Local efforts may help Southern Resident orca’s population
The Methow Valley may seem a long way from Puget Sound, but almost $770,000 will be spent here in the next two years on salmon restoration projects that may help endangered orca whales that live off Washington’s coast.
The Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board recently announced almost $18 million in grants for projects to restore salmon habitat throughout Washington state. An estimated 75 percent of the funded projects will benefit Chinook salmon, which make up a large part of the Southern Resident orca whale diet.
The Southern Resident orcas are a population of whales that live in the Salish Sea, which includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Strait of Georgia, and Puget Sound, and the waters around and between the San Juan Islands in Washington and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. As of September, the number of Southern Resident orcas has fallen to 74 whales, the lowest in 34 years.
“This funding helps protect one of our most beloved legacies,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who earlier this month announced more than $1 billion in proposed investments to save orcas. “Together we’re taking a step forward for salmon, and in turn (for) dwindling Southern Resident orca whales,” Inslee said.
The Salmon Recovery Funding Board awarded grants for 95 projects in 30 of the state’s 39 counties. Grant recipients will use the funding to remove barriers that prevent salmon from migrating, increase the types and amount of salmon habitat, conserve pristine areas and replant riverbanks to increase places for salmon to spawn, feed, rest, and hide from predators and transition from freshwater to saltwater and back again.
Since the creation of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board in 1999, the board has awarded more than $700 million in state and federal funds to more than 2,650 projects across the state. With matching funds provided by grant recipients, the amount invested in board-funded salmon recovery projects is $987 million.
Six projects in the Methow Valley have been awarded a total of $768,584 this year for projects to improve habitat in waterways that are used by spring Chinook, listed as federally endangered species, and steelhead and bull trout, listed as threatened. The projects will be undertaken during the next two years.
• The Methow Conservancy received $214,700 to buy a conservation easement on 25.3 acres of floodplain along the upper Methow River, upriver of the Tawkes-Foster Suspension Bridge. This portion of the river is a major spawning area for spring Chinook and steelhead. Called the “Goat Creek Conservation Easement Project,” it will prevent impacts to salmon habitat by restricting residential development, and additionally will improve habitat through the removal of two levees along the river.
• A half-mile of historic channel that provides spawning and rearing habitat for salmon will be rebuilt in a $75,628 project conducted by the Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group. The Hancock Springs restoration project is located in Mazama between Wolf Creek Road and Kumm Road on land held in a conservation easement with the Methow Conservancy. The project will improve habitat by widening channels, planting native vegetation and adding spawning gravel.
• The Beaver Creek Restoration Project, sponsored by Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation, has been granted $133,793 to assess restoration alternatives along Beaver Creek, just above Balky Hill Road, where the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire and subsequent flooding and debris flow damaged the watershed. The grant will bring together affected parties, including private property owners, and county, state and federal agencies to assess restoration alternatives, select a preferred alternative and develop a preliminary design.
• Working with the Methow Beaver Project, the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation will use a $205,293 grant to relocate nuisance beavers and study their impact to habitat and water flow in their new environment. It will also monitor habit changes in locations where beavers have moved in naturally following restoration projects for salmon recovery. The project will include building structures that mimic the function of a natural beaver dam. Work will take place in multiple sites in the Methow River, Twisp River and Beaver Creek drainages.
• The Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation will implement a riparian stewardship program to maintain new vegetation planted along the Methow River and Twisp River and their tributaries. The riverbank plantings improve salmon habitat and the $97,348 grant will support fencing, watering, feeding and mulching to maintain the plants at six sites.
• The Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation has received $41,822 to work with private landowners in the Twisp River floodplain to improve fish habitat and fish passage on their properties. Work will include fencing to exclude cattle and replacing culverts that impede fish passage.