Clark County projects receive more than $1 million for salmon habitat recovery


Local efforts to improve the habitat for threatened and endangered salmon species will have state-level support as more than $1 million in grants across five projects was announced last week.

In total, the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Puget Sound Partnership announced $81.5 million across 150 grants statewide. The grants are for projects to improve salmon habitat and conserve shorelines and riverbanks.

“Salmon are the foundation and the future of our shared Pacific Northwest identity,” Salmon Recovery Funding Board Jeff Breckel said in a news release. “We know what it takes to recover salmon, but the challenges are outpacing our progress. We must stay vigilant and continue to make these important investments.”

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe was awarded about $298,000 to design a floodplain reconnection of Salmon Creek, according to an approved project list. The project focuses on wetlands and side channels in the Gordy Jolma Family Natural Area, Clark County-owned land on the former site of the Cedars on Salmon Creek Golf Course.

The Tribe and the county will assess the site and then develop a restoration plan to benefit a number of salmon species by increasing floodplain connectivity, the project list stated.

The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership received a roughly $282,000 grant to design cold-water refuges in the East Fork Lewis River. Four areas have been identified, with three of those having cold water throughout the summer but limited fish access, according to the project list. The fourth is a side channel that could potentially lower water temperature in the river.

The grant will be used to develop preliminary designs for projects to improve those areas, the project list stated.

The Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group received about $228,000 to improve Mason Creek’s banks and floodplain. The group will place log structures and “beaver dam analogs” along 2.5 miles of the creek, a tributary of the East Fork Lewis River, according to the project list. They will also plant the creek banks with vegetation.

Organizers hope the habitat improvements will allow Mason Creek to hold enough water to return to year-round flow. The creek often runs dry in the summer, stranding fish.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife received a $340,000 grant to create a channel by Eagle Island in the North Fork Lewis River for chum salmon. The department already owns the land on which the channel will be created, the project list noted.

Apart from providing and protecting groundwater on Eagle Island, the channel will create more spawning and rearing habitat for chum salmon, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Fish and Wildlife also received about $150,000 in a grant to develop a model to analyze numbers of chum salmon in the Columbia River. The department will update a model for steelhead in the same river to apply it to the different species, the project list states.

The model will be used to analyze up to two decades of data on chum salmon to generate estimates of a majority of populations of Washington’s fish.

Grant funding came from the Washington State Legislature through the state’s salmon recovery account and the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund, which receive support from state bond sales, the release stated. Projects in the Puget Sound area made up $53.7 million of total grants distributed.

Federal funding through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund also contributed to the grants, the release stated.

The first salmon in the Pacific Northwest was declared endangered in 1991 under the federal Endangered Species Act, the release stated. By the end of that decade, salmon had disappeared from roughly 40% of historic breeding ranges in four states, including Washington.

Washington’s salmon, steelhead and bull trout numbers dwindled so much that those species were listed as threatened or endangered in close to three-quarters of the state, according to the release. Currently, 14 groups of steelhead trout and Chinook, coho, chum and sockeye salmon in Washington State are listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Though some recovery efforts in the past 25 years have built those populations back up, others continue to fall further behind, the release stated.

In Washington, projects are brought forth by groups representing local watersheds, which are reviewed by state and regional scientific panels before they can be approved by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

“The process ensures only the best and most scientifically sound projects make it to funding. This helps ensure we make wise investments that will get us closer to recovery,” Breckel said.