When the splashing was loud
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
The sound of splashing was so loud it kept Woodinville resident Greg Stephens awake at night.
Back in 1986 there were 500 or more Puget Sound chinook splashing vigorously up Little Bear Creek to spawn that year. Their journey took them through Stephens' yard on a long trek from the Pacific Ocean.
Many of the chinook swimming upstream from the Sammamish River were 3 feet in length and weighed 40 pounds plus. But as the years passed, the splashing sounds were heard less and less as their numbers diminished.
Last year, only a few dozen chinook no larger than 2 feet in length traveled Little Bear Creek through Stephens' yard. "Unless something is done now, the numbers will continue to decline," said Stephens.
But Stephens, a lifelong fisherman, isn't sitting idle while the numbers of wild salmon dwindle away. As vice-president of the Little Bear Creek Protective Association, he and other concerned citizens in the community are working to save the chinook, listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The association's president, Corinne Hensley, said, "The whole idea of ESA is to bring the species back to a sustainable level."
And this is the association's goal. Hensley went on to say, "The basic premise behind the Little Bear Creek Protective Association is to protect and promote good stewardship of the creek."
She explained the ways the association does this. They sit down with developers planning to build near the creek and encourage the business to enhance local wetlands and restore the creek's banks with native plants. They review developers' applications, make recommendations and discuss planning with the County Council about protection of the creek.
"We're trying to make sure that the businesses that go in protect this creek," said Hensley who became actively involved with protecting salmon around the time she helped her daughter on a fish project for a Girl Scout award.
Little Bear Creek Protective Association is a non-profit organization and began in 1978 by resident Joyce Hoikka who is now treasurer for the association.
When a neighbor began to fill in wetlands, Hoikka went to Snohomish County with some of her other neighbors to see what could be done to stop the destruction.
Since that time, the association has been watching for other violations. They have filed complaints and objections with the Snohomish County and City of Woodinville Planning departments when violations are discovered.
"We pay attention," said Hensley. "We look for the things that could be problems in the future so they can be corrected," she added, citing erosion potential as one problem she looks for.
The association also conducts a fish count during the spawning season and has testified before the County Council to divert potential problems concerning specific projects.
But filing complaints and testifying are not activities the association wants to do. They would rather work with developers and come to a mutual agreement.
The association is currently working with a fishery consultant and a wetland biologist employed by a developer who is building a cement company near the creek.
In an effort to be a good neighbor, the developer is restoring the creek so that salmon can have the environment they need to live. The company has added large woody debris to the creek to create deep reservoirs of cool water for traveling salmon to rest in.
The downed timber in the water also protects the gravel where the chinook fry eggs hatch in January and February. The added wood slows the flow of creek water and keeps fish-egg nests from being buried in mud on the stream bottom.
The developer is also restoring salmon habitat by taking out canary grass and Himalayan blackberry bushes along the creek banks. The company is planting sallal, willow and cedar in their place.
But Stephens points out that salmon are not the only concern. The creek supports other wild life, such as bald eagles who feed on the fish carcasses.
"There are also otters, raccoons, coyotes, mink, opossums, kingfishers and great blue herons that depend on salmon resource for food," Stephens said.
Governor Gary Locke echoes this concern in the State of the Salmon Report released in December,2000: "It isn't just our salmon that are in trouble ‹ it's our Northwest quality of life that's at risk. We're all connected by our land and water."
According to the 24-page report: "Much of our freshwater rivers and streams where salmon begin and end their lives have been diked, diverted, channeled, polluted, or blocked to meet the needs of agriculture, industry, and homes.
"Over 1,000 dams impede salmon on their journey to the sea and back. Some of our rivers no longer carry enough water to support salmon in late summer. In winter, we have more scouring floods that destroy salmon eggs and wash young fish out to sea because of urban development."
Due to these troublesome factors, the Little Bear Creek Protective Association is getting involved.
President Corinne Hensley and Vice-President Greg Stephens encourage citizens to join organizations that multiply their voices.
"The public's voice needs to be heard by government and business," said Stephens.
To those wanting to add their voice to the Little Bear Creek Protective Association, Hensley said, "We're always looking for people who want to help along the creek."
For further information ‹ e-mail Corinne Hensley: crhensley@CS.com.To learn more about the Governor's Salmon Recovery Office: www.governor.wa.gov/esa.