Tag Archives: Hood Canal

Spring Chinook return to the Skokomish River to start a new salmon run

Spring Chinook salmon are being reared at a new hatchery on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. The hatchery is owned and operated by Tacoma Public Utilities. // Photo: Tacoma Public Utilities

For the first time in decades, an early run of Chinook salmon has returned to the Skokomish River in southern Hood Canal.

These bright, torpedo-shaped hatchery fish are the first of what is expected to become an ongoing run of spring Chinook as part of a major salmon-restoration effort related to the Cushman Hydro Project. Eventually, the salmon run could provide fishing opportunities for humans and orcas.

“it is pretty exciting,” said Dave Herrera, fish and wildlife policy adviser for the Skokomish Tribe. “Our objective has always been to restore the salmon populations that were once here.”

Andrew Ollenburg, Cushman fish facilities manager for Tacoma Public Utilities, reported that 19 spring Chinook — 15 females and four males — have been captured at the base of the lower Cushman Dam on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. As of this week, biologists estimated that 50 or 60 spring Chinook were in the river farther below the dam — and more are coming.

These fish are among the survivors of 131,000 yearling Chinook released into the North Fork in 2016. That was before two new fish hatcheries were constructed as part of a wide-ranging legal settlement that cleared the way for a new federal hydropower license for the Tacoma-owned dams. The dams, built in the 1920s, blocked fish passage until recently, when new facilities were built for trapping and moving fish past the dams. For background, see Water Ways, Jan. 13, 2009.

Before the dams were built, the Skokomish River supported a variety of Chinook salmon runs, including both spring and summer Chinook in the North Fork. Some of the most productive habitat was inundated by Lake Cushman above the upper dam, but the dams were not the only problem facing salmon in the watershed.

“In brief, a combination of effects, escalating in intensity over time, far exceeded the productive resiliency of the indigenous populations for sustaining themselves,” states the “Recovery Plan for Skokomish River Chinook Salmon” (PDF 15.5 mb). “Hydro development, water diversion, floodplain development, estuarine alterations, liquidation of old growth forests, greatly expanded fishing patterns — all of these contributed to the extinction of the aboriginal Chinook populations in the Skokomish River.”

After the dams were built, a small number of spring Chinook continued to spawn in the North Fork below the dams during years when flows were adequate. But official documents from the early 1990s calls the spring Chinook extinct.

Eggs for the new run of spring Chinook came from fish returning to the Marblemount Hatchery, located on a tributary of the Skagit River in North Puget Sound. They were reared for a year at the Lilliwaup Hatchery on Hood Canal before their release into the North Fork. That hatchery is managed by the group Long Live the Kings.

Biologists reported the first of the adult spring Chinook swimming up the North Fork in June, a few weeks later than their counterparts returning to the Skagit, Andy said. These fish had farther to go to reach the southern end of Hood Canal, he said, but they should be ready for spawning in about two weeks — on schedule with those returning to Marblemount.

“Tribal biologists were the first to spot them in the river,” Andy said. “They said they don’t look like any Chinook they’ve ever seen before.”

He said the fish appeared sleeker, somewhat like a torpedo, as opposed to the rounder-looking fall Chinook that return to other hatcheries in the area.

“We don’t know how long the run will last,” Andy said, but hatchery managers will take steps to keep the early Chinook separated from a fall hatchery stock in the Skokomish.

This year’s spring Chinook returns to the North Fork will be used to collect eggs for the next generation to be reared at the new hatchery. More eggs will be needed from Marblemount until enough fish return to the North Fork to provide about 450,000 eggs each year. That will typically require about 100 females, Andy said.

If things go well, some of the spring Chinook returning to the Skokomish will eventually be released above the dams to spawn in the upper North Fork, where pristine habitat awaits them in Olympic National Park. This stock could also be used to rebuild a run of spring Chinook in the South Fork. Details are yet to be worked out in consideration of habitat quality and genetic consequences for fish that would spawn naturally.

Some of the Chinook returning this year could be 3-year-old “jacks” released in 2017. That year, 400,000 eggs were started at Lilliwaup before the newly hatched fish were transferred to tanks at the new hatchery for rearing. Since then, eggs from Marblemount have been taken directly to the new North Fork hatchery. Further testing is expected to reveal how many jacks arrived this year among the first spring Chinook run in modern times.

Andy said excitement is running high as people recognize the start of the new salmon run, which is expected to evolve more localized traits based on conditions in Hood Canal. The new hatchery also is being used to supplement existing stocks of coho salmon and steelhead trout surviving in the Skokomish River system.

A second new hatchery has been built at Saltwater Park on the shore of Hood Canal near Hoodsport. The goal is to restore a run of sockeye salmon — a species that migrated in and out of a much smaller Lake Cushman before the dams were built.

The new sockeye hatchery is receiving eggs from the Baker Lake Hatchery, located on a tributary of the Skagit River in North Puget Sound. After hatching, the sockeye fry are placed in Lake Cushman, where they will grow until they begin their migration downstream. A collection facility on the lake uses flowing water to attract the downstream migrants, which are then moved past the dams. I wrote about the sockeye restoration for the Kitsap Sun in July 2014.

For additional details about the two hatcheries, check out the article and photos by the National Hydropower Association. Additional information can be found on the website of Cushman Fisheries Program.

Hood Canal changes color again, thanks to plankton bloom

Hood Canal has changed colors again, shifting to shades of bimini green, as it did in 2016, when satellite photos showed the canal standing out starkly among all other waters in the Northwest.

Hood Canal has changed colors as a result of a plankton bloom, as shown in this aerial photo taken in Northern Hood Canal.
Photo: Eyes Over Puget Sound, Washington Ecology

The color change is caused by a bloom of a specific type of plankton called a coccolithophore, which shows up in nutrient-poor waters. The single-celled organism produces shells made of calcite, which reflect light to produce the unusual color.

Observers are now waiting for the clouds to depart, so we can get new satellite images of the green waters.

The plankton bloom started June 1 in Quilcene and Dabob bays, according to Teri King of Washington Sea Grant. It came about a week earlier than last year and has since spread through Hood Canal. Observers in the Seabeck area reported seeing the bloom the past few days. The bimini green color, which gets its name from an island in the Bahamas, is especially noticeable when the sun comes out.

Continue reading

Puget Sound freshens up with a little help from winter snowpack

In the latest “Eyes Over Puget Sound” report, one little note caught my attention: “Puget Sound is fresher than it’s ever been the past 17 years.”

Jellyfish are largely missing this fall from Puget Sound. Some patches of red-brown algae, such as this one in Sinclair Inlet, have been observed.
Photo: Washington Department of Ecology

At least temporarily, something has changed in the waters of Puget Sound over the past few months. It may not last, but it appears to be a good thing.

The monthly EOPS report, compiled by a team of state environmental experts, lays out recent water-quality data for the Department of Ecology. The report also includes personal observations, aerial photographs and scientific interpretations that keep readers abreast of recent conditions while putting things in historical context.

The “fresh” conditions called out in the report refers to the salinity of Puget Sound, which is driven largely by the freshwater streams flowing into the waterway. The reference to 17 years is a recognition that the overall salinity hasn’t been this low since the current program started 17 years ago.

Dissolved oxygen, essential to animals throughout the food web, was higher this fall than we’ve seen in some time. Hood Canal, which I’ve watched closely for years, didn’t come close to the conditions that have led to massive fish kills in the past. The only problem areas for low oxygen were in South Puget Sound.

Water temperatures in the Sound, which had been warmer than normal through 2015 and 2016, returned to more average conditions in 2017. Those temperatures were related, in part, to the warm ocean conditions off the coast, often referred to as “the blob.” In South Puget Sound, waters remained warm into October.

Why is the water fresher this fall than it has been in a long time? The reason can be attributed to the massive snowpack accumulated last winter, according to oceanographer Christopher Krembs, who leads the EOPS analysis. That snowpack provided freshwater this past spring, although rivers slowed significantly during the dry summer and continued into September.

“We had a really good snowpack with much more freshwater flowing in,” Christopher told me, adding that the Fraser River in southern British Columbia was well above average in July before the flows dropped off rapidly. The Fraser River feeds a lot of freshwater into northern Puget Sound.

Freshwater, which is less dense than seawater, creates a surface layer as it comes into Puget Sound and floats on top of the older, saltier water. The freshwater input fuels the circulation by generally pushing out toward the ocean, while the heavier saltwater generally moves farther into Puget Sound.

“The big gorilla is the upwelling system,” Christopher noted, referring to the rate at which deep, nutrient-rich and low-oxygen waters are churned up along the coast and distributed into the Puget Sound via the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Lately, that system has been turned down to low as a result of larger forces in the ocean.

In an advisory issued today (PDF 803 kb), NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says a weak La Niña is likely to continue through the winter. For the northern states across the country, that usually means below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation. (It’s just the opposite for the southern states.)

With a favorable snowpack already accumulating in the mountains, experts can’t help but wonder if we might repeat this year’s conditions in Puget Sound over the next year.

Christopher told me that during aerial flights this fall, he has observed fewer jellyfish and blooms of Noctiluca (a plankton known to turn the waters orange) than during the past two years. Most people think this is a good thing, since these organisms prevail in poor conditions. Such species also have a reputation as a “dead end” in the food web, since they are eaten by very few animals.

Christopher said he noticed a lot of “bait balls,” which are large schools of small fish that can feed salmon, birds and a variety of creatures. “I assume most of them are anchovies,” he said of the schooling fish.

I would trade a jellyfish to get an anchovy on any day of the year.

A trick question: Can you locate Anderson Creek?

Let’s talk about Anderson Creek in Kitsap County. Where exactly is that stream?

If you were to say that Anderson Creek is a stream that spills into Hood Canal near Holly, you would be right.

Artist rendering of future bridge on Seabeck-Holly Road. // Photo: Kitsap County

If you are thinking of another Hood Canal stream — the one that you cross north of Seabeck while traveling on Anderson Hill Road — that would be right, too.

And nobody could complain if you believe that Anderson Creek is the name of the stream that flows into Sinclair Inlet near Gorst.

Officially, they are all Anderson Creek, according to the Geographic Names Information System, the official database of true names. GNIS is maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey.

I discovered the existence of three Anderson Creeks in Kitsap County as I sat down to blog about a new bridge project being planned on Seabeck-Holly Road north of Holly — over a stream I have always called Big Anderson Creek.

These are the opening lines of the county’s announcement about the bridge work: “Kitsap County Public Works begins construction of a new bridge on Seabeck-Holly Road at the Anderson Creek crossing beginning July 18, 2017.”

I immediately thought that someone in Public Works must have accidentally shortened the name from Big Anderson Creek to Anderson Creek, but I guess I was wrong. I mean, doesn’t everyone call it Big Anderson Creek?

I conducted an online search for “Big Anderson Creek” in Kitsap. Many reliable sources have been calling it Big Anderson Creek in dozens of documents for at least several decades. To name a few of the agencies using the “wrong” name:

  • Hood Canal Coordinating Council in its “Summer Chum Salmon Recovery Plan,”
  • Kitsap Public Health District in its annual “Water Quality Monitoring Report,”
  • Kitsap Public Utility District in its water supply assessment,
  • Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management in its multi-hazard-mitigation plan,
  • Washington Department of Ecology in its inventory of stream-monitoring programs,
  • Point No Point Treaty Council in its nearshore habitat assessment for Hood Canal,
  • Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group in its annual report of restoration projects,
  • The Trust for Public Land in its “Assessment for Freshwater Habitat for Puget Sound Salmon,”
  • And, last but not least, Big Anderson Creek is the name used by Kitsap County Public Works in its stream-monitoring program.

Little Anderson Creek, the one farther north, is in the same boat as Big Anderson Creek. A lot of people use the descriptive “Big” and “Little” when talking about the two streams, but officially they are wrong, according to my assessment.

Ed Smith, Public Works project manager for the bridge construction, told me that he will keep calling it “Anderson Creek.” That’s the official name on the maps that he uses. It is also the name listed on the “hydraulic project approval” issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to authorize construction.

Through the years, I’ve written quite a lot about confusing and conflicting names, but I never had a clue about the discrepancy involving Big and Little Anderson creeks. If someone reading this has the time and dedication to officially change the names of these two streams, I don’t think anyone would object. The process begins with an application to the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names. The committee’s coordinator, Caleb Maki, can help people work their way through the process. Please let me know if you tackle this project.

Meanwhile, I will continue using the popular nomenclature of Big and Little Anderson creeks.

As for the new bridge over Big Anderson Creek, a 50-foot concrete structure will replace the aging 29-foot timber bridge built in 1950. The opening for the stream will increase from about 28 feet to about 45 feet, Smith said. That will give the stream slightly more room to shift around during heavy flows.

Work will begin July 18 and wrap up around December, according to the schedule. Seabeck-Holly Road, the main route to and from Holly, will be reduced to one lane during the construction.

The $1.67-million construction project will be carried out by Pacific Pile and Marine of Seattle. An artist’s rendering of the completed structure and other information can be seen on the Kitsap County website titled “Seabeck-Holly Road Bridge #20 at Anderson Creek.”

Hood Canal property will compensate for Navy construction at Bangor

Hood Canal Coordinating Council has finally found some shoreline property to compensate for environmental damage from the Navy’s $448-million Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor.

The shoreline of a 6.7-acre property to be used for mitigation of the Navy’s Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor. // Photo: Hood Canal Coordinating Council

The 6.7 acres of waterfront property — located near Kitsap County’s Anderson Landing Preserve on Hood Canal — becomes the first saltwater mitigation site in Washington state under an in-lieu-fee mitigation program. The $275,000 purchase was approved Wednesday by the coordinating council, which manages the in-lieu-fee program.

The Navy itself is not a party to the transaction, having paid the coordinating council $6.9 million to handle all the freshwater and saltwater mitigation required for the wharf project — including managing the mitigation properties in perpetuity.

The coordinating council’s in-lieu-fee program, which is overseen by state and federal agencies, allows developers to pay a flat fee for their environmental damage instead of undertaking mitigation work themselves.

Continue reading

New game lets you travel with wacky steelhead as they try to survive

In a new game open to everyone, 48 colorful cartoon fish will soon follow the wandering paths of real-life steelhead that have been tracked during their migration through Puget Sound.

Just like their counterparts in the real world, some of the young steelhead in the game will survive the trip from South Puget Sound or southern Hood Canal — but many will not. The game’s basic tenet is to choose a fish that you feel will be lucky or cunning enough to make it through a gauntlet of hazards from predators to disease. You then watch and learn about the needs and threats to salmon and steelhead as the game progresses over 12 days, beginning May 8.

Continue reading

Hood Canal nominated as Sentinel Landscape with ties to military

Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both the natural resource values and the national defense mission of special areas across the country.

USS Henry M. Jackson, a Trident submarine, moves through Hood Canal in February on a return trip to Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith

If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense supporting the protection of Hood Canal.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where their priorities overlap, according to the 2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).

Continue reading

Congress authorizes five restoration projects throughout Puget Sound

Five major Puget Sound projects have been given the provisional go-ahead by Congress in a massive public works bill signed yesterday by President Obama.

It seems like the needed federal authorization for a $20-million restoration effort in the Skokomish River watershed has been a long time coming. This project follows an extensive, many-years study of the watershed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which winnowed down a long list of possible projects to five. See Water Ways, April 28, 2016, for details.

In contrast, while the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNRP) also involved an extensive and lengthy study, the final selection and submission to Congress of three nearshore projects came rather quickly. In fact, the Puget Sound package was a last-minute addition to the Water Resources Development Act, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Reps. Rick Larson, D-Lake Stevens, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, along with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

The three PSNRP projects moving forward are:

Continue reading

Hood Canal awards honor local efforts to improve ecosystem

Mike Anderson, chairman of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, and Thom Johnson, a leading expert in the recovery of Hood Canal summer chum salmon, have been named recipients of this year’s Hood Canal Environmental Awards.

Other recipients of the awards, which are sponsored by Hood Canal Coordinating Council, are Shore Friendly Mason and Shore Friendly Kitsap, two programs that actively enlist waterfront property owners in the protection and restoration of their shorelines.

Hood Canal // Photo: Dale Ireland
Hood Canal // Photo: Dale Ireland

I learned this afternoon that the awards ceremony on Nov. 4 will be dedicated to Rich Geiger, the longtime district engineer for Mason Conservation District. Rich, who died unexpectedly on Sept. 22, held the “technical vision” for the restoration of the Skokomish River watershed, according to Mike Anderson. (See Water Ways, Oct. 8.)

Continue reading

New protections planned for Devils Lake and Dabob Bay natural areas

In 1991, accompanied by botanist Jerry Gorsline, I visited Devils Lake for the first time. I remember being awestruck — in part by the beauty of the place but also because of the many unusual native plants that Jerry raved about. Not one invasive species had reached this place.

“Visiting Devils Lake,” I wrote, “is like stepping back in time, perhaps 200-300 years, to a period when civilization had not yet carried the seeds of foreign plants to the Pacific Northwest. At one end of the lake lies an enchanted world — a rare bog, where the sound of distant bubbles accompanies each footstep in the spongy moss.”

Proposed expansion of Devils Lake Natural Resources Conservation Area Map: DNR
Proposed expansion of Devils Lake Natural Resources Conservation Area // Map: DNR

Jerry worried that telling the story of Devils Lake would bring irresponsible people to the lake, people who could destroy the fragile ecosystem. But he also worried that not telling the story would lead to a massive clearcut on this state-owned land and that this wonderland would slip away. You can read this story online in Chapter 10 of the book “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk” (PDF 5.2 mb).

Jerry and others were successful in limiting the logging, in part because of increasing environmental awareness and a new program called the Timber, Fish and Wildlife Agreement. In 2002, 80 acres containing the lake were permanently set aside as a natural resource conservation area.

Now Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark wants to add another 415 acres to the NRCA before he leaves office. The added property, now held in trust for state school construction, would extend the protected habitat to the western shore of Quilcene Bay. To gain special protections, the land would need to go through a process to compensate the trust for the loss of land and timber values.

Proposed expansion of Dabob Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area. Map: DNR
Proposed expansion of Dabob Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area. // Map: DNR

Nearby, the 2,771-acre Dabob Bay natural area — which includes the highly valued natural area preserve and the surrounding NRCA — would increase by 3,640 acres under the expansion plan. About 940 acres is held by the state in trust status. Private lands, totaling 2,700 acres, could be purchased by the state but only from willing sellers.

Basic details are provided in a fact sheet from DNR (PDF 318 kb). Peter Bahls, executive director of Northwest Watershed Institute, wrote an article about the plan for Olympic Forest Coalition.

Two public meetings have been scheduled at Quilcene High School to discuss the plan:

  • Informational discussion: Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Public hearing for comments: Thursday, Oct. 13, from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Written comments: Information available at the link above.

Information on the previous Dabob Bay NRCA expansion and request for related funding can be found in the DNR publication “Dabob Bay Coastal Conservation” (PDF 12.3 mb).