Our statewide locally led road to recovery

As envisioned in the Statewide Strategy to Recover Salmon: Extinction is not an Option (1999), Washington state has crafted an effective network of organizations and governments committed to recover at risk salmon and steelhead and the habitats upon which they depend.

Organized by region and watershed to full effect

To meet the needs of people and fish, recovery was organized by region and watershed. Recovery organizations were created to write and coordinate the implementation of plans to restore each salmon and steelhead population listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The recovery organizations are directed by county, city, tribal, and citizen representatives and advised by state and federal agency scientists. Their plans call for the integration of habitat recovery by willing landowners and changes to harvest and hatchery and water quality management to improve salmon fitness, abundance, and survival. Regional organizations participate in local and long-range community planning to improve watershed health for people and salmon. With designated watershed “lead entities,” they identify and prioritize projects that will help implement their recovery plans, and forward those projects for consideration to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB).

For nearly 20 years, thousands of Washington State residents have sustained this effort, making changes to their property, serving on boards, and attending community meetings. This is an unprecedented locally led statewide approach to recover endangered species, and while we have enjoyed significant project funding support from the federal government, we do not have the funds necessary to fully staff the regional organizations charged with implementing these plans. As challenges mount, we must ensure that the government’s commitment is equal to that of its citizens.

Lower Columbia conservation and sustainable fisheries plan

Historic hatchery and harvest practices are among many factors that contribute to the decline of the Lower Columbia River’s 104 listed salmonid populations. The Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are implementing a collaborative plan to reduce hatchery and harvest impacts, sustain fisheries, and help meet recovery goals. The plan is part of an All-H recovery strategy and includes:

  • Changes in hatchery production levels
  • Eliminating hatchery production on refuge streams
  • Using natural origin fish in hatchery programs
  • Controlling hatchery fish in natural spawning areas
  • Increasing harvest of hatchery fish
  • Adaptive management protocols

Washington coast region: Protect the best and restore the rest

The Washington Coast Region may represent the last best chance for the Pacific Northwest to protect wild and self-sustaining populations of salmon. While salmon and steelhead populations in the Washington Coast Region are seriously degraded from historic levels—experts suggest that the current abundance of coastal salmon runs is probably only about 10 percent of what it was a hundred years ago—they are healthier here than anywhere else in the state. This is largely because their habitat is more intact than elsewhere, and protecting this habitat is a high priority because it is far easier and less expensive to maintain good habitat than it is to recreate or restore degraded habitat. Science strongly suggests that investments made now in the Washington Coast Region can significantly contribute to the successful restoration of wild salmon populations. Rethinking recovery, by protection populations before they listed is more likely to ensure the long-term sustainability of wild salmon.

Sustained investment in salmon habitat recovery projects

The Salmon Recovery funding board, created in the Salmon Recovery Act of 1998 (RCW 77.85), sets statewide policy an distributes funding. Since 2000, it has invested over $1 billion in salmon recovery projects. Its investment in seven regional organizations and 25 lead entities engages thousands of people committed to implementing salmon recovery at the local level. These investments leverage funding from other sources, generate local matching resources and in-kind contributions from thousands of individuals, and are the foundations for salmon recovery in Washington.

Actions by northwest treaty tribes

Indian tribes are leaders in protecting and restoring salmon and habitat, as well as co-managing fisheries with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Through treaties with the United States government, many tribes reserved their rights to harvest fish, shellfish, wildlife, and other natural resources in exchange for their land. As sovereign nations, they exercise treaty rights that protect us all. They also implement projects in partnership with others that lead to greater environmental successes.

Participation from local organizations and private landowners

Conservation districts, regional fisheries enhancements groups, land trusts, and other organizations in each region work closely with local communities and willing landowners to implement habitat improvement projects on their land.

Involvement of local governments

One of the key elements of the statewide strategy is habitat protection. Counties and cities are charged with protecting salmon habitat through use of the Growth Management Act, the Shoreline Management Act, land use plans, critical area ordinances, shoreline management plans, and other conservation and management practices.

Improvements through the forest and fish agreement

Private forest landowners invested more than $170 million to remove fish barriers from forest roads through the Forest and Fish Agreement. The agreement protects riparian conditions, water quality, and reduces sediment through road maintenance and abandonment plans on forest lands.

Eliminating fish barriers

Removing barriers, such as inadequate culverts beneath road crossings or ineffective fish ladders at low head dams, allows salmon to quickly return to their historic spawning grounds. During the past 16 years, more than 6,500 fish passage barriers have been replaced with fish-friendly culverts and bridges in Washington streams. The Washington State Legislature created the Fish Barrier Removal Board in 2014 to address the estimated 35,000–45,000 fish passage barriers across the state.

Treaty obligations confirmed by federal courts require the state to open habitat blocked by state-owned fish passage barriers (culverts) in western Washington. The court has ordered the Washington Department of Transportation and other state agencies to correct 825 barriers (culverts) blocking fish passage by 2030. In the 2015–17 biennium WSDOT will spend $88.7 million on stand-alone fish passage projects. The current estimate to meet the injunction is $2.4 billion.

The Family Forest Fish Passage Program developed in 2003, assists small-acreage forest landowners with repairing barriers. So far, 413 private barriers have been fixed opening nearly 1,000 miles of habitat.

1997–2015 Funds management by Washington Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) – by region and project type

RCO is a state agency that manages multiple conservation funds and boards, including the Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB). The charts below indicate how SRFB and other salmon-related funds were distributed by region across the state.

  • Acquisition
  • Capacity
  • Hatchery
  • Monitoring
  • Planning/ Assesment
  • Restoration
  • Other
Funds managed by Washington Recreation and Conservation Office by project type - NE Washington and Snake River regions - mobile
Funds managed by Washington Recreation and Conservation Office by project type - Middle and Upper Columbia River regions - mobile
Funds managed by Washington Recreation and Conservation Office by project type - Hood Canal and Washington Coast regions - mobile
Funds managed by Washington Recreation and Conservation Office by project type - Lower Columbia River and Puget Sound regions - mobile

State Sources: Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, Catastrophic Flood Relief program (through the Office of Financial Management), Coastal Restoration Grants, Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Family Forest Fish Passage Program, Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund, Salmon Recovery Fund (state match to federal grant), Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.Federal Sources: Coded Wire Tag Program, Environmental Protection Agency, hatchery reform funds, Land and Water Conservation Fund, Marine Shoreline Protection (through the Department of Fish and Wildlife), Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, Pacific Marine Fisheries Commission, and Puget Sound Chinook critical stock program.*The $883 million total above and the regional pie charts do not include the local matching resources, which would bring the statewide total investment to more than $1 billion.

Fish passage barriers by watershed

fish passage barriers by watershed map

Mitigating hydropower impacts

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Bonneville Power Administration’s Fish and Wildlife Program, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing process supports sport critical fish passage, habitat, and hatchery programs throughout the state.

Managing hatcheries for harvest and recovery

Congress established a hatchery review initiative in 2000, in recognition of the role hatcheries play in meeting harvest and conservation goals for salmon and steelhead. The initiative’s independent Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) made recommendations for improving hatchery programs in Washington. Eighty-eight percent of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries are consistent with independent HSRG recommendations for proper broodstock management. In addition, the Department has updated and submitted new hatchery genetic management plans to meet NOAA Fisheries requirements and support salmon recovery. Ninety percent of these plans are currently under review. Due to past practices, hatchery stray rates in some watersheds remain significantly above HSRG recommendations and pose a risk to recovery. The Department has established rigorous monitoring and adaptive management programs that meet federal permit requirements and reduce stray rates and risks to salmon recovery. Tens of millions of dollars are needed for capital construction projects at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries to meet recovery goals.

Hatchery and genetic management plans at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (Salmon, steelhead, and trout)

Map of hatchery and genetic management plans at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (Salmon, steelhead, and trout)

Harvest co-management

Washington tribes and Washington State co-manage fisheries to provide harvest opportunities for salmon and steelhead. Conservation is the goal of co-management. Harvest is focused on healthy stocks of hatchery and naturally spawning salmon and steelhead. Beyond Washington, our salmon and steelhead are largely harvested in Alaska and Canada. Co-managers, in cooperation with federal agencies and other states, set fishing seasons. The goal of harvest management is to conserve weak stocks while providing limited harvest opportunities that do not jeopardize recovery efforts.

Support for major regional initiatives

Regional initiatives that support salmon recovery receive broad support. These include the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration program, the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, and the Washington Coastal Restoration Initiative.

Correcting urban stormwater runoff

Washington Department of Ecology has taken a performance-based approach with local governments. Governments adopting low-impact development codes to address urban stormwater runoff will see cleaner, less erosive stormwater runoff, and depart from past practices that favored expensive collection, distribution, and treatment elsewhere.

Ensuring clean cold water

Washington Department of Ecology works with local communities to protect stream flows for fish while ensuring adequate water supplies for safe drinking, sustaining farms and gardens, swimming, boating, and commerce. Washington’s Water Quality Assessment lists the status for all water bodies in the state as required by the federal Clean Water Act and is available on the Department of Ecology’s website.