Making Progress Toward Salmon Recovery
Salmon and Steelhead had completed their freshwater life cycles in the rivers and streams of SE Washington for thousands of generations
before populations began to decline in the late 1880s. The cause for the declines were wide spread impacting nearly all aspects of survival
from passage, degraded spawning & rearing habitat to simplified or dewatered stream channels. Over-harvest in the oceans and in fresh water reduced the numbers of adult fish returning to spawn even as river and stream habitat continued to degrade. Though many stressors remain unresolved and access to some historical spawning areas remains limited, efforts to improve and restore available habitat has been underway for over 10 years and significant progress is being made within the Snake River Region including Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin Counties. Over 52 fish passage barriers have been removed or modified, opening passage to the majority of regional watersheds. Over 260 river miles of riparian habitat has been replanted and > 520 irrigation diversion have been screened. The waterways are responding through cooler summer temperatures and the local salmon and steelhead populations are responding through wider use of waterways. It is important to understand when conducting restoration that habitat degradation took place over a hundred years, the healing process will also take generations.
The recovery of salmon in the Snake River Salmon Recovery Region means more than removing the burden of federally ESA restriction it is rebuilding the tradition of salmon culture. The Snake River Salmon Recovery Board has been working with its salmon restoration partners including the cities, counties, tribes and local state and federal government in the Snake Region since 2002 with restoration activities having been implemented since 1999. The establishment of the salmon recovery board lead to the development of the restoration plan and building of a concerted effort to restore habitat. One of the biggest hurtles to restoration is first identifying what needs to be restored, where to start and what a restored stream should look like. In the Snake this was accomplished through the use of empirical scientific data where possible modeling and extrapolation were necessary and verified by local biological expert knowledge. The image below is the final result of priority planning and illustrates the priority watersheds and priority areas of the Snake Region.
As the experience and comfort level of our restoration partners increase, the size and potential ecological benefit of restoration projects has also increased. The change in project size is the result of a sift from implementing projects to meet site specific objectives to implementing projects that meet ecological objectives. To meet an ecological objective it is often necessary to work at a scale which will change the trajectory of river and floodplain continuum from an existing plane bed state to a more complex dynamic equilibrium.