Salmon recovery projects are helping

The state Salmon Recovery Funding Board just awarded $18 million in state and federal funds to continue the long and difficult task of restoring depleted salmon populations across three-quarters of the state.

Created by the state Legislature in 1999, the board consists of five citizens appointed by the governor and five state agency directors. Projects proposed by land trusts, tribes, salmon enhancement groups, conservation districts and others are carefully reviewed, ranked and awarded grants that are used to restore and conserve prime salmon habitat in rivers, streams, estuaries wetlands and nearshore areas.

Recent studies show that every $1 million spent on watershed restoration creates nearly 17 jobs and $2.6 million in economic activity.

This is not just busy work to make people feel good. The state is beginning to see the fruits of this labor: six of 15 salmon populations threatened with extinction are increasing.

The land that is restored and protected through the grant program creates more places for salmon and other wildlife to live, reproduce and grow. In addition, some of the projects help reduce the risk of flooding.

Nearly $1.8 million was awarded this year to 13 projects in Thurston and Mason counties. For instance, the Mason Conservation District will use $362,096 to pay for some of the 21 logjams being installed in the Holman Flats area of the South Fork Skokomish River to improve habitat for salmon. This was an area logged and cleared in the 1950s for a dam that was never built. Puget Sound steelhead, Puget Sound chinook and bull trout – all listed as threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act – will benefit from the project.

The Capitol Land Trust received funding for three projects in Thurston County. The land trust will use $90,000 to conserve a rare, 54-acre wetland along the Black River, $11,000 to maintain restored habitat in the Allison Springs estuary at the end of Eld Inlet and $30,000 to design a habitat restoration project along the Harmony Farms shoreline in Henderson Inlet.

The South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group was awarded more than $95,000 to place two logjams on private land in lower McLane Creek. The logjams will slow down stream flows that can erode salmon spawning habitat in the late fall and early winter months, and create pools of water for salmon to utilitize during summer low flows.

The McLane stream bisects the property of Lee and Nancy Chambers. Some people would chafe at the building and zoning restrictions associated with the stream, but not the Chambers.

They like to sit on the bank of the stream and watch the chum salmon migrate and spawn. In November and December the spawned out salmon carcasses attract dozens of bald eagles and hundreds of noisy gulls to their property. The logjams will help keep the winter runoff from scouring the sandbars where the salmon build their nests and deposit their eggs.

Hundreds of project like the one on the Chambers property are making a difference for salmon here in South Sound, and all across the state.