The mouth of the Snohomish River and Possession Sound. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The mouth of the Snohomish River and Possession Sound. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Save salmon, create jobs: A new plan for Snohomish watershed

Hilary Franz, of the state Department of Natural Resources, unveiled a “tree to sea” approach in a 100-page paper.

EVERETT — State Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has a 100-page plan for the Snohomish watershed.

At a news conference last week at Boxcar Park in Everett, overlooking Puget Sound, she unveiled the Watershed Resilience Action Plan, a “tree to sea” approach that will aim to address issues throughout the entire watershed.

Her pitch? Save salmon and create jobs.

“Despite decades of focus, and nearly $1 billion in investment in recovery efforts, Washington state is home to 16 populations of salmonids that are either threatened or endangered,” said Franz, the elected head of the state Department of Natural Resources.

In today’s world, the challenges facing salmon feel countless. Development and growing human populations, climate change and wildfires all conspire against the fish.

“The sad reality is restoration efforts have not kept up with the numerous pressures that are closing in on these habitats,” Franz said.

The Snohomish watershed is the second-largest river system draining into Puget Sound, covering over 1,800 square miles in King and Snohomish counties.

The watershed plan lays out five goals:

• Protect and clean up aquatic habitat.

• Restore, conserve and connect forests and riparian habitat.

• Revitalize urban forests and streams.

• Engage and invest in communities.

• Reduce and combat climate impacts.

Teri Gobin (left), Tulalip Tribes chairwoman; David Simpson (center), Port of Everett commissioner; and Hilary Franz (right), state public lands commissioner, during a news conference at Boxcar Park in Everett last week. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Teri Gobin (left), Tulalip Tribes chairwoman; David Simpson (center), Port of Everett commissioner; and Hilary Franz (right), state public lands commissioner, during a news conference at Boxcar Park in Everett last week. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The 100-page report acts as a catalog of what the state is already doing, and it hints at what may come. It calls for removing every derelict vessel in the watershed, cleaning up 150 tons of marine debris, expanding urban tree canopy by 2,000 acres, planting 10,000 trees a year, putting in 10,000 acres worth of carbon sequestration projects, establishing an ocean acidification monitoring station, preserving kelp and eelgrass, removing barriers for fish migration and enhancing habitat along waterways.

A new woody debris program will, as the name suggests, supply woody debris to projects aimed at improving salmon habitat. And a new map called WatershedConnect outlines the work already underway, showing how it all connects.

The plan doesn’t call for any additional money, yet. Rather, Franz said, it’s a reorganization of how her department works as one of the state’s largest land managers. The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for 5.6 million acres of forest, range, agricultural, aquatic and commercial land.

“This is the first time we’ve moved from being sort of siloed within our programs and our responsibilities throughout the state to linking all of the work of the agency in one watershed, literally from the trees … to the sea,” Franz said.

Her department is asking the Legislature for funding to expand the derelict vessel removal program and to protect and restore 10,000 acres of kelp and eelgrass meadows.

She hopes the plan can be used to attract more money in the future. Salmon recovery projects can be expensive, and they’re often severely underfunded, according to the report.

Franz believes salmon recovery can be a boost for the economy. According to an analysis conducted by RTI International released last week, every dollar spent on salmon recovery in the Snohomish River watershed translates to 77 cents in wages for workers.

The department’s watershed and forest plans could create 2,930 jobs and over $131 million in income for Washingtonians, according to a news release.

The Snohomish watershed is a guinea pig for Franz’s philosophy for land management. Should her plan be successful, she hopes to duplicate the efforts in other watersheds.

Protecting salmon will require partnerships. Franz was joined at last week’s news conference by Tulalip Tribes chairwoman Teri Gobin, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Port of Everett Commissioner David Simpson and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust Board President Doug McClelland.

Dave Somers, Snohomish County executive, at Boxcar Park in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald )

Dave Somers, Snohomish County executive, at Boxcar Park in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald )

“The Snohomish watershed is important to our tribal membership, as we are the salmon people,” Gobin said. “It has always been our responsibility of the Tulalip Tribes to restore, conserve and connect forest and habitat, for salmon recovery today and for future generations to come.’’

Somers recalled the 18 years he spent as a fish biologist working for the Tulalip Tribes.

“Back in those days, we often didn’t have relationships we really needed,” he said.

He saw the state’s watershed plan as an important step, especially as Snohomish County faces unprecedented growth.

“We have to have a long-term vision,” Somers said. “This plan gives us that.”

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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