Local passersby watch salmon swim upstream. (File photo)

More than 30 years ago, the Snake River’s Fall Chinook salmon were declared endangered. Since then, the federal government has listed 13 additional salmon species in Washington as endangered or threatened. Meanwhile, dwindling Chinook salmon populations are pushing Southern Resident orcas closer to extinction.

People across the region have worked to bring salmon back from the brink of extinction, and those efforts have restored thousands of acres of fish habitat. Still, salmon and other species are losing more habitat than they are gaining. Over 70% of endangered or threatened salmon and steelhead populations are not keeping pace with recovery goals, are still in crisis or require immediate action.

On Dec. 14, Gov. Jay Inslee announced ambitious legislative and policy proposals to bolster the governor’s statewide salmon strategy. The event took place on Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation under the cover of a large Swinomish Cedar Hat, alongside the Swinomish Channel.  

The governor was joined by people from the Swinomish, Tulalip and Nisqually tribal communities, legislators and state agencies who work on salmon, water and habitat issues.

“Healthy salmon populations mean healthy water systems. We are updating our salmon strategy to provide a comprehensive, statewide foundation for salmon recovery,” Inslee said. “This approach is based on the latest science and tailored to address the stressors in the diverse regions of our state, spelling out the many different actions we must take to protect and restore salmon.”

The proposals call for several actions:

  • Protect and restore vital salmon habitat
  • Invest in clean water infrastructure for salmon and people
  • Correct fish passage barriers and restore salmon access to historical habitat
  • Build climate resiliency
  • Align harvest, hatcheries and hydropower with salmon recovery
  • Address predation and food web issues for salmon
  • Enhance commitments and coordination across agencies and programs
  • Strengthen science, monitoring and accountability

To achieve these actions, the governor unveiled a suite of budget and policy changes for 2022 to help restore salmon populations across the state. Inslee’s budget would invest $187 million total in salmon recovery.

The state will invest $123 million in riparian standards, habitat conservation grant programs, and clean water programs for riparian protection. Inslee’s proposal would also improve water quality, decrease stream and river temperatures, and reduce nutrient loading — all of which salmon need for spawning, incubating eggs in the stream gravel, and rearing young smolts.

Large amounts of historic fish habitat are blocked to salmon by inaccessible culverts on roads and highways. Dams diminish important areas for rearing and spawning. The governor’s proposal expands state efforts to correct fish passage barriers, mitigate impacts of existing barriers, and prevent new barriers from occurring. 

“We are on a mission. Protecting and restoring our salmon is personal to me — it’s a legacy left to us by previous generations and we should do the same for our grandchildren,” Inslee said. “I’m committed to taking greater steps to ensure their survival. I will work closely with tribal partners and other leaders throughout the state to get the job done. It’s a mission that requires coordination across our government and a comprehensive approach — and my budget and policy priorities reflect that.”

To learn more about the salmon strategy, visit https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2021_Gov_SalmonStrategyUpdate.pdf

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