2 Pierce County salmon recovery projects net nearly $1M grant funding

Salmon recovery projects in Puget Sound will receive nearly $25 million in grants from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and Puget Sound Partnership.

The two agencies awarded 28 grants in 10 counties surrounding the state’s largest estuary, where wild Chinook salmon are now one-third as abundant as they were a century ago. The grants focus on improving salmon habitat and conserving pristine shorelines and riverbanks.

“A healthy Puget Sound is critical to our salmon, economy and way of life,” said Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. “These grants will help restore some of the damaged shorelines and rivers that salmon rely on, and they will create jobs immediately. In the long run, that’s going to help all the people that rely on salmon for their livelihoods and the rest of us who enjoy Puget Sound.”

Salmon are a key economic driver in Washington, according to Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office officials. Recreational salmon fishing alone creates nearly $130 million in economic activity each year. The grants awarded this month are expected to support 350 jobs. As Washington’s population has grown, its salmon populations have dwindled, according to Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office officials. In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon in the Pacific Northwest as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. By 1999, wild salmon had disappeared from about 40 percent of their historic breeding ranges in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California. In Washington, the numbers had dwindled so much that salmon and bull trout were listed as threatened or endangered in nearly three-fourths of the state.

The grants awarded this month include projects that move a mile-long, coastal dike to restore the natural Skagit Bay tidal flow; restore a small beach along Orcas Island’s West Sound so it can better function as spawning and rearing habitat for the fish that salmon eat; and replace road fill and twin culverts from under State Route 116 in Jefferson County with a bridge that will allow fish to pass through.

Projects in Pierce County will receive $975,256 in grant funds. The projects include:

Restoring the South Fork Puyallup River Floodplain ($782,256) — The Pierce County Surface Water Management Division will use this grant to restore the left bank of the Puyallup River between South Fork Road and 144th Street East, west of State Route 162 in Orting. The County will build a floodplain side channel, place logjams, plant disturbed areas, and add other fish habitat features. The County also will move fiber optic cables and a gas main. This is the second phase of a project designed to expand and improve off-channel and floodplain habitat along the Puyallup River for Chinook salmon and steelhead, both of which are listed as threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act. Fish use off-channel and floodplains for spawning, rearing, hiding from predators and over-wintering. Pierce County will contribute $273,773.

Designing the South Prairie Creek Floodplain Restoration Project ($193,000) — The South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group will use this grant to complete final design, permits, and construction specifications for a project on South Prairie Creek’s floodplain, upstream of Orting. The restoration project involves placing tree root wads and logs in a .6-mile reach of South Prairie Creek to slow the creek, preventing channel incision and allowing gravels to settle out of the water and create areas for salmon to spawn. The restoration project also involves building a floodplain along the right bank to create a system of perennial side channels, replanting the floodplain, removing a bridge on South Prairie Creek and installing a bridge over Silver Springs, demolishing old dairy structures, and creating educational materials for public access and cultural and natural resources. The end goal of this project is to improve habitat so that the creek can handle more juvenile rearing, adult spawning, and egg incubation for Puget Sound Chinook and steelhead, both of which are listed as threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act, along with coho, chum, and pink salmon and coastal cutthroat trout.

A complete list of grant award recipients is available online here.

“The projects are selected after rigorous scientific evaluation and community involvement,” said David Troutt, chair of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. “We want to make sure they will help salmon and create more healthy places for salmon to live. If they are healthy before they migrate to the ocean, we have a better chance of seeing more salmon return to Puget Sound. That’s good news for Washington’s economy and families.”

Projects are prioritized by local watershed groups, called lead entities, as well as regionally ranked by the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council. Project ranking is coordinated by the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency responsible for leading the Puget Sound recovery effort. Money for the grants comes from the Legislatively-approved Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund, which is funded by the sale of state general obligation bonds. The Recreation and Conservation Office assures the projects are properly and efficiently designed and constructed and works closely with the Puget Sound Partnership to administer the grant program.

“These projects help accomplish two major goals important to Puget Sound communities: Restoring the natural systems of Puget Sound and improving the well-being of the people who call Puget Sound home,” said Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. “Identifying and advancing high priority recovery work that tangibly benefits local communities is a key part of our recovery strategy as well. It is a good use of scarce resources because the same dollars bring jobs to local communities, create habitat for healthy wildlife and help ensure Puget Sound will be a vibrant place to live and work for generations to come.”

“In nearly every community throughout the state, there are dedicated people working on salmon recovery,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office. “Without their vision and perseverance, we wouldn’t have made the improvements we have, and we probably wouldn’t see the increases in salmon populations we’re beginning to see. We all owe them a big thanks.”