas. On the outing, I was able to see how the volunteers measured the spawning success of surf smelt in the bay.

One thing I noticed in these and other citizen-science excursions is a high level of camaraderie among the folks working together, learning together, sharing laughs and enjoying nature. For those interested in science, there are plenty of opportunities in the Puget Sound region.

Restoration of Harper Estuary: Phase 1 restores the shoreline. Phase 2 is a future bridge to replace a portion of the causeway at #6. // Graphic converted from Kitsap County poster

I’m hoping to compile a list of all the citizen science projects taking place throughout Puget Sound. If you are involved in a group that could use more members, please send me a link to the program’s website or the email address of an organizer. I will try to keep the list updated for those who would like to join a group. It would be great if such a list already existed, but I have not found one with good contact information. One can search on the internet for the term “citizen science, Puget Sound” or a more specific location.

Meanwhile, Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant has posted a nice description of South Kitsap’s Harper Estuary, which is undergoing a major shoreline restoration. Community members are monitoring for marine life, including shoreline vegetation. Green crabs have not been found so far, but more than 5,000 hairy shore crabs were caught in traps there during the first two seasons, as shown in the graphic accompanying Jeff’s blog post.

I’ve written about Harper Estuary on several occasions, but I was intrigued by several bits of history from Jeff that I had never heard before.

For general information about joining the Crab Team or looking for green crabs on your own, check out “Get involved with Crab Team” on the Crab Team website.

Aggressive invaders in Maine

I’m waiting for someone to write a horror story about a new breed of aggressive European green crab that would rather attack people than run from them.

David Sharp, a reporter for the Associated Press, wrote about these new arrivals under the headline: “Canadian crabs with bad attitude threaten coastal ecosystem.”

The story tells us about an aggressive European green crab that has migrated to Maine form Nova Scotia in Canada.

“What we’re seeing is this insane level of aggressiveness,” said Markus Frederich, a professor at the University of New England who is studying the new invaders.

“Anytime I went down to grab one, they went to grab me instead,” he was quoted as saying. “They are the most aggressive crabs ever seen. We don’t understand yet why they are so aggressive.”

Frederich worries that the crabs may be more destructive than the green crabs that were introduced to the U.S. East Coast 200 years ago. “The crabs have a high potential for destroying soft-shell clams, eelgrass beds and who knows what else,” he said.

In a head-to-head test, subject crabs of both varieties were placed in an eelgrass bed. The Canadian invaders “shredded the eelgrass like Edward Scissorhands in their efforts to scarf down marine organisms seeking refuge,” Sharp wrote in his story.

The two strains of green crab are believed to originate from different parts of Europe, arriving at different times and in different parts of North America. One theory is that the aggression is gene-related, perhaps a result of hybridization of the two varieties of the same species.

The first green crab was discovered in Long Island Sound in 1817, according to Emily Grason, who provided some background information in response to questions from Crab Team members curious about the aggressive crabs. They wanted to know if we should be worried about them in the Pacific Northwest.

Once the invasion started, the population spread mostly northward along the East Coast, with southward movements apparently limited by warm temperatures and native blue crabs, she said.

The second strain of crabs arrived in the 1980s. Genetic evidence suggests it came from a more northern region of Europe and established themselves in a more northern part of the East Coast. Though some news stories have mentioned “mutant” crabs, Emily says the two types of European green crabs are simply distinct “haplotypes” of the same species, because they remained genetically isolated from each other.

Studies linking behavior to genetics is underway in Frederich’s lab at the University of New England. He has even placed green crabs on a treadmill, but results of his work have not yet been published. As a result, we don’t know what temperature range and other habitat conditions are favorable to the northern variety. Review the UNE news release.

If interstate and international shipping companies are careful about their practices involving invasive species — such as treating ballast water in ships — we might not see a second wave of green crabs on the West Coast.

Ghost-net busters are entering a new era of hunting and removal

My mind is unable to grasp, in any meaningful way, how much death and destruction was caused by fishing nets that were lost and abandoned through the years.

Filmed in 2007, this KCTS-9 video describes the problem of ghost nets and a project that would eventually remove nearly 6,000 nets.

Nearly 6,000 of these so-called “ghost nets” have been pulled from the waters of Puget Sound over the past 17 years. Until removed, they keep on catching fish, crabs and many more animals to one degree or another.

We can support responsible fishing, but those of us who care about Puget Sound must never again allow lost nets to be forgotten, as if “out of sight, out of mind” ever worked for anyone.

The latest concern, as I reported last month in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, is that 200 or more ghost nets are still lurking at depths below 100 feet, which is the level considered safe to operate by divers with normal scuba gear. Remotely operated vehicles (unmanned submarines) are being developed to go after nets remaining in deep water, where they are killing crabs and many other deep-water species — including rockfish, some of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Another concern is that some commercial fishermen, for unknown reasons, are still failing to report the nets they are losing during the course of fishing, despite state and tribal requirements to do so. We know this because newly lost nets, with little accumulation of marine growth, are still being found.

The Northwest Straits Foundation operates an outreach program to inform fishers about the importance of reporting lost nets and the legal requirements to do so, as I describe in my story. This is a no-fault program, and if a fisher reports a lost net, it will be removed free of cost. If the net is usable, the owner will likely get it back.

Why a fisher would not report a lost net is hard to imagine, unless the person is fishing illegally. If the person losing a net cares at all about natural resources or the future of fishing, one would think that reporting would be swift — even if that person had to swallow some pride for taking inadvisable actions that lost the net.

If this matter of nonreporting does not turn around, fishers may face additional regulations — such as a requirement to place tags on the bottom of every net to identify the owner. That way, the owner could be identified and charged with a violation when an unreported net is found. Currently, identification is placed at the top of the net on floats, which often get removed when fishers pull up as much net as possible.

Maybe all commercial fishers should be required to look at pictures of dead fish, birds and porpoises entangled in lost nets and sign an agreement to report lost nets.

The numbers only begin to tell the story. In the 5,809 nets removed at last count, more than 485,000 organisms were found. That includes 1,116 birds, 5,716 fish, 81 marine mammals and 478,000 invertebrates, including crabs.

But that’s only the intact animals that were found. For every animal found during net removal, many more probably were killed and decomposed each month that the net kept on fishing — and for some nets that could be up to 30 years.

According to a study led by Kirsten Gilardi of the University of California, Davis, the 5,809 nets could have been killing nearly 12 million animals each year — including 163,000 fish, 29,000 birds and 2,000 marine mammals. Those numbers, based on a series of assumptions, are mind-boggling. But even if the numbers are not entirely accurate, they tell us clearly that every net is important.

I’ve been reporting on this issue of ghost nets since about 2000, when Ray Frederick of the Kitsap Poggie Club first alerted me to the problem and went about convincing state legislators that they ought to do something. See my story in the Kitsap Sun, May 4, 2000, which began:

“In the murky, undersea twilight of Puget Sound, scuba divers occasionally come face to face with the tangled remains of rotting fish.

“Nearly invisible in the dim light, long-lost fishing nets continue to ensnare fish, birds, seals, crabs and other creatures that happen along. Divers call these hidden traps ‘ghost nets.’

“‘It’s a little eerie, seeing fish like that,’ said Steve Fisher, an underwater photographer from Bremerton. ‘You can see that something has been eating on them, and the fish are a pretty good size — bigger than you would normally see.’”

One of the early state-funded projects was the removal of a 300-foot net near Potlatch, led by the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group. See Kitsap Sun, June 29, 2002.

Today, most of the ongoing effort in Puget Sound is coordinated by the Northwest Straits Foundation and Natural Resources Consultants, which have gained considerable knowledge about how to find and remove ghost nets at any depth.

Laura Blackmore takes over as director of Puget Sound Partnership

Laura Blackmore, deputy director of Puget Sound Partnership, will slide into the agency’s executive director position when she comes into work next week.

Laura Blackmore

Laura has built a reputation as a facilitator, helping to meld diverse ideas into cohesive policies. That experience should serve her well in the director’s post, where she will take on the primary role of shaping the direction of the Partnership for the coming years.

“Puget Sound is in trouble, and we know what we need to do to fix it,” Laura told me. “It took us 150 years to get into this mess, and it will take us awhile to get out. What we need is the political will to keep going.”

Puget Sound Partnership was created by the Legislature in 2007 to oversee recovery efforts throughout Puget Sound.

In appointing Laura to the post, Gov. Jay Inslee said he is confident that she will build on the success of her predecessor, Sheida Sahandy, who helped transform the agency with innovations that honed the restoration efforts. Sheida served as executive director for five years.

“Laura’s extensive experience with the Puget Sound Partnership, her longtime work with tribal governments, and her work on salmon recovery and water quality will position her well to lead the agency,” the governor said in a news release.

Laura, who joined the Partnership in 2015, has been at the center of salmon-recovery initiatives developed by the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council. She’s also been a key player in the development of the Action Agenda — the overall blueprint for ecosystem recovery — and she helped oversee development of the “implementation strategies” that define actions taken by a multitude of agencies and groups.

Laura told me that much progress has been made in improving habitat for fish and wildlife, as reflected in the 2017 “State of the Sound” report. People will see more progress when the next report comes out later this year, she added. Shellfish beds have been reopened to harvest; estuaries have been restored for salmon; and flood plains have been reconnected to streams to reduce flooding and improve the ecosystem. Still, chinook salmon and the orcas that depend on them have been struggling — so restoration efforts must be intensified.

“We have a lot of work in front of us,” she said, “but this was one of the best legislative sessions for the environment that we’ve had in years.”

Much of the legislation, as well as appropriations, came from recommendations by the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force. Listed in the budget, for example, are:

  • $85 million to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), which provides local grants to purchase and protect critical wildlife habitat, streamside habitats, agricultural lands and recreation facilities.
  • $50 million for the Floodplains by Design program, which reduces flooding, restores salmon habitat, improves water quality and enhances outdoor recreation by moving houses and roads back from the rivers and allowing the waters to take a more natural course.
  • $49.5 million for Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration, which will fund $30 million in watershed-restoration projects plus provide money for three large-scale projects: Middle Fork Nooksack Fish Passage Project, Dungeness River Floodplain Restoration, and Riverbend Floodplain Restoration on the Cedar River.
  • $44 million for the Department of Ecology to provide grants to local governments for projects that reduce stormwater pollution.
  • $25 million in state funds to match up to $50 million in federal funds for sustainable and measurable habitat projects that benefit salmon and other fish species.
  • $7.8 million to launch three projects in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers known as the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNERP). They are located at the Duckabush Estuary in Hood Canal, plus the North Fork Skagit River Delta and Nooksack River Delta, both in North Puget Sound.

The Legislature passed laws to to reduce the risk of an oil spill on Puget Sound, to improve compliance with shoreline-protection rules and to decrease the disturbance to killer whales caused by boat traffic.

One issue that Laura will face this year is what to do about the Year 2020 ecosystem indicator “targets” that were established in the early years of the Puget Sound Partnership, which was created by the Legislature in 2007. Many of the targets, such as measures of salmon recovery, have not been reached, as proposed in the legislation that created the Partnership.

As past directors have said, the year 2020 was an initial goal with aspirational targets, but the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound must continue.

“Even if you get to a place where Puget Sound is healthy, you will want to maintain that into the future,” Laura said, just as a healthy human body must be maintained for long-term survival.

New targets need to be developed, she said, and that effort will begin next month during the regular meeting of the Leadership Council, which oversees the work of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Laura, 45, came to the Partnership from Cascadia Consulting Group, where she was in charge of water and natural resources issues, such as helping to facilitate the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council and Chinook Monitoring and Adaptive Management Project.

Before becoming deputy director at the Partnership, she served as director of Partner Engagement and was involved in other interactive roles. Last year, she served on the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force.

Friday was the last day at the Partnership for Sheida Sahandy, who said this about Laura in a news release:

“I am proud to leave the agency in the best shape it’s ever been, strong and focused. Laura brings a great deal of experience, knowledge and commitment to Puget Sound recovery to this role, and I have full faith that she will continue to lead the Partnership in the right direction.”

Jay Manning, chairman of the Leadership Council, said Laura is well organized and works great with all sorts of people.

“She identifies the task at hand and makes sure it gets done,” he said. “I am super-exited to work with her.”

Laura holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Duckabush restoration promises major benefits for five species of salmon

An ecosystem-restoration project that would replace two bridges across the Duckabush River and restore a 38-acre estuary on the west side of Hood Canal has moved into the design phase with funding from state and federal governments.

Bridge over the Duckabush River
Photo: Jayedgerton, Wikimedia Commons

The project, which would improve habitat for five species of salmon along with a variety of wildlife, is the subject of a design agreement between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Projects like this are key to improving the overall health of Hood Canal and Puget Sound,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a news release. “We have a variety of challenges in conserving our salmon populations, so creating more habitat for juvenile salmon to eat and grow before they journey into open waters is one of the most important things we can do.”

The Duckabush restoration was one of the top projects identified through the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, or PSNERP, a collaboration among WDFW, the Corps and other partners to determine where restoration dollars would best be spent.

Chinook salmon, the primary prey of the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas, are expected to benefit from improved spawning and rearing habitat in the Duckabush River and estuary. Duckabush chinook are part of the mid-Hood-Canal population, which is among the stocks that have dwindled to low levels, forcing unusual reductions in salmon fishing — not only in Puget Sound but out to the coast.

In addition to chinook, the restoration is expected to benefit chum (both summer and fall populations), pink and coho salmon, along with steelhead.

The Duckabush estuary was bisected years ago when fill material was laid down in the marshlands to form the base of Highway 101. The river was constrained into two small channels spanned by what are now aging bridges. A conceptual design for the restoration project calls for removing the fill along with the two bridges, both considered functionally obsolete, and building a modern 2,100-foot-long bridge to span the restored estuary.

The bridge will be elevated above the existing road level to maintain surrounding elevations. An added benefit to the elevated bridge is that an elk herd in the area will be able to cross the road under the bridge, avoiding hazardous conflicts with traffic that frequently occur now.

The project, including the roadwork and a long list of other changes to restore the estuary (see diagram below), could cost up to $90 million, with 65 percent paid by the federal government. Besides benefitting the ecosystem, the project is expected to improve transportation, decrease flooding and possibly upgrade water quality, according to Seth Ballhorn, nearshore communications manager for WDFW. Valuable shellfish beds in that area have been closed because of pollution, he noted.

Design of the project, including the new bridge, is expected to cost between $7 million and $10 million, with the state’s portion listed in the capital budget now working its way through the Legislature. Bridge design will be under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“We see this as a multi-benefit project,” Ballhorn said. “We are getting more than habitat restoration, and we want the community to get involved and provide input on this effort.”

Public meetings about the project are expected to begin in early summer in Brinnon as part of the state’s environmental review. The design phase is expected to take two to three years.

“It’s great to initiate the design phase with WDFW on a project that will benefit Puget Sound’s chinook and orcas at such a critical time,” said Col. Mark Geraldi, Seattle District commander for the Corps of Engineers.

“In 2016, congress authorized three PSNERP projects that could ultimately restore 2,100 acres of critical habitat,” he said in the news release. “We’ve been working on this for a very long time, and getting to this point is a testament to the hard work and dedication by the federal and state agencies, tribes, academia, and other organizations who’ve been involved.”

The other two top-ranking projects that need further discussion before moving into design involve a 1,800-acre restoration of the Nooksack River estuary and a floodplain/wetland restoration in the North Fork of the Skagit River. See Water Ways, Dec. 17, 2016.

A conceptual map of the Duckabush River estuary project includes a long bridge spanning the estuary (white). Click twice to enlarge.
Graphic: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

A new federal law recognizes Washington’s maritime heritage

The Maritime Washington National Heritage Area — which now encompasses about 3,000 miles of saltwater shoreline in Western Washington — was created yesterday within a wide-ranging lands bill signed into law by President Trump.

Maritime Washington National Heritage Area encompasses most of the saltwater shoreline throughout Western Washington.
Map: Maritime Washington NHA feasibility study

Created to celebrate the maritime history and culture of Puget Sound and Coastal Washington, the Maritime Washington NHA is the first designated area of its kind in the United States to focus entirely on maritime matters.

The designation is expected to provide funding to promote and coordinate maritime museums, historic ships, boatbuilding, and education, including discussions of early marine transportation and commerce in Washington state.

“We are thrilled about this,” said Chris Moore, executive director of the nonprofit Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. “The stories we want to convey are important to so many people.

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Salmon report mixes good and bad news, with a touch of hope

The story of salmon recovery in Washington state is a mixture of good and bad news, according to the latest “State of the Salmon” report issued by the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office.

It’s the usual story of congratulations for 20 years of salmon restoration and protection, along with a sobering reminder about how the growing human population in our region has systematically dismantled natural functions for nearly 150 years.

“We must all do our part to protect our state’s wild salmon,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release. “As we face a changing climate, growing population and other challenges, now is the time to double down on our efforts to restore salmon to levels that sustain them, our fishing industry and the communities that rely on them. Salmon are crucial to our future and to the survival of beloved orca whales.”

The report reminds us that salmon are important to the culture of our region and to the ecosystem, which includes our cherished killer whales. It is, however, frustrating for everyone to see so little progress in the number of salmon returning to the streams, as reflected in this summary found in the report:

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Salmon treaty designed to boost spawning count and feed the orcas

Allowable fishing for chinook salmon in the waters of Canada and Southeast Alaska will be cut back significantly this year as a result of a revised 10-year Pacific Salmon Treaty between the United States and Canada.

Chinook salmon // Photo: NOAA Fisheries

The goal of the updated treaty is to increase the number of adult chinook returning to Washington and Oregon waters, where they will be available to feed a declining population of endangered orcas while increasing the number of fish spawning in the streams, according to Phil Anderson, a U.S. negotiator on the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Most chinook hatched in Washington and Oregon travel north through Canada and into Alaska, making them vulnerable to fishing when they return. Changes to the treaty should reduce Canadian harvests on those stocks by about 12.5 percent and Alaskan harvests by about 7.5 percent, Phil told me. Those numbers are cutbacks from actual harvests in recent years, he said, so they don’t tell the complete story.

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New online magazine describes life in and around Puget Sound

John F. Williams, a Suquamish resident who has been creating dramatic underwater videos for years, recently launched a new online publication called Salish Magazine. Its goal is to help people to better understand the ecosystem in the Puget Sound region.

For those of us who live in the region, John and his Still Hope Productions have helped us visualize and understand what lies beneath the waves and up the streams of Puget Sound. The video “Is this where Puget Sound starts?” (shown below) is a good example of the video production. Other videos can be found on Still Hope’s website.

The new online publication shifts to the use of more words, along with photos and videos, to explain the connections among living things. The first issue includes extensive articles on sea anemones, barnacles, sea stars, mussels and glaciation, spiced up with art, poetry and personal stories. Download the magazine as a huge PDF (56.6 mb) file or open it in iBooks.

The second issue of Salish Magazine is about the importance of forests, with articles on forest character, forest restoration, barred owls and more, as well as poetry, essays and lots of photos, all combined in a web design that combines variable scrolling with pull-down menus.

As John describes it, “A key focus of the magazine is to illustrate the interconnectedness woven through our ecosystems, using lenses of history, science, and culture.”

The first two issues are free, although a subscription is expected to be announced next year. Meanwhile, one can sign up for newsletters on the Subscribe webpage. Salish Magazine is published by the nonprofit firm SEA-Media.

Speaking of environment news, I hope everyone is familiar with Puget Sound Institute and its online newsletters. The December issue includes a quiz on Pacific herring and articles on rockfish, Puget Sound vital signs, the Clean Water Act and recent research papers.

Puget Sound Institute, an independent organization affiliated with the University of Washington, strives to advance an understanding of Puget Sound through scientific synthesis, original research and communication. PSI receives major funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

One can subscribe to the PSI newsletter, blog and alerts to articles in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound on the Subscribe webpage.

Full disclosure: I am employed half-time by Puget Sound Institute to write in-depth articles about scientific discoveries and ecological challenges in the Puget Sound region.

Further note: A previous version of this post stated incorrectly that Still Hope Productions is a nonprofit company.

Major funding advances for restoration projects in Hood Canal region

More than $20 million in ecosystem-restoration projects along the Skokomish River in Southern Hood Canal could be under construction within two years, thanks to special funding approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Meanwhile, Washington state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board announced this morning that it would provide $18 million for salmon restoration projects statewide — including a portion of the funding needed to purchase nearly 300 acres near the mouth of Big Beef Creek in Kitsap County.

Skokomish watershed (click to enlarge)
Map: Army Corps of Engineers

The Army Corps of Engineers has secured $13.6 million in federal funds for restoration on 277 acres in the Skokomish River watershed. Included in the work are levee removals, wetland restoration and installation of large-woody debris, said Mike Anderson, chairman of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, known as SWAT. About $7 million in state matching funds is moving toward approval in the next Legislative session.

“We’re really happy and a little surprised,” Mike said. “We’d just gotten the design funding through the Corps earlier this year, and we were sort of expecting that we would get into the Corps’ 2020 budget for construction.”

The Corps chose Skokomish for some nationwide nondiscretionary funding to move the entire project to construction, he added, attributing the extra funding to ongoing cooperation among the various parties involved.

Projects approved for funding (click to enlarge)
Graphic: Army Corps of Engineers

Approval of the federal funds marks the culmination of many years of planning by members of the SWAT — including the Corps, Mason County, the Skokomish Tribe, state and federal agencies, nongovernment organizations and area residents, said Joseph Pavel, natural resources director for the Skokomish Tribe.

“The water and salmon are central to the life, culture, and well-being of the Skokomish community, and we are pleased and encouraged to be taking this next great step in the restoration, recovery, protection and management of the salmon resources we depend upon,” Pavel said in a prepared statement.

Specific projects to be funded by the Army Corps of Engineers with distances measured upstream from the estuary on Hood Canal:

Confluence levee removal: This levee was built with old cars at the confluence where the North Fork flows into the mainstem of the Skokomish. Some 5,000 feet of the levee would be removed. A small channel would be created to allow water from the mainstem to flow into the North Fork and return at the existing confluence. Large woody debris would help direct water into the channel. Estimated cost: $7.5 million.

Wetland restoration at river mile 9: The existing levee would be breached in four locations, and a new levee would be built some 200 to 300 feet farther away. The levee would allow for minor over-topping but would not increase the flood risk. Estimated cost: $2.4 million.

Wetland restoration near Grange: Larger breeches are planned for the levee near the Grange hall at river mile 7.5 to 8 . A new levee, up to 10 feet tall and 2,900 feet long, would be constructed 1,200 feet farther back with no increase in flood risk. Estimated cost $3.3 million.

Side channel connection near Highway 101: An old remnant channel between river mile 4 and 5.6 would be restored to take water from the mainstem at high flows. Woody debris would help define the inlet and outlet to the channel, which would become a ponded wetland at low flows. Estimated cost: $3.1 million.

Large woody debris: Upstream of the confluence with the North Fork, large woody debris would be installed. Large clusters of trees with root wads, as well as some single trees, would be placed between river mile 9 and 11. Estimated cost: $3.2 million.

State matching funds would be provided through grants, including the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund and Floodplains by Design Fund, which depend on legislative appropriations, along with the Salmon Recovery Fund.

Another major project in the Skokomish Valley is a bridge and culverts where floodwaters often cover the West Skokomish Valley Road. The $1.2 million project is designed to reconnect wetlands on opposite sides of the road. Much of that needed funding has been secured through the Federal Lands Access Program. The project will be in an area where salmon can be seen swimming across the road during high flows.

See also Skokomish River Basin Ecosystem Restoration (PDF 7.5 mb) by the Army Corps of Engineers.

As announced by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the purchase of 297 acres on Big Beef Creek near Seabeck — including the University of Washington’s Big Beef Creek Research Station — will protect the important salmon stream and could provide public recreation in the future, according to Mendy Harlow, executive director of the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, which will take ownership of the property owned by the UW.

Big Beef Creek Research Station is part of 297 acres to be purchased from the University of Washington by Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group.
Photo: Brandon Palmer

The site includes a fish trap operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as well as research facilities used for salmon spawning and rearing studies.

“We would like to continue the research there,” Mendy told me. “We’re going to be pulling together multiple agencies and other fish organizations to see if we have the capacity to keep a facility like that.”

The goal will be to balance ecosystem restoration with the potential of future research and salmon-enhancement efforts, she said. It is possible that trails or other recreation facilities could become part of a long-term plan.

The $430,000 provided by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board is a relatively small, yet important, part of the $4.3 million needed to acquire the property, she said. That total amount includes surveys, studies and appraisals as well as the cost of the property.

The project was awarded $980,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Program. Other funding could come from the state’s Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund and Washington Wildlife and Recreation Fund.

The $18 million in statewide salmon funding will go to 95 projects in 30 of the state’s 39 counties. Money will be used for improving salmon migration in streams, restoring stream channels and vegetation, improving estuaries and preserving intact habitat. About 75 percent of the projects will benefit Chinook salmon, the primary prey for the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. For details, download the document (PDF 393 kb) that lists the projects by county.

“This funding helps protect one of our most beloved legacies,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release. “Together we’re taking a step forward for salmon, and in turn dwindling Southern Resident orca whales, while also looking back to ensure we’re preserving historic tribal cultural traditions and upholding promises made more than a century ago.”