Category Archives: Recreation

Amusing Monday: Evolution of sea snakes takes twists and turns

I’ve always felt fortunate that residents of Western Washington need not worry about encountering a deadly snake while hiking in our home territory. The same goes for divers and sea snakes — which are even more venomous than terrestrial snakes. The cold waters of Washington and Oregon tend to keep the sea snakes away.

The same used to be said for California, where sea snake sightings were once extremely rare. That has been changing, however, the past few years — especially during years when higher ocean temperatures encourage tropical creatures to make their way north. Is it just a matter of time before Washington scuba divers begin to report the presence of sea snakes?

A little more than a year ago, a highly venomous yellow-bellied sea snake was seen slithering on the sand in Newport Beach south of Los Angeles. It was the third report of the species since 2015, according to an article in the LA Times.

“Oceans are warming and the species that respond to that change will be those that are the most mobile,” said Greg Pauly, a snake expert quoted in the story by Louis Sahagun. “So the big question now is this: Are sea snakes swimming off the coast of Southern California the new normal?”

If you peruse the Internet for stories and videos about sea snakes, you will quickly learn that sea snakes are far more venomous than their land-based counterparts. You will see statistics such as this from Kidzone: “The most poisonous one is the beaked sea snake. Just 3 drops of venom can kill about 8 people!”

On the positive side, sea snakes rarely bite humans. And, when they do, they don’t deliver a lot of venom.

Folks working on fishing vessels in many tropical locations encounter sea snakes in their nets on a regular basis. Fishermen carefully remove the snakes and set them free. Unfortunately, a 23-year-old British man was killed last fall on an Australian prawn trawler when he was bitten while trying to remove a snake from a net. It was the first death of its kind in Australia since 1935, according to a researcher quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Steve Fisher, an underwater photographer who lives in Bremerton, told me about a few encounters he had with sea snakes while diving near Palau Manuk — also called “Snake Island” — in Indonesia last fall. It’s a place known for hundreds of green sea snakes.

The snakes tend to congregate around volcanic vents where the water is warm, Steve said. He likes to go night diving to capture images of exotic sea creatures in the glare of his lights. But the diving guides leading the dive trips in Indonesia made it abundantly clear that they would not immerse themselves during congregations of sea snakes after dark.

During daylight hours, Steve spotted as many as three snakes at one time swirling around together, but he never got to see the legendary “balls” of hundreds of snakes intertwined together at one time.

Steve Fisher of Bremerton took this photo of a green sea snake last fall while diving near Palau Manuk — also called “Snake Island” — in Indonesia. The diver in the foreground is a local guide. (Click to enlarge)
Photo: Steve Fisher

Steve said he counts on relatively slow reactions from the sea snakes and other potentially dangerous creatures that he encounters on his dives. That way he can capture his best photos of sea life.

“I’m kind of a fool when it comes to wildlife,” he told me. “When they are laying on the bottom and resting, I will reach over and touch them, causing them to look at me.” That’s when he gets the shot.

I became interested in this subject of sea snakes a few weeks ago after reading a new research paper about how the snakes keep themselves hydrated. Sea snakes are evolved from land snakes, which means their blood is based on freshwater and they breathe through lungs, not gills.

Sea snakes are seen swimming to the surface to take in a breath of air, although some apparently are able to absorb some oxygen from the water through their skin. But if they never return to land, how do they get enough freshwater to keep their bodies functioning?

Sea snakes have long been known to have salt glands to help excrete excess salt in their blood, and some scientists speculated that the snakes could be drinking seawater. But previous studies concluded that the salt glands are too small to excrete all the salt in the water needed for proper hydration.

The answer to the question of how the snakes get enough freshwater apparently is that they drink rainwater from the sky. Harvey Lilliwhite, a biology professor at the University of Florida, was studying yellow-bellied sea snakes in Costa Rica with his colleagues when the six-month dry season suddenly ended with a deluge of rain.

The researchers had already captured some snakes before the rain fell, and they captured others afterward — 99 snakes in all. Each time they brought snakes into the lab, they offered them a drink of freshwater. About 80 percent of snakes that were captured before the rains would take a drink, but that percentage declined as the rains continued. Only about 13 percent wanted a drink when captured eight days after the rains started.

The research paper was published in the journal Plos One. By the way, the snakes were released after the experiment.

So far, Lillywhite has not observed the snakes drinking water in the wild, but the presumed source of supply is the thin layer of freshwater that temporarily becomes layered over the heavier seawater when it rains. With wave action, the freshwater tends to accumulate in discrete locations, called lenses.

How do the snakes find these lenses of freshwater? How thick do the lenses need to be for the snakes to drink? Do lots of snakes suddenly come to the surface all at once when it rains? And what does the future hold for these specialized creatures, as climate change extends the periods between rainfall events? These answers must come later.

“How these animals locate and harvest precipitation is important in view of the recent declines and extinctions of some species of sea snakes,” Lilliwhite said in a University of Florida publication. “The question remains: How will climate change and its effects on precipitation impact the sea snakes?”

Jake Buehler, a writer with National Geographic, provided a nice account of the research with additional perspectives from folks not involved in the study.

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.

“This is the culmination of probably over a decade of work and six or seven years of legislation in Congress,” he told me during a phone call from Washington, D.C., shortly after the bill was signed.

The Natural Resources Management Act, signed yesterday, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired on Sept. 30. The much-heralded fund draws money from oil and gas royalties and is spent on community recreation and conservation projects throughout the country.

The massive bipartisan bill incorporates more than 110 separate pieces of legislation, including wilderness designations, new wild and scenic rivers and additions to national parks, trails and conservation areas.

“Public lands and access to lands are a juggernaut part of our economy,” said Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell in a news release. “This legislation gives the tools and resources to local communities to manage this, to give more access to the American people, to do the things that will help us grow jobs and help us recreate for the future and preserve against a very challenging and threatening climate.”

The legislation was introduced by Cantwell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. It passed the Senate, 92-8.

Six new national heritage areas were created by the act, including two in Washington state and two in California. In addition to the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area, Washington state now has the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area, which designates some 1.5-million acres along Interstate 90 from Seattle to Ellensburg.

The Maritime Washington NHA may be the most unusual among the nation’s 55 national heritage areas, for it designates the shoreline almost everywhere — but only the land a quarter-mile inland from shore. It is kind of an informal line that specifically excludes privately owned areas that have been zoned for residential or agricultural use. In fact, while the designation recognizes the historical use of the shoreline, it provides no authority to impose any changes in land use or ownership.

“The most significant change that would come with designation as a Heritage Area would be the opportunity to organize and deliver programs and communicate with visitors regionally, rather than locally, and jointly rather than independently,” states a feasibility study on the NHA (PDF 9.2 mb). “Activity at this scale should complement, rather than compete with the current work being done by local stakeholders.”

The new legislation establishes the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation as the “facilitating organization” for launching the program, coordinating the players and drafting a management plan within the first three years.

“We will be moving to that stage now,” said Chris Moore. “We will be convening folks to start looking at the management plan.”

Many options are possible, from promoting events, tourism and education to passing along federal dollars for worthy local projects, he said. All ideas will be on the table.

The federal legislation authorizes up to $1 million a year for the first 10 years for each new national heritage area, provided that Congress appropriates the money and that the facilitating organizations come up with an equal match of funds or “in-kind” services.

The designated area includes generally all of Washington’s coast and inland waters, although Pacific County was purposely excluded, because it would be included in a separate national heritage area being considered for the Columbia River. Nevertheless, Pacific County is recognized for its important maritime heritage and could play a role in the wider effort.

The feasibility report makes a strong case for encouraging Washington residents to embrace their maritime heritage and for showing visitors how Northwest maritime activities influenced the entire country.

Western Washington has been shaped by its maritime heritage — from Native American canoe cultures to the age of sailing-ship exploration to the development of maritime industry, according to the report.

“Designation is a way to tell the bigger story of Washington’s maritime history and culture alongside the detailed stories of individual places and themes,” the report says. “Telling the bigger story — one that brings together old and new, the Pacific and Puget Sound, large craft and small — will engage more of the public and better share the history, drama, and excitement of our maritime heritage.”

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:

  • Getting worse: Puget Sound chinook, Upper Columbia River spring chinook
  • Not making progress: Upper Columbia River steelhead, Lower Columbia River chum, Lower Columbia River fall chinook, Lower Columbia River spring chinook, Snake River spring and summer chinook
  • Showing signs of progress: Mid-Columbia River steelhead, Lake Ozette sockeye, Lower Columbia River steelhead, Snake River steelhead, Puget Sound steelhead
  • Approaching recovery goals: Hood Canal summer chum, Snake River fall chinook

It would be reassuring if we could know that our efforts in salmon recovery are making some real difference before we “double down on our efforts,” as the governor suggests. That’s why I spent considerable time trying to answer the question of whether we have turned the corner on habitat destruction in Puget Sound. Could we at least be improving the habitat faster than we are degrading it with new development? Check out “Are we making progress on salmon recovery” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

As I point out in the article, this question is not just a matter of counting salmon that return to the streams, because many factors are involved in salmon survival. Researchers with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center are investigating habitat conditions and the fate of young salmon before they reach saltwater, based on many ongoing studies. I’m hoping their upcoming findings can boost confidence that restoration work is on the right track.

Looking beyond the streams, I have reported on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, which is asking important questions about what happens to young salmon after they leave the streams and head out to sea. You can read the four-part series called “Marine survival: New clues emerging in salmon deaths” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

The new “State of the Salmon” report describes, in a general way, the work that needs to be done, concluding that renewed efforts should be focused on:

  • Larger habitat restoration and protection projects
  • Better control of harmful development
  • Management and cleanup of stormwater
  • Addressing climate change
  • Restoring access to spawning and rearing habitat
  • Engaging communities
  • Reducing salmon predators and destructive invasive species, and
  • Integration of harvest, hatchery, hydropower and habitat actions

These general discussions, which are found in Section 9 of the executive summary to the “State of the Salmon” report, could be helpful if you haven’t heard any of this before. If you would like more details, however, I would direct you to these documents:

One of the most engaging sections of the new “State of the Salmon” report is the one containing “Salmon Recovery Stories.” If you read through all 24 of these stories (not necessarily in one sitting), you can confirm what you already know, and you are bound to learn some new things along the way. I know I did. The writing is tight and informative, while the pictures, videos are graphics complete the story-telling. The section is like a primer in salmon restoration.

“It’s not that we don’t know how to recover salmon,” Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, said in a news release. “We know what needs to be done, and we have the people in place to do the hard work. We just haven’t received the funding necessary to do what’s required of us.”

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.

If you consider allowable harvest levels under the previous 2009 treaty with Canada, the cutbacks are even greater — up to 25 percent for some stocks, he said. The difference is that actual fishing never reached the allowable levels because of declines in the overall chinook population.

“I think we achieved some major reductions in fisheries from the existing agreement,” said Anderson, a former director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The actual change in allowable catches in some cases is much greater than 12.5 percent. A lot of people doubted that we were going to be able to get any cuts at all, so this is a significant advancement in conservation for Washington stocks.”

Negotiations for the revised treaty were completed in July, but details of the treaty remained under wraps pending full ratification by the United States and Canada. Because the treaty was expiring at the end of 2018, the two governments agreed to impose the new treaty provisions on an interim basis beginning Jan. 1. Consequently, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released the chinook chapters to the treaty on Dec. 31.

Because the interests of Washington and Oregon don’t always line up with Alaska, it took nearly a year to formulate the U.S. position, which includes consultation with state and tribal governments. It took another 16 months to reach an agreement with Canada. During that time, the commissioners got together for about 14 meetings as well as many more conference calls, according to Phil Anderson, who represents the interests of Washington and Oregon on the international commission.

“Even though we had some tough issues to resolve, we were able to keep everyone at the table by showing civility and respect for each other,” Phil said, noting that those involved were conscious of the failed 1999 treaty negotiations. That’s when talks broke down, the treaty expired and the thorniest issues had to be resolved at higher levels of government — including the U.S. State Department.

Conservation aspects of the treaty became the driving factor in negotiations, Phil said. Puget Sound chinook are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, while Southern Resident killer whales are listed as endangered. Alaskan officials, who represent fishermen with big money to lose, had to be convinced that Washington and Oregon were doing their part to preserve the species.

“If you are asking people to cut their (fishing) opportunities for your conservation reasons, it is not surprising that they need to know that we are doing everything we can here, both in fishery management and on the habitat side of things,” Phil said.

Charles Swanton, deputy commissioner for Alaska Department of Fish and Game, toured the region to observe extensive habitat-restoration projects, hatchery programs and other conservation projects in Puget Sound. Swanton, who has since resigned, represented the interests of Alaska on the Pacific Salmon Commission. Ron Allen of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe represented U.S. tribal interests, alternating in the commissioner post with McCoy Oatman of the Nez Perce Tribe. Bob Turner of NOAA Fisheries represented the federal government on the commission.

Planning for this year’s fishing seasons begins with an estimate of the total number of fish that have survived to adulthood. The terms of the treaty place limitations on Alaskan and Canadian harvest of stocks returning to Puget Sound, the Columbia River and the Washington and Oregon coasts.

The total number can vary greatly year to year, but in recent years Puget Sound runs of hatchery and wild chinook have ranged from about 200,000 to 250,000 fish, while the Columbia River has seen returns of roughly a million chinook. Preseason forecasts for this year’s salmon runs are scheduled to be discussed at meetings Feb. 26 in Montesano and Feb. 27 in Lacey.

Both U.S. and Canadian officials are interested in protecting chinook salmon to feed the 74 remaining Southern Resident killer whales, which travel from southern British Columbia through Puget Sound and down the West Coast to California. A shortage of chinook, their primary prey, has been identified as a major cause of their drop in population from 97 animals in 1996 to 74 today, a decline of 24 percent.

Phil said the commission spent a good deal of time talking about the orcas and the impact of fishing on the prey base. “We did a lot of analysis and modeling to make sure we fully understood the effect (of the agreement) on the prey base. The orca issues were a big deal to both countries.”

Also important is the goal of getting more chinook back to their spawning grounds, where habitat has been improved in many areas.

As harvest managers plan for upcoming fishing seasons, increasing consideration is being given to which chinook stocks are important to the killer whales and where the orcas are likely to hunt for them. The effect of saving salmon for the whales as well as for spawning has led to an overall shift in allowable fishing from the open ocean, where stocks are mixed, to fishing areas closer to the streams. That way more abundant runs can be targeted by fishers after the fish have swum past areas where the whales are most likely to get them.

Fishing seasons are established to allow a percentage of the fish to be harvested in each area along their way back to their home streams. Because Puget Sound chinook are listed as threatened, the federal government has established a maximum percentage of harvest allowed for each stock, known as the “rebuilding exploitation rate.”

Under the previous 2009 agreement, only 17 percent of the Puget Sound chinook stocks would have met the negotiated goal. As a result of further fishing cutbacks the past few years, the RER was actually achieved for 42 percent of the stocks. Under the new agreement, it is anticipated that the goal will be reached for 67 percent of the Puget Sound populations.

That’s a nice jump, but it still leaves a lot of Puget Sound streams that are not meeting the objectives, Phil conceded.

“Yes, we’re not meeting them today,” he said, “and even if we close all fisheries, we would not be meeting them either.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government requires mitigation measures, such as habitat restoration and conservation hatcheries, designed to increase the overall populations. Without mitigation measures, fisheries on depressed stocks would not be allowed at all.

The Pacific Salmon Treaty also covers coho and chum salmon fishing. Provisions for coho were simplified but did not change much. The provisions for chum call for decreased fishing pressure when the runs are low.

One of the steps before full implementation of the new treaty is for NOAA Fisheries in the United States to complete a biological opinion to ensure that the treaty complies with the Endangered Species Act.

In addition, the treaty must undergo a period of parliamentary consideration in Canada and executive approval in the U.S., and Congress must approve funding to implement provisions of the treaty that include habitat restoration, hatchery conservation, marking of Southeast Alaska hatchery chinook, and increased production of hatchery chinook specifically to feed the orcas.

Amusing Monday: Energized super-senior just keeps on going

Nothing stops 91-year-old Canadian John Carter, who has been dubbed the “world’s most extreme grandpa.”

In a seven-minute video released in November, this super-senior from Trail, B.C., is shown diving off a high board, snowshoeing, jogging, cycling, fishing and weightlifting. He also practices a little baseball and soccer with the kids. Those feats are something to admire.

Carter apparently has inspired many people, including the video’s producer, Devin Graham, who calls Carter a legend in the general community around Trail. Graham wanted to produce a video to recognize Carter for his way of tackling life, both physically and mentally.

“I just love his presence, his positivity, and how he’s lived his life,” Graham says in the video, “so I wanted to share that story with you.”

John Carter, 91, on location with video-producer Devin Graham. // Photo: DevinSuperTramp

Graham is married to Carter’s granddaughter. He became acquainted with the older man at another family wedding, according to a story in The Columbia Valley Pioneer newspaper, based in nearby Invermere.

The video has been viewed nearly 200,000 times since its release on Nov. 27.

“It’s crazy the comments I am getting because I go to the pool every night at 8,” Carter is quoted as saying. “I just walked in the door and the (front desk clerk) right away said, ‘Can I get your autograph?’”

CBC News commented on Carter’s diving prowess in a feature story, noting that the nonagenarian does back flips and sometimes back flops in a local swimming pool. On at least one occasion, the pool’s lifeguard pointed out that Carter had lost his dentures.

“I thought they were closed in good in my pocket, but the lifeguard says, ‘Hey, Mr. Carter, your teeth are down by the bottom of the pool,'” Carter recalls in the video.

One can also listen to a radio interview (above) with John Carter conducted by guest host Brady Strachan as heard on CBC’s Daybreak South, a current-affairs show based in Kelowna and covering the southern interior of British Columbia.

Devin Graham, a self-confessed film-school dropout, started making videos in Hawaii as DevinSuperTramp before teaming up three other creative minds to form today’s TeamSuperTramp video production company. Checkout the team’s bios.

Amusing Monday: Stirring photos honored by National Geographic

Nearly 10,000 photos were entered into this year’s National Geographic Photo Contest, and I’m sure that it was difficult for the judges to choose. To feature some great water-related images, I picked three of my favorites from the finalists.

“Moonlight,” a photo of the famous Wanapa Tree in New Zealand. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: Mo Wu, Taichung, Taiwan

The first photo, titled “Moonlight,” focuses on the Wanapa Tree, which photographer Mo Wu of Taichung, Taiwan, called the most famous tree in New Zealand. Wu waited until the moon was over the tree to capture the reflection and moon shadow in Wanapa Lake. The photo was entered into the Places category.

The second photo, titled “emBEARassed,” shows a brown bear slipping and taking a brief tumble while fishing at Brooks Falls in Alaska.

“EmBEARassed,” a photo of a brown bear taking a tumble at Brooks Falls, Alaska.
Photo: Taylor Thomas Albright, Yuma, Ariz.

“Anxious, aggressive and hoping to get a better angle at the leaping salmon, this bear reached out a bit too far and lost his footing,” explained photographer Taylor Thomas Albright of Yuma, Ariz. “Splashing into the pool below unharmed, he eventually climbed back into his spot to wait for the next chance at a salmon.”

A National Geographic producer, David Y. Lee, commented, “Fantastic moment you documented here, Taylor. I usually see images of the bears at Brooks Falls just standing and waiting, maybe a salmon or two jumping up in the air. So I love seeing something different. Yes, this is a #bearblooper. I love the way the other bear is looking at the falling one, like ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘Are you OK?’ Great job being ready to make this frame when it happened. Well done.”

“Surfers in Bali,” taken at sunrise in Indonesia.
Photo: Carsten Schertzer, Oxnard, Calif.

The third photo, titled “Surfers in Bali,” was taken at sunrise in Indonesia, according to photographer Carsten Schertzer of Oxnard, Calif. It was entered in the Place category.

“I first saw the gate earlier in the morning, knowing this would be a perfect place for an image,” he said. “I only needed a subject to walk within the frame, so I sat and waited, locked in my composition and waited until the surfers walked into my frame.”

Kimberly Coates, a photographer for NatGeo’s “Your Shot” program, noted, “You captured this shot at the perfect moment! I love the symmetry of the structure in front and how it frames the surfers. The sky is also such a lovely shade of purple! Thanks for sharing, Carsten!”

“Unreal” shows thousands of Volkswagen and Audi cars lined up in the desert. Click for a slide show of winning photos in the National Geographic contest.
Photo: Jassen Todorov, San Francisco

The fourth photo is the Grand Prize winner of the photo contest, with photographer Jassen Todorov of San Francisco claiming a $5,000 prize. The picture shows thousands of Volkswagen and Audi cars lined up in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert, the result of a recall after Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions controls.

Click on the photo to call up a slide show of all 12 winning photos, or go directly to the “Wallpapers: Winners” page. You can review all the finalists by category or look a those that made the judges’ cuts over a five-week period. The pictures can be downloaded and used as wallpaper for your computer, tablet or cellphone.

Entries for next year’s contest may be submitted in October. Updated rules are expected to be posted later, but general information can be found on the Rules webpage.

King Tides don’t always follow the tide tables

UPDATE: Dec. 19

An app used for reporting King Tides can also be used to report marine debris along the shoreline. Check out the news release issued today by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
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Higher-than-predicted marine waters, brought about in part by recent weather conditions, have given us unexpected “King Tides” in many areas of Puget Sound.

I noticed that the waters of Hood Canal seemed exceedingly high this afternoon, as I drove along Seabeck Highway where the road hugs the shoreline. The waters were not supposed to be this high, according to tide tables developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, so I checked some actual levels recorded at nearby locations.

High-water levels measured on the waterfronts in Seattle, Tacoma and Port Townsend were nearly 1½ feet higher than what had been predicted by NOAA for those areas. For example, in Seattle the preliminary high-water level was listed at a tidal elevation of 12.98 feet at 12:54 p.m. today, compared to a predicted high tide of 11.56 feet.

This is the season for King Tides, a name given to the highest tides of the year. High tides, mostly generated by the alignment of the sun and the moon, are predicted for Christmas Eve, rising higher to the day after Christmas and then declining. But, as we’ve seen this week, as well as on Thanksgiving Day, predicted high tides can be dramatically boosted by heavy rains, low atmospheric pressure and onshore winds.

As one can see by looking at observed and predicted tidal levels in Seattle, the actual tidal level has exceeded the predicted level more often than not over the past 30 days — and lately it has been higher by quite a lot (shown in chart at bottom of this page). Actual levels are measured in real time in only 14 places in Washington state. One can access the charts from NOAA’s Water Levels — Stations Selections page.

King Tides are promoted as an event by Washington Sea Grant and the Washington Department of Ecology, because today’s extreme tides provide a reference point for sea-level rise caused by climate change. The highest tides of today will be seen more often in the future, and even higher tides are coming. Check out the blog post on Water Ways from Jan. 3 of this year. See also the website “Washington King Tides Program.”

Washington Sea Grant has posted a list of dates when high tides are expected in various areas, called King Tides Calendar. Sharing photos of high tides hitting the shoreline is part of the adventure, so sign up for MyCoast to share your pictures or view images posted by others, or download the cellphone app to make the connection even easier.

The chart shows the actual tidal water levels in Seattle (red) compared to the predicted levels (blue). Click to go to NOAA’s website.
Chart: NOAA

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.”

Amusing Monday: Wild and Scenic Rivers to be featured on U.S. stamps

In the coming year, you could choose to use postage stamps depicting the Skagit River in Washington, the Deschutes River in Oregon, the Tlikakila River in Alaska, and the Snake River, which runs through portions of Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Skagit River: Wild and Scenic Rivers stamp
Photo: Tim Palmer

These rivers are among 12 Wild and Scenic Rivers to be featured in a pane of stamps scheduled to be released as Forever stamps in the coming year.

The year 2018 has been celebrated as the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, with a special celebration in October, so I didn’t think I’d be writing about this topic again so soon. But I couldn’t pass up a mention of these stamps that show off some beautiful photographs by Michael Melford, Tim Palmer and Bob Wick. The pane of stamps was designed by art director Derry Nores for the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp program.

Deschutes River: Wild and Scenic Rivers stamp
Photo: Bob Wick

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve sections of rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values. Although the Snake River runs through portions of four states, the designated section is actually just a 67-mile segment downstream of Hells Canyon Dam along the Idaho-Oregon border.

Reporter Kimberly Cauvel of the Skagit Valley Herald wrote about the Skagit River stamp, quoting photographer Tim Palmer and salmon biologist Richard Brocksmith, executive director of the Skagit Watershed Council.

Snake River: Wild and Scenic Rivers stamp
Photo: Tim Palmer

“Clearly Skagit belongs in that group of rivers to celebrate around the country,” Richard told her. “There’s no other single river anywhere in Washington, maybe even the country, that exceeds all superlatives for its unique beauty, fisheries resources, recreational values, natural free-flowing condition and local contributions to our economy such as Skagit’s agriculture.”

With the largest runs of Chinook salmon among Puget Sound streams, one could also argue that the Skagit plays a key role in the effort to save the Southern Resident killer whales from extinction.

Other Wild and Scenic Rivers featured as stamps in the upcoming release (with photographer) are:

  • Merced River in California (Melford),
  • Owyhee River, a tributary of the Snake River in Oregon (Melford),
  • Koyukuk River, Alaska (Melford),
  • Niobrara River, a tributary of the Missouri River in Nebraska (Melford)
  • Flathead River, Montana (Palmer)
  • Missouri River, Montana (Wick)
  • Ontonagon River, Michigan (Palmer),
  • Clarion River, Pennsylvania (Wick)

Since 1847, official U.S. postage stamps have been used to promote the people, places and events that represent the history of the United States.

Tlikakila River: Wild and Scenic Rivers stamp
Photo: Michael Melford

“The miniature works of art illustrated in the 2019 stamp program offer something for everyone’s interest about American history and culture,” Mary-Anne Penner, executive director of the USPS Stamp Services Program, said in a news release Nov. 20.

The Postal Service previewed 20 upcoming stamps or sets of stamps for 2019 in the news release. The stamps honor people including Marvin Gaye and Walt Whitman and range in subject from the USS Missouri battleship to four species of frogs. So far, I’ve been unable to obtain release dates for these stamps, but some info should be posted soon in the USPS Newsroom. Also, if you haven’t heard, the price of a Forever stamp will rise from 50 cents to 55 cents on Jan. 27, as approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission.

If you’d like to see the state-by-state list of Wild and Scenic Rivers, go to the map on the Wild and Scenic Rivers anniversary website and click on any state.

Previous Water Ways blog posts about this year’s anniversary:

Twelve Wild and Scenic Rivers stamps are scheduled for release in 2019. // Source: U.S. Postal Service

Low streamflows have constrained the salmon migration this fall

If you are hosting out-of-town visitors this Thanksgiving weekend, it might be a good time to take them salmon-watching — or go by yourself if you get the urge to see one of nature’s marvelous phenomena.

Rainfall in Hansville. Blue line shows current trend.
Graph: Kitsap Public Utility District

Kitsap County’s Salmon Park on Chico Way near Golf Club Road tops my list of places to watch salmon. Expect to see plenty of dead fish as well as live ones, as we have apparently passed the peak of the run.

Dogfish Creek near Poulsbo also has a fair number of chum at this time, with a good viewing spot at the north end of Fish Park. Gorst Creek and other streams in Sinclair Inlet are known for their late runs of chum salmon, which are likely to be spotted right up until Christmas at Otto Jarstad Park.

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