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Salmon watchers track changes in environment

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman

The peak of eco fashionCourtesy Photo. Some of the Salmon Watchers make fashion statements with their eyewear.One reminder of nature passes among, under, and through the landscape of human developments: salmon.

"It is very exciting and inspiring that nature can persist in some places despite human beings developing so much of their habitat," Staci Adman, a Kenmore resident who observes local creeks as part of the Salmon Watchers program, wrote in an email interview.

"If you see some salmon in the midst of a city/suburbia it can be awesome and awe-inspiring."

Salmon Watchers will hold a training meeting for prospective volunteers at the Woodinville City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 12 from 7 to 9 p.m. — but Jennifer Vanderhoof, an ecologist with King County who organizes the program, recommends getting there early since the Woodinville training session usually fills up.

This is the 18th year of Salmon Watchers, a program that trains volunteers to identify different species of salmon in the Lake Washington watershed. The watershed, which consists of all the land and streams that drain into Lake Washington, contains chinook, coho, sockeye and kokanee salmon, Vanderhoof said.

Volunteers visit a local stream for 15 minutes several times per week and collect data about the numbers and types of salmon, then report their data to King County. The county uses that information to tell if salmon are using streams that have been restored and note any changes in the streams’ habitat.

Vanderhoof said the training meetings will teach people how to help salmon on a daily basis, even if people don’t choose to become volunteers.

Salmon thrive in cool, clean water, with deep pools, cover from shrubs and fallen trees, and clean gravel for salmon nests, called redds, according to Laurie Devereaux, Bellevue Stream Team program administrator.

"Shade, fallen logs, and diverse plants are all things that support healthy salmon habitat,"

Devereaux wrote in an email interview. "What might look a mess to us is perfect habitat."

But human activities can damage the habitat that salmon need. Stormwater picks up pollutants from hard surfaces such as streets and parking lots and carries these pollutants to lakes, rivers and eventually the Puget Sound.

Bernice Schick, another salmon watcher, enjoys gathering data that not only helps salmon, but also reveals the overall health of the stream and the environment. Over the past three years, she’s observed creeks in several spots in Woodinville — at Rotary Park, at the start of Little Bear Creek, and near Homeward Pet.

"It’s always fun when a big run comes in and to see these awesome fish that have been swimming thousands of miles to get back to the stream they were born in," she wrote in an email interview. "It’s amazing to watch them jump over places where you would think they couldn’t cross, but they do."

Depending on the day and the place, Schick said that in her 15-minute viewing period, she might see more than 100 salmon where a stream starts, 10 to 30 further downstream, or, occasionally, none.

"Living in the Pacific Northwest, salmon is part of our culture, whether eating it, catching it or counting them," she wrote. "It’s a part of the seasons and for me a sign that fall is coming."

More information about salmon watching and additional training meetings is available at www.kingcounty.gov/salmonwatcher.

What can you do to help salmon?

Even if you don’t become a salmon watcher, here are some ways to help salmon by keeping pollutants out of the watershed.

• Scoop, bag and throw away animal waste, which contains harmful microorganisms.

• Wash your car at a commercial car wash, where the dirty, soapy water will be sent to a sewage treatment center. Otherwise, soap dissolves the protective mucous layer on the fish and the natural oils in their gills.

• Practice natural yard care —  avoid using pesticides and fertilizers that contaminate our streams and lakes.

• Fix vehicle leaks, which drip oil and chemicals into storm drains that eventually flow to water sources.

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