VIEWPOINT | The community is a key player in protecting critical salmon habitat

By DAWN PUCCI

Island County’s Salmon Recovery Program coordinator

Like most Pacific Northwesterners, I feel at home by the sea, surrounded by our coastal rainforest flora and fauna. That’s why I chose to get my degree in ecology, and around here, that often means working with salmon. And for the past 16 years, I’ve been able to do just that, with the last three years as the coordinator for Island County’s Salmon Recovery Program.

Much of what I love about Island County is the variety of our shorelines. In ecology lingo we call the different types of shoreline “shoreforms” or “ecosystem components.” Each of these shoreforms have different niches and functions in the big ecosystem picture. It also turns out that salmon, juveniles in particular, rely on these niches and functions.

There are 25 salmon recovery watershed chapters throughout Washington, referred to as “lead entities” in state statute. Puget Sound has 16 of these lead entities. We work with our local communities, regional partners and each other to implement a federally-approved, regional recovery plan. Island County’s recovery plan is a chapter within the regional plan. I, as the Island County lead entity coordinator, work with local volunteer citizen committees and technical experts to select the best projects to receive grant funding, to provide salmon-related science and information for local planning processes and participate in educational events.

Salmon recovery strategy in Island County includes protecting the best intact habitat, and restoring habitat that has been degraded. The goal is always to balance fish and human habitat. Fish and humans both need beaches. Humans love to live and play there while fish feed and rest there. Juvenile salmon eat small invertebrates and juvenile forage fish that are produced along the beaches in the sub and intertidal areas. Fish use pocket estuaries (like Race Lagoon or Elger Lagoon) for shelter and rest as they leave the spawning streams and head out to sea. Recent research has also shown they use the small coastal freshwater streams. Restoration projects in Island County include unblocking access to pocket estuaries and small streams so salmon can get into the rest stops. Projects also include removing creosote debris and bulkheads where possible so juvenile salmon prey can thrive.

The message that not only do salmon need spawning rivers, but that they also need clean, accessible habitat that our Island County nearshore provides, is reaching our community. Our project sponsors work with homeowners to remove their bulkheads and blocking culverts. They are working with homeowners and the agricultural community to improve water quality. They are working to purchase land or arrange conservation easements to protect habitat. They are working with communities to understand the nature of the changing shoreline and seas.

Through collaborations and coordination we can protect and restore what means the most to each of us and help fish while we do it.

To read more about projects, visit Island County’s section in the Habitat Work Schedule at http://hws.ekosystem.us/site/200.  For more information, contact Dawn Pucci at d.pucci@co.island.wa.us or visit the Island County Salmon Recovery web page is www.islandcountyeh.org/page/57.