August 12, 2002
Up a creek collecting data
By Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
This fall, you might notice people wearing funny paper glasses while standing around local creeks and streams. The glasses seem reminiscent of eyewear worn by moviegoers in the 50's era. Back then, 3-D glasses were the craze and people attending motion pictures wore them in hopes of an exhilarating 3-D experience. An ad for the 1952 thriller "Bwana Devil" promised that lions would leap right off the screen and into your lap.
But the glasses worn by people standing beside local creeks this fall won't accommodate 3-D thrills. Instead, they'll assist in cutting down the sun's glare on the water. Their polarized lenses will aid the volunteers of the Salmon Watchers Program in their work of identifying fish with sharp clarity.
"Even though they look silly, they do help," says Woodinville resident Alyse DeKraker who donned the glasses last year when she worked as a volunteer. DeKraker had eyed a newspaper article stating a need for Salmon Watcher volunteers. She and her husband decided to join the program and attended a training session.
Since the two were already in the habit of taking walks together along the Sammamish River Trail, they selected a watch site at the river. DeKraker says, "We stood on a little bridge just past Wilmot Park and observed from there."
Although their site would bustle with activity during the times bikers, joggers and walkers traversed the trail, her spot seemed ideal. She and her husband observed together, quietly commenting to each other as the fish swam by. "It certainly was a peaceful environment," she recalls. "And you could hear the water rushing."
The Salmon Watcher Program, currently in its seventh year, uses the data collected by the DeKrakers and all of the other volunteers to determine fish presence, fish distribution and blockages to fish passage. The program, a multi-jurisdictional effort, focuses on learning more about the distribution of salmon and trout species in our region.
Volunteers agree to count and identify salmon for 15 minutes twice a week from September through December. Each volunteer attends a two-hour training session where they learn how to fill out data forms and how to identify different species of salmon and trout. They also discover other interesting facts about salmon, including what the fish experience on their arduous journey from the ocean back to the peaceful streams where they were born.
DeKraker says the training information came alive for her once she began her assignment, "Relating that to actually seeing the fish made it more vivid in my mind." Commenting on her overall experience, she says, "It was a nice opportunity to spend a little extra time in a positive way."
King County Ecologist and Project Manager Jennifer Vanderhoof says the data volunteers are helped by the Department of Natural Resources and Parks who know where salmon are spawning.
"This is not hard science," she says. "The main idea is fish presence. It's not statistically analyzed." She says that sockeye, kokanee and coho were spotted at Little Bear Creek from September to December 2001.
Four hundred and fifty nine sockeye were recorded from four sites along Little Bear Creek. Eleven kokanee and thirty coho were also reported from the sites. "
The kokanee swam further up Little Bear Creek than the volunteers have ever seen before," says Vanderhoof, stating that the kokanee traveled four and a half miles up the creek. "They were way up in Snohomish County," she adds, "So they were making tracks." Volunteers monitoring Cottage Lake Creek didn't report kokanee at their sites but did count 123 chinook and 332 sockeye.
Also, volunteers keep a watchful eye at their assigned sites. "We call the volunteers 'the eyes and ears' of the stream," says Vanderhoof and points out that volunteers check for anything that seems unusual. "Anything odd," she says. "Like green-colored water or poaching." She mentions that poaching has not been an issue in Woodinville but green-colored water, the result of dye testing, was once detected. She adds that chemicals, like anti-freeze, would also cause the water to turn green.
Volunteers also educate the public about salmon issues when the opportunity arises. Often, passers-by will stop and ask questions. Usually people notice the paper glasses, at first, and will inquire about their purpose. Vanderhoof says the glasses serve as the perfect opener for conversation. "I think the glasses tend to be attention-getters," she says. "And they work."
During the spawning season last year, 219 volunteers in the program surveyed 181 sites on 68 streams throughout the Lake Washington Watershed and Central Puget Sound streams. In all, coho were seen in the most number of streams and sockeye were seen in the greatest numbers.
Further information on the Salmon Watcher Program can be found on the King County web site at http://dnr.metrokc.gov/. "This year we're going to have a couple of new online tools," says Vanderhoof. "We're setting up a system so that volunteers can choose their watch site before training. They can let us know what site they're interested in. It should hopefully expedite things during the training session. Also, we'll have a web page for every stream where volunteers have seen fish so far. It will have fish identification information specific to that stream." As an example, she explains that volunteers can look up Little Bear Creek to learn the type of fish commonly seen in the creek and the types seen only a few times or not at all. Vanderhoof says the web site will also list fish characteristics, such as clarifying the color of a sockeye as very red with a green head and a chinook's color as olive brown with blotches. Says Vanderhoof, "The new online tools will be up in a few weeks (approx. mid-August)."
Those interested in becoming a volunteer for the 2002 spawning season can attend a training session scheduled Sept.10 at Woodinville City Hall 7 to 9 pm. To learn more about the program, contact Volunteer Coordinator Katie Sauter at 206-296-0516 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.