Second opinion on salmon recovery: We’re swimming upstream

  • By Bob Heirman
  • Saturday, August 6, 2005 9:00pm
  • Opinion

At the last meeting of the Snohomish County Sportsmen’s Association, the delegates passed a motion instructing me to produce an article on salmon recovery based primarily on information gained from our participation in the recent, broadly based forum on the effort and our own archives.

From the very first meeting of the Shared Strategy for Puget Sound effort, serious doubts emerged concerning the direction this diverse group was taking. We realized those heading the meetings had little historical knowledge of area watersheds. It appeared we were the only participants who had actually recovered salmon.

(The Snohomish Chapter of the Snohomish County Sportsmen’s Association has perhaps the longest-running salmon recovery program in the state, going back some 50 years using coho fry in “jump over” creeks. Where good habitat exists, remarkable numbers of adult coho return – Bunk Foss Creek is a good example. An article about the salmon of Bunk Foss Creek appeared on the front page of the Herald on Dec. 26, 2000.)

Unfortunately, the habitat of Bunk Foss Creek is in a world of hurt as wetlands and valuable beaver ponds have been drained.

As Billy Frank Jr. of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission wrote in a recent guest commentary, the Shared Strategy plan to recover salmon places the greatest emphasis on habitat. He then posed the most difficult question of all: Will we take salmon recovery seriously and change our ways? He listed many of the challenges, including a huge population increase, clearing land to build countless homes and deforestation of our watersheds.

I am afraid the answer to his question is no. With every passing day, our habitat grows worse. If you think it will be better next week, you are sadly mistaken. Sportsmen have toiled for decades to protect habitat, as have many other caring people, but “progress” always gets in the way.

We can do certain things to make our salmonids more abundant. First and foremost, we must control predators. Last May, I received a call from a Gold Bar resident lamenting the fact that 60 mergansers (fish-eating ducks) were at the outlet of Reiter Ponds gobbling up large numbers of steelhead smolts as they left the rearing ponds. What the mergansers miss, huge numbers of cormorants await the survivors.

If our juvenile fish make it to the sea, the sea lions wait for the adults to return. Predators eat millions of salmon, steelhead and trout. Additional predators include harbor seals, squawfish, bull trout, Caspian terns, gulls and pelicans. To compound the situation, many of these predators are on the endangered species list. Consequently, additional state and federal funds are being used to protect endangered predators that are furthering the endangerment of salmon.

To put it in plain terms, if you have two foxes in your hen house, your egg production will go way down.

Sportsmen have known for many years that hatcheries play a vital roll in salmon recovery. The Wallace River Hatchery is a prime example of a well-run facility. We urge people to visit this site and see the beautiful chinook salmon as a huge number of adults have returned. They fill the Wallace River below the hatchery as well.

A “wild fish” is any fish that comes up through the gravel even though both parents were hatchery fish. As state Sen. Bob Morton explained in his April Salmon Update: “All hatchery-reared salmon/steelhead are ultimately descended from naturally spawning ‘wild’ fish, and possess all the genes found in ‘wild’ fish.” They are not genetically different, as a class, from “wild” fish even though the Endangered Species Act allows them to be labeled as such.

Buying habitat is very important, but without juvenile fish to inhabit it, salmon recovery will be very difficult. In Snohomish County, we could be doing a better job. For example, the removal of the Lavigueure Ponds on the West Fork of Woods Creek was unfortunate, as was the Czubin’s Creek fiasco, where $150,000 was spent replacing culverts that were passing fish. So was the three mile long clear-cut on the west side of Lake Roesiger, and the failure to use lakes for salmon rearing. In our opinion, the biggest mistake of all was not bypassing Woods Creek Falls on East Fork so salmon can return to Lake Roesiger and all the other wonderful habitat in this watershed.

We do not need large woody debris in rivers such as the Snohomish. There are so many logs in the river now, a person has trouble getting up the river. Large woody debris belong in little streams and tiny creeks.

We do not advocate using large amounts of rip rap, but it is needed at times to keep our rivers in a winding course and to protect private property. As long as it is placed in a curve and not in a straight line, good pools are often created. We were saddened to see the people in the upper South Fork of the Stillaguamish River lose their homes to erosion under the guise of protecting “native or wild” fish. There were no salmon and steelhead in this region until 1954, when the Granite Falls fish ladder was installed.

We desperately need a steelhead facility in the upper Pilchuck in or near Purdy Creek. It’s been more than 30 years since we built the Reiter Ponds.

Our glaciers and streams are shrinking rapidly, no doubt from global warming. (I have a picture of Lake 22 in August of 1955 and it’s frozen over.)

In conclusion, despite great effort, our beloved little creeks are vanishing and lakes are being ruined – Blackmans Lake in Snohomish is an example. Too much development and loss of habitat continue to degrade our fisheries and the quality of life for us old-timers and for our grandchildren.

Bob Heirman has been secretary-treasurer of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club for 46 years and is president of the Snohomish County Sportsmen’s Association. He has written three books, including “Snohomish, My Beloved County – An Angler’s Anthology.”

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