The Endangered Species Act requires the federal government to develop recovery plans for salmon determined to be at risk of extinction. In Washington, regional organizations formed to develop recovery plans and coordinate plan implementation. Different species of salmon, steelhead, and bull trout face different challenges around the state and are responding differently in their regions. So too are the about 150 different populations that make up those species.
Summer chum abundance is approaching recovery goals in both the Hood Canal and Strait of Juan de Fuca populations. Revised fishing regulations, habitat protection and restoration, and ocean conditions that support salmon survival have increased summer chum salmon numbers. Loss of habitat from population growth and development remain the biggest threat.
Of the 74 populations of salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, 8 are meeting their recovery goals. The presence of dams in the Columbia River and key tributaries, along with current development trends, make salmon recovery especially expensive and challenging here.
Salmon and steelhead runs are recovering. While real progress has been made, additional work is needed to remove fish passage barriers, restore key tributaries and floodplains, and continue to improve water management.
Bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout recovery is 14 years in the making. Fish passage barriers are being removed and habitat in the rivers is improving thanks to restoration projects. Many challenges remain, such as the loss of habitat, barriers to fish passage, rivers that are too warm and without enough dissolved oxygen, and invasive fish that out compete or eat native trout.
Puget Sound is home to 59 listed populations of Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, most of which continue to decline. The greatest challenge is balancing the needs of the more than 4 million people living in the Puget Sound region while also protecting and restoring critical salmon habitat.
Very significant salmon recovery actions have occurred through regional collaboration. The largest hurdles to fish migration have been removed now in Asotin Creek and the Touchet and Tucannon Rivers. Sediment and temperatures levels are at their lowest since Endangered Species Act listings occurred. There remain many more habitat actions to complete. In addition, there are unknown issues in fish survival that require more monitoring and research before they can be resolved.
Salmon are responding to restoration projects. The runs are nearly double what they were 10 years ago, but endangered spring Chinook are in desperate need of continued recovery efforts to survive. Given that half of the historic habitat of our salmon and steelhead is inaccessible beyond Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams, the health of our remaining four watersheds is of the utmost importance to sustaining these species into the future. Upper Columbia spring Chinook is the only endangered salmon species in Washington State and it is declining. Salmon and steelhead from our region swim 500 miles over nine dams to and from the ocean, and many are eaten by birds and sea lions on this migration.
Washington’s coast is home to more than half of the state’s non-listed populations of salmon. While certain coho and chum populations have been increasing, some populations of Chinook and steelhead appear to be decreasing. The biggest challenges are barriers blocking migration, too many old logging roads putting sediment in streams, and invasive weeds choking riverbanks.