Northwest NEWS

July 3, 2000

Local News

'The fish are not there'

by Bronwyn Wilson, senior staff reporter

   The Puget Sound Chinook salmon, which once swam in thick numbers in the ocean and then returned to creeks and rivers to spawn, are in a sharp downward trend toward extinction. And this decline is due to human carelessness, more commonly known as the 4 H's: hatcheries, hydropower, harvest, and habitat.

   Consider this: Salmon are drawn back to the rivers and creeks where they were born through their keen sense of smell. Once arriving, the female salmon digs a depression in the creek's bed of gravel, using her tail as the excavator. She lays her eggs in the depression with a male salmon beside her to guard and fertilize the eggs, which will hatch three to four months later--maybe--if human activities don't disturb the process. But unfortunately, humans are disturbing the process all the time.

   Oil-based pollutants run-off from streets, while pesticides, toxins, fertilizers, and silt drains from lawns and farms. Construction diverts streams and thins foliage next to river banks.

   Poor forestry practices increase silt loadings and change water temperatures and runoff patterns. Dams make it difficult or even impossible for salmon to return upstream. And commercial fishing technology, with its capacity to decimate salmon, has interfered, as well.

   In order to protect the "threatened" salmon from further depletion, the federal government issued last week a list of "dos and don'ts" called the 4(d) rule, named after a section of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The rule prohibits the "taking" or harming of protected salmon in their habitat. Violators of the 4(d) rule open the door to federal fines and penalties.

   In the Tri-County area (Snohomish, King, and Pierce), there are two species of fish currently listed as threatened under the ESA--the Chinook salmon and the bull trout. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is the federal agency that has the responsibility for issuing the 4(d) rule to protect the Chinook salmon. Also, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will be issuing a 4(d) rule to protect bull trout.

   City Councilmember Barbara Solberg is actively involved in salmon recovery and emphasized that there is a difference between the numbers of farm-raised salmon and the numbers of native salmon in the area. It is the latter, she explained, that is diminishing.

   "The numbers that have declined are so drastic," she said, then adding, "It has become so obvious, because the fish are not there."

   And it is the fish "not there" that has brought the Tri-County Effort, a voluntary assembly of local governments, tribes, environmental coalitions, and business coalitions, together for the common purpose of responding to listings under the ESA and for a plan to recover salmon habitat. And it is the habitat, the only "H," local governments have control over.

   That said, the Tri-County Effort proposed a plan to allow salmon recovery decisions to be made by communities which are tailored to local watershed conditions. The Tri-County will present the specifics of the plan to the NMFS and the USFWS through the summer. NMFS is expected to release a final version of the Tri-County plan for public comment later this fall.

   "The first step in planning is to take a look at all the rivers and streams in the watershed and determine the health of the streams for salmon and identify factors that may limit salmon recovery," said Deborah Knight, Assistant to the City Manager. Solberg added, "Woodinville is involved in the watershed planning process."

   Solberg is passionate about saving the salmon. She is the City's representative to the Sammamish Watershed Forum, a group of elected officials from King County and Eastside cities working to address regional issues relating to water quality and fish habitat. Also, Solberg and Knight sponsor "Meet and Greet" forums where they go out into the community and discuss salmon recovery with citizens.

   "People in this area are very environmentally aware, anyway, and they choose to do things that will protect the environment and thereby protect the fish," Councilmember Solberg said.

   Even so, Knight and Solberg hope to encourage people to participate in salmon recovery by volunteering on an individual basis in day-to-day living and also in community efforts. One volunteer restoration project to enhance salmon migration is coming up on October 7th. Volunteers will pitch in and pull blackberry vines and canary grass and replant the banks at the mouth of Little Bear Creek with native trees and shrubs. The main objective of the event will be to bring the water temperature down by planting foliage that provides shade. Without a canopy of trees to block sunlight, the warm water temperatures are fatal to the migrating fish.

   Solberg and Knight also hope to get the word out that littering or pouring anything on the ground that a person wouldn't drink, such as pesticides, is harmful to fish. According to a recent EPA study, one pesticide that poses a significant risk to fish, as well as to birds and humans, is Diazinon--a popular bug killer. Also dangerous is another pesticide sold as Dursban. Knight and Solberg suggest disposing of hazardous waste harmful to fish (or family or pets) at a hazardous waste collection location.

   Salmon Watchers is another community effort coming up this fall. The volunteer citizens group will be counting spawning adult salmon in assigned areas and watching for fish from neighborhood places--such as bridge crossings, public footpaths, or their own back yards.

   The Tri-County plan is not the final step in the process. It's possible the NMFS will make changes to the plan, but the NMFS is expected to publish it for final comment before finalizing the plan by Dec. 31, 2000.

   For further information on salmon recovery, call the toll-free helpline at 1-877-SALMON-9, or visit www.salmoninfo.org. For a list of hazardous waste disposal sites, call 206-296-4692. The 2000 Wastemobile will be in the Carnation area July 28-30 and Aug. 4-6, and in the Woodinville area Sept. 1-3 and 8-10.