Tag Archives: habitat

Study Finds Side Channel Restoration One Key For Puget Sound Chinook Recovery

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS STORY FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

Teasing apart the elements of Puget Sound rivers that matter most to fish, researchers have found that one of the best ways to recover threatened Chinook salmon may be to restore the winding side channels that once gave young fish essential rearing habitat and refuge from high winter flows.

Models were based on fine-scale river mapping and tracking salmon populations across Puget Sound. They showed that habitat restoration projects in the Cedar River southeast of Seattle could boost the number of young Chinook salmon produced by each spawning adult by adding side channel habitat.

BRAIDS OF THE SAUK RIVER BETWEEN DARRINGTON AND ROCKPORT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Additional side channels and other habitat improvements also appear to help stabilize salmon numbers, making them less vulnerable to flooding or other extreme conditions that may come more often with climate change.

“The risk of those extreme catastrophes is lessened because the water can spread out and slow down, with less impact to the fish,” said Correigh Greene, a research biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and coauthor of the The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site new research published last week in PLOS ONE. The team of scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Cramer Fish Sciences, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife used aerial photographs to chart and measure each twist and turn of 10 of Puget Sound’s largest rivers, from the Skagit to the Dungeness, and relate them to Chinook salmon populations.

Restoring Habitat Key To Salmon Recovery

The findings also provide important confirmation that restoring Chinook salmon habitat, a key recovery strategy for Puget Sound populations, can deliver real improvements in their survival and productivity.

“We now know that there is a detectable response to habitat restoration that can inform our decisions about how to pursue recovery and dedicate funding where it will do the most good for fish,” said Elizabeth Babcock, Northern Puget Sound Branch Chief in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, who helps carry out recovery plans for threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon.

River Complexity Leads to Better Salmon Habitat

Biologists view the braided networks of side channels that are common in natural rivers in the Northwest as evidence of a river’s “complexity,” which also includes deep pools, outcrops, and log jams, all of which provide important habitat for juvenile and adult fish. Generally, the more complexity a river displays, the better habitat it will provide for fish, because they can more easily find refuge and rearing habitat when they need it.

Many Puget Sound rivers have suffered reduced complexity through years of development as dikes, roads, and riprap have hemmed them into straight, narrow channels with far less room. That leaves less refuge for juvenile fish to grow before migrating into the Salish Sea.

A SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS A STRAIGHT, DREDGED STRETCH OF THE SAMMAMISH RIVER BETWEEN WOODINVILLE AND REDMOND. (GOOGLE MAPS)

Of all the factors that contribute to a river’s complexity, the researchers found that side channels and the number of junctions among them, and to a lesser extent woody material such as log jams, are most important to Chinook salmon. More complex rivers are generally slower than narrow rivers with impervious banks, so the juvenile salmon aren’t swept downstream faster than they’re ready to go. The more habitat complexity, the researchers found, the higher the productivity of Chinook salmon populations.

Models Can Help Plan and Track Habitat Restoration

“Once we link habitat metrics to meaningful productivity metrics, we can start to answer some of the big questions, such as, “How much restoration achieves recovery, and what qualities do you most want to focus on,” said Jason Hall, a senior scientist at Cramer Fish Sciences and lead author of the new study. He noted that the answers may differ from species to species and river to river. Habitat complexity also appeared to reduce fluctuations in salmon numbers from year to year, “supporting the idea that habitat complexity buffers populations from annual variation in environmental conditions,” the scientists wrote.

Habitat protection and restoration along the Cedar River, which provides much of Seattle’s municipal water, is an example of the kind of restoration that can help recover Puget Sound Chinook salmon in the long run, Greene said. Understanding the habitat qualities most important to fish helps estimate “how much we have to do to move the needle over the whole life cycle.” The same mapping and modeling approach that was demonstrated by the research can help plan and track the benefits of other restoration occurring in estuaries and along Puget Sound’s shorelines, the authors said.

IN A RELATED STORY OUT TODAY, SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES SAYS THAT A  PAIR OF CHINOOK WERE SPOTTED IN A SECTION OF THORNTON CREEK THAT WAS RESTORED IN 2014 TO BE BETTER SPAWNING HABITAT AND THAT THE TWO WERE THE FIRST OF THEIR SPECIES SEEN IN THE URBAN STREAM IN EIGHT YEARS. (SPU)

“If you have funding for restoration, where can you spend it to deliver the best benefit for fish?” Babcock asked. “We’re finally starting to have better answers to that question.”

Chance To Comment On Orca Recommendations

You have two weeks to submit comments on potential proposals that Washington’s southern resident killer whale task force‘s three working groups rolled out yesterday.

The task force as a whole will review the public’s submissions in mid-October and send a final report with its agreed-to recommendations to Governor Jay Inslee in mid-November.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

Some of the ideas that will catch the eyes of fishermen include:

  • Boost hatchery Chinook production: There are three proposals, with 1A calling for increased releases, 1B for pilot projects and 1C, a combination of both along with habitat improvements. Upping production would require funding for more infrastructure and to complete scientific reviews;
  • Fund habitat purchases and restoration projects benefiting key Chinook stocks;
  • Develop a system to be able to close sport and commercial fisheries when orcas are in key feeding zones. This could go into effect by next spring and would appear to be dependent on setting up more hydrophones to better track SRKW movements, which is another potential recommendation;
  • Ask fishermen and boaters to switch their fish- and depthfinders from 50 kHz to 200 kHz within half a mile of orcas;
  • Buyout nontreaty commercial licenses and work with the tribes to consider the feasibility of doing so with treaty fishermen or switching to gear with lower impacts on Chinook;
  • Establish a half-mile-wide, 7-knots-or-less go-slow zone around orcas;
  • Create new no-go zones on the west side of San Juan Island and elsewhere in the islands and Strait of Juan de Fuca;
  • Continue studying the problem of pinniped predation on Chinook or begin a pilot program to immediately start removing the haul-outs of salmon-eating harbor seals, or both, as well as continue pushing the federal government for more management options to deal with sea lions in the Columbia and its tribs;
  • Reclassify walleye and bass as invasive, which would remove the “game fish” designation and subsequent rules against wastage;
  • Study whether altering the McNary Pool’s elevation would reduce the numbers of salmonid smolt-eating fish in the reservoir;
  • Develop a better understanding of Puget Sound forage fish populations;
  • Support Chinook reintroduction into the Upper Columbia and prioritize removing fish passage barriers that would benefit stocks elsewhere;
  • And continue to be involved in the conversation surrounding what to do with the four dams on the lower Snake River to varying degrees.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A CHINOOK OFF THE END OF AN ANGLER’S LINE IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (HUGH ALLEN)

There are many more, including potential recommendations addressing habitat, hydropower operations, contaminants and marine vessels.

The task force was convened earlier this year when the governor signed an executive order directing state agencies to begin doing what they could to help out the orcas, which are struggling due to lack of Chinook and other factors.

WDFW STAFFER EDWARD ELEAZER PARTICIPATED IN A TRIAL TO SEE WHETHER IT WAS POSSIBLE TO FEED AILING ORCA J50, NOW PRESUMED DEAD. A LACK OF CHINOOK IS STARVING LOCAL PODS. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA/FLICKR)

Since members of the panel — which includes Puget Sound Anglers’ Ron Garner, the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s George Harris, Long Live the Kings’ Jacques White, WDFW’s Brad Smith and Amy Windrope, tribal members and legislators Rep. Brian Blake and Sen. Kevin Ranker — began meeting two whales have died, including a newborn and a three-year-old adding urgency to the mission.

Some ideas did not make the cut from the working groups, but near the end of the public survey a question asks if they would otherwise be part of your top five strategies.

Those include further reducing fishing time in the Straits and San Juans in summer; coming up with a limited-entry recreational fishing permit system for key orca foraging areas; increasing WDFW’s hydraulic code enforcement budget; working with the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad on habitat work along the tracks as they run up Puget Sound; and pushing for the Corps of Engineers to quit the four dams on the lower Snake and then take them out, among others.

On Rivers, ‘Hallways’ And Rooms For Salmon To Grow

It was a tale of two rivers growing up.

OK, three, since we lived for several years just off the banks of the Sultan, a tributary of the Skykomish. Born in the mountains and cutting through canyons, they’ve always symbolized true rivers in my mind.

The other was the Sammamish, which in one section between Woodinville and Redmond runs as straight and true as any of my fishing rods.

Guess which one of those streams is the least natural and fish-friendly?

THE SAMMAMISH RIVER/SLOUGH ON A FOGGY DAY NEAR WOODINVILLE. (FENIXFYRE, WIKIMEDIA)

Yes, I’ve cast a line in “the slough” and actually caught stuff.

Pikeminnows at the mouth of Little Bear Creek during my teens with Dad while trying to catch rumored large rainbows.

Big, bacon-biting crawdads below the railroad bridge to the old DeYoung Feed Mill.

A huge horkin’ smallie and cutthroat trout below the lake in my 20s.

But shallow, weedy and heated by the summer sun, good fish habitat the Sammamish is not.

Especially that curveless north-south-bearing 1-plus-mile stretch alongside the turf and Christmas tree farms by the former Redhook Brewery.

A SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS A STRAIGHT, DREDGED STRETCH OF THE SAMMAMISH RIVER BETWEEN WOODINVILLE AND REDMOND. (GOOGLE MAPS)

It can be hard to explain to folks what’s wrong with that picture, but I found a great quote in a story about the recent closure of Blewett Pass.

The early September project allowed WSDOT and its contractors to put in new fish passage structures in areas a creek had been straightened for Highway 97.

“The streams that we’re trying to restore are like a house that’s made just of hallways,” Scott Nicolai, a habitat biologist with the Yakama Nation, told reporter Eilis O’Neil.

“Imagine walking into a house and there are no bedrooms, no kitchens, no bathrooms,” Nicolai said. “And that is what a lot of our streams look like today. They’re very straight—only one wet spot along the bottom of the floodplain.”

At one time the Sammamish River was a winding 30-mile-long wetland complex between Lakes Sammamish and Washington.

But between the lowering of the latter in the early 1900s and then a 1964 Army Corps of Engineers straightening project, it shrank to just 13 miles long.

That worked pretty well for farming the fertile soils and funneling off floodwaters — the hallway effect — but didn’t leave much room for fish to just chillax and scarf down bugs and whatnot.

An announcer in an old-time film clip dramatizing the famous boat races on the slough inadvertently made a great point about its diminished value as habitat: “It has about enough water in spots to accommodate a dozen minnows comfortably.”

But now more space for fish is coming online in the system, thanks to a recently completed restoration project in Bothell.

A CITY OF BOTHELL MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SIDE CHANNEL AND HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT, WHICH IS JUST ACROSS THE WOODEN BRIDGE FROM THE PARK AT BOTHELL LANDING. (BOTHELL)

An 1,100-foot-long side channel of the Sammamish at Bothell is now providing quarters, galley, game room and outhouses for young wild Chinook and coho, as well as cutthroat and any remnant steelhead.

It’s not precisely clear how highly Lake Washington basin fall kings rate in terms of killer whale forage, but I think with how key the river systems to the immediate north and south are for the struggling southern residents, it’s safe to say this was probably money fortuitously spent by the King Conservation District and state Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Elsewhere in the county, a 700-foot-long constructed reach on the Green-Duwamish between Kent and Auburn known as Riverview was found to hold way more young kings and across all stream flows than four other surveyed stretches.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in favor of a big increase in hatchery Chinook production where it makes the most sense.

Projects like this and others — which I’m also totally in favor of (here’s my own idea) — will take time to produce real results for salmon and orcas.

But here’s to remodeling rivers to make them more complete homes for fish in the meanwhile.

Inslee Directs State Agencies To Increase Salmon To Help Puget Sound Orcas

Harkening back to fishing in the San Juan Islands as a lad and hearing the booming breath of orcas in the fog, Washington Governor Jay Inslee today launched a new initiative to save the imperiled species.

He issued an executive order that in part calls for increased hatchery production of Chinook — the primary feedstock for southern resident killer whales.

A SCREENSHOT FROM TVW SHOWS WASHINGTON GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE SPEAKS BEFORE SIGNING AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ON ORCAS AND CHINOOK TODAY. (TVW)

But since it will take several years before those salmon make it to saltwater, he also asked the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to tweak this year’s recreational and commercial fisheries to make more available in key orca foraging areas and called on the region’s other salmon managers to help towards that goal.

It remains to be seen how 2018 seasons might be affected by the governor’s directive, signed at a tribal cultural center at Discovery Park moments ago, but in the short term, it could restrict salmon fishing in some parts of Puget Sound, though in the long term might boost it overall.

Inslee’s order also asks for more and sharper focus on habitat and fish passage work that directly benefits Chinook, as well as increased policing of waters where boaters and orcas cruise.

The just-passed state operating and last year’s Capital Budgets provide funding for the hatchery ($1.5 million) and enforcement ($548,000) pieces of that puzzle.

But the governor also gave WDFW a deadline of January 2019 to figure out the most important habitats for orcas and their prey, with an eye towards guiding the overall effort to bring orca numbers back up from their three-decade low of 76 and improve their health.

That could help fill in the blanks about which actions actually might be the most productive over the long haul.

Earlier this month, in a guidance letter to West Coast fishery managers, regional National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Barry Thom wrote that recent studies have linked killer whales’ low reproduction rates of late to “nutritional limitations.”

Part of Inslee’s executive order is for more focus on cleaning up Puget Sound contaminants, which get into the flesh of salmon as they feed on other fish and organisms and is passed up the food chain to long-lived killer whales.

Another strategy will be to do as much as can be under federal laws to manage the increasing bite that sea lions and harbor seals are taking out of Puget Sound orcas’ breakfast, lunch and dinner.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS PIC IN FEBRUARY 2015 OF A HARBOR SEAL STEALING A RESIDENT CHINOOK OFF THE LINE OF A SAN JUAN ISLAND ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

A task force will make further recommendations.

Inslee said that the fate of orcas, Chinook and Washingtonians are intertwined, and said the order committed the state to actively recover killer whales.

Other speakers today included Leonard Forsman of the Suquamish Tribe who called the effort a “vital and important mission” that would take “some pain” and sacrifices to ensure its success.

During the signing ceremony, Inslee pointed outside and jokingly said that J-pod was swimming past at just that moment, then told a phalanx of agency directors and others to “Get to work.”

$53 Million For Salmon Habitat Projects In 29 WA Counties Awarded

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE

The Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Puget Sound Partnership today announced the award of more than $53 million in grants for projects that will protect and restore salmon habitat statewide.

EXAMPLES OF PAST STREAM RESTORATION PROJECTS INCLUDE REMOVING PERCHED CULVERTS THAT MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR SALMON AND OTHER STOCKS TO SWIM UPSTREAM … (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

“Salmon are vitally important to Washington’s economy and to our way of life. They are one of our state’s most precious resources,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “These projects will help tackle some of the fundamental problems that are destroying our salmon populations. By making these investments we are taking steps to increase the number of salmon so there will be enough fish for future generations, orcas and for the communities and jobs that rely on the fishing industry.”

… REMOVING INVASIVE JAPANESE KNOTWEED AND REPLACING IT WITH NATIVE VEGETATION … (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

With the Legislature’s recent approval of the capital budget, grants are being distributed for 163 projects to organizations in 29 of the state’s 39 counties. The grants will be used to remove barriers that prevent salmon from migrating, increase the types and amount of habitat for salmon, protect pristine areas and restore critical habitat so salmon have places to spawn, feed, rest and grow.

… CONSTRUCTING LOGJAMS SO RIVERS CAN REVERT TO MORE NATURAL FLOWS AND PROVIDE FISH PLACES TO REST AND HIDE … (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

Grants were given to projects in the counties below. Click to see details on each project:

Asotin County……………………….. $150,110

Chelan County………………….. $1,368,201

Clallam County………………….. $6,142,176

Clark County…………………………. $240,570

Columbia County……………………. $22,000

Cowlitz County…………………… $1,567,061

Garfield County………………………. $83,300

Grays Harbor County……………. $483,911

Island County……………………….. $825,533

Jefferson County……………….. $1,693,673

King County…………………….. $11,671,127

Kitsap County……………………….. $520,558

Kittitas County………………………. $862,119

Klickitat County…………………….. $598,787

Lewis County…………………….. $1,000,794

Mason County……………………. $4,549,648

Okanogan County………………… $487,599

Pacific County………………………. $357,679

Pend Oreille County……………… $342,000

Pierce County……………………. $3,528,850

San Juan County…………………. $745,591

Skagit County…………………….. $5,392,282

Skamania County…………………. $521,548

Snohomish County……………. $2,986,311

Thurston County………………… $1,254,429

Wahkiakum County………………. $507,612

Walla Walla County…………… $1,052,637

Whatcom County……………….. $2,934,300

Yakima County……………………… $228,000

Multiple Counties………………. $1,096,161

“Salmon are the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest,” said Sheida R. Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. The Partnership’s Leadership Council is the regional salmon recovery organization for most of Puget Sound’s salmon species. “They feed our families, support our culture and fuel our economy. They are also a critical link in the entire food web of the Puget Sound ecosystem. These funds support projects that will help to renew our salmon populations.”

… ADDING WOODY DEBRIS BACK INTO STREAMS, MANY OF WHICH WERE CLEANED OF WHAT TURNED OUT TO A BE KEY INGREDIENT, PER SE, FOR FISH SEVERAL DECADES BACK … (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

What is the Problem?

As people moved to Washington and built cities and towns around the water, many of the places salmon live were destroyed. In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon as threatened with extinction. By the end of that decade, salmon populations had dwindled so much that salmon and bull trout were listed as threatened or endangered in three-quarters of the state.

… AND INSTALLING WIDER, MORE FISH-FRIENDLY CULVERTS TO OPEN UP MILES AND MILES OF LOST OR POTENTIAL SPAWNING HABITAT. (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

“These projects are keeping us from losing salmon entirely,” said David Troutt, chair of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. “Salmon are in trouble, but we know what to do. We have federally-approved recovery plans in place and the people to make them happen. We must continue these investments if we are to return salmon to healthy and sustainable numbers.”

How Projects are Chosen

Funding for the grants comes from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund, the state capital budget and federal sources. The projects all are linked to federally-approved recovery plans.

“Projects are thoroughly reviewed by local citizens and regional and state technical experts,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers the grants. “This multi-level approach ensures we invest the money in projects that we will know will make a difference and help us recover salmon.”

With Passage Of Capital Budget (Finally!), $74 Million For Hatcheries, Habitat, Access On Way To WDFW

With Washington’s 2017 Capital Budget finally approved by lawmakers yesterday and now on Governor Inslee’s desk for his signature this afternoon, tens of millions of dollars worth of repairs and upgrades to Washington hatcheries are set to begin.

THE JUST-PASSED 2017 CAPITAL BUDGET INCLUDES $2 MILLION FOR IMPROVEMENTS AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR WHICH REARS COHO, SUMMER CHINOOK AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The package also includes $5 million to improve the health of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s forestlands, $1.5 million for Tucannon River floodplain restoration, $1.2 million for elk-damaged fencing, $1 million for Lake Rufus Woods access and $600,000 for waterfowl habitat across the state, among other projects.

“We very much welcome the Legislature’s action,” said Tim Burns, who heads up WDFW’s Capital and Asset Management Program. “The budget includes $74 million in direct appropriations and grant authority that will enable WDFW to continue making major improvements at our hatcheries, wildlife areas, and other facilities across the state.”

The budget wasn’t passed last year due to disagreements over how to address the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision and its impacts on rural landowners.

But this week saw a breakthrough compromise from lawmakers. It involves a mix of limiting how much water new small wells can withdraw, $300 million for inbasin conservation work and shifts the onus of permitting back to the Department of Ecology instead of counties, per the Tacoma News Tribune.

Among WDFW’s fish hatcheries that will benefit from the deal and the work it funds:

Naselle: $8 million for renovations
Minter Creek: $6.5 million for work on intakes
Clarks Creek: $6.35 million for rebuilding
Hoodsport: $4.756 million for holding pond renovations
Forks Creek: $2.425 million for work on intakes, diversion
Wallace: $2.001 million for replacing intakes, holding pond
Soos Creek: $2 million for renovations
Eells Spring: $1.4 million for renovations
Kalama Falls: $816,000 for work on raceways
Dungeness: $615,000 for replacing main intake
Samish: $350,000 for work on intakes

The Capital Budget also includes grants for habitat, recreation and fish passage barrier removals, including:

South Coast: $7.242 million for 14 Coastal Restoration Initiative projects
Buford Creek (Asotin Co.): $4.7 million for a fish passage barrier removal project
Lower Chehalis River: $4.079 million for surge plain protection project
Chico Creek: $3.875 million for fish passage barrier removal project
Woodard Bay: $3.233 million for wetland restoration project
Big Bend Wildlife Area: $3 million for critical habitat project
Cowiche Watershed: $3 million for critical habitat project
Klickitat Canyon: $2.4 million for critical habitat project
Simcoe Wildlife Area: $2.14 million for critical habitat project
Kennedy Creek: $2.111 million riparian project
Sinlahekin Wildlife Area: $245,000 for a campground project
Samish River access: $182,000 for parking, recreation project

NMFS Highlights How White R. Levee Fix Helps Homeowners, Salmon, Habitat

THE FOLLOWING IS A NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE STORY

Puget Sound salmon got a boost this summer from a redesigned levee in Pacific, WA. While local leaders were determined to reduce frequent flooding of neighborhoods and businesses, NOAA and partners provided expertise in habitat restoration, as well as a portion of the funding. The results? King County improved resilience to flooding along the unpredictable river, and restored much-needed salmon habitat in the process.

AN ENGINEERED LOGJAM, PART OF A “BIO-REVETMENT” LEVEE ALONG THE WHITE RIVER IN PACIFIC, IN SOUTHWEST KING COUNTY. (NMFS)

The White River Chinook are among the local fish listed as Threatened. Decades of degraded habitat and overfishing have diminished wild salmon numbers. Since salmon need specific conditions for successful reproduction, habitat restoration is a critical priority. More off-channel habitat means the young fish are bigger and stronger when they head out to sea, thus more likely to make it home to their river for spawning.

The old White River levee, built in 1914, ran along the narrow channel of the river, cutting off the floodplain. With today’s knowledge of nature-based infrastructure, project engineers are able to reduce flooding and benefit salmon. Young fish gained an additional 121 acres off-channel habitat, more than a mile of natural shoreline, and thousands of sheltered places to eat, rest and grow. Eighteen acres replanted with native flora reinforces a protective riparian border.

NOAA Fisheries is committed to conserving and protecting listed species like the Chinook. This is one of multiple projects funded under the Commencement Bay Natural Resources Damage Assessment settlement that resulted from NOAA’s joint effort cleaning up after a nearby hazardous waste release.

“NOAA and partners provided $4.8 million dollars toward protecting the community,” said NOAA technical monitor Jason Lehto. “But salmon and other wildlife get substantial benefit, too.”

THE WHITE RIVER OVERTOPS AN OLD LEVEE FOLLOWING AN OCTOBER 2017 AND SURGING INTO A RESTORED FLOODPLAIN THAT HAD BEEN DRY FOR A CENTURY. (NMFS)

In October, a sudden storm pushed the river up and over the old levee, which breached as planned. The excess water spread over reconnected lowlands without flooding any nearby property. With more unpredictable sea levels and weather ahead, communities are turning to nature -based infrastructure solutions to find solutions like the White River/Countyline levee. The neighborhood is safer, and the White River Chinook have one more edge against extinction.

Washington DNR Rolls Out 20-year Forest Plan

A just-announced plan to improve the health of Washington’s dryside forests and reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to local communities may also help improve deer and elk habitat.

The Department of Natural Resources’ 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan aims to use a mix of restoration and prescribed burning on 1.25 million acres of state-owned land east of the Cascades, potentially opening up the woods and making them more productive for the kinds of plants ungulates eat.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

And that could benefit those of us who like to hunt said big game on public land.

That’s not the main goal of the plan, which was rolled out today near Cle Elum, the Central Washington town threatened by this summer’s 57-square-mile Jolly Mountain Fire.

Because of long-term fire suppression and timber production, forests have become choked with fuels, while large-scale insect infestations in recent decades have made them even more prone to burn.

It’s a problem affecting not only state land but also federal and private ground — some 10 million acres are at risk — and Washington lawmakers have put increasing focus on the topic, especially following the massive wildfire seasons of 2014 and 2015.

The plan identifies goals and priority watersheds to work in, and while acknowledging that the loss of mills makes it tougher to apply treatments, it also aims to identify opportunities to help rural economies.

“We now have the plan and the partners necessary to treat our high risk forests with scientifically sound, landscape-scale, cross-boundary projects. With long-term partnerships and commitment we can begin to stem the severe damage from overgrowth, mismanagement, disease and intense wildfire that so many of our forests are experiencing,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, in a press release.

The strategy was crafted by DNR and WDFW, which own most if not all the state land in Eastern Washington, as well as federal agencies, several tribes, local forestry coalitions and collaboratives, mill operators, private timberland owners, NGOs, universities and others.

Westside Beaver Bill Eyes Up Gov. Inslee’s Desk

While Washington’s toothsome aquatic engineers may be hunkered in their lodges this blustery morning, today happens to be International Beaver Day, according to WDFW.

It may one day be known as Evergreen State Beaver Week.

READY FOR WORK. (ODFW)

Yesterday saw HB 1257 clear the Legislature, and the bill which would allow WDFW to begin releasing beavers in Western Washington now heads for Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

Up until now, the agency has had to either translocate Westside beavers to the 509 or, well, permanently revoke their dam-building license.

The bill was consponsored by a bipartisan, west-east mix of state lawmakers (Reps. Blake, Buys, Fitzgibbon, Kretz and Taylor), sailed through both chambers of the legislature with only one nay (we’ll give Sen. Baumgartner of Spokane a pass because his last name translates to tree gardener auf Deutsch), and had strong support from WDFW and Western Washington tribes.

Mike Sevigny of the Tulalip Tribes gave lawmakers a pretty powerful pitch about how beaver habitat is strongly correlated to salmon and steelhead habitat.

But they don’t just help out the fishes.

Earlier today on Facebook, WDFW posted these notes about what they do for other critters:

1. Deer and elk frequent beaver ponds in winter to forage on shrubby plants that grow where beavers cut down trees for food or use to make their dams and lodges.
2. Weasels, raccoons, and herons hunt frogs and other prey along the marshy edges of beaver ponds.
3. Migratory waterbirds use beaver ponds as nesting areas and resting stops during migration.
4. Ducks and geese often nest on top of beaver lodges since they offer warmth and protection, especially when lodges are formed in the middle of a pond.
5. The trees that die as a result of rising water levels attract insects, which in turn feed woodpeckers, whose holes later provide homes for other wildlife.

Yes, beavers can make messes where messes aren’t wanted, but as we’ve reported in the past here, they stand to be a cheap, natural way to improve habitat.