Partnering on the “Watershed Resilience Action Plan” for Salmon Recovery in the Snohomish River Watershed

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz recently unveiled her new, first-of-its-kind 10-year plan for landscape-scale “tree to Sea” restoration of salmon habitat in the Snohomish River watershed. The Snohomish Watershed is one of the primary producers of anadromous fish in the state. However, as many as 16 populations of salmonids are listed as endangered or threatened, which affects the entire marine food web up to Puget Sound’s iconic orcas.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR)’s plan aims to bolster recovery efforts by:

  1. Identifying priority restoration needs across the watershed, such as kelp and eelgrass in nearshore environments and forest canopies that shade spawning streams and filter pollutants
  2. Coordinating investments so that work is not done in siloes and progress is made at scale
  3. Targeting and leveraging new and existing investments to maximize impact and achieve lasting success.

Announced near the Snohomish River delta at the Port of Everett alongside state, local, and tribal leaders, Commissioner Franz’s Watershed Resilience Action Plan is designed to coordinate, enhance and maximize the protection and restoration of salmon habitat along the 20-mile river.

“Despite decades of focus and nearly $1 billion invested in recovery efforts, the sad reality is our salmon are dying,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “We must confront head-on the threats that imperil our iconic salmon, from climate change and pollution to a growing population and increased urban development. That is where this plan comes in.

“This watershed-scale approach provides a model to coordinate and target investments in order to maximize impact and achieve durable progress. The Department of Natural Resources is one among many in the network of watershed resilience and salmon recovery partners. No one entity can do it all – but each of us must do all that we can.”

Outcomes Oriented

The Watershed Resilience Action Plan details 5 goals, 15 actions, and 34 outcomes – all rooted in supporting the needs of this watershed and working with partners across landscapes to achieve measurable progress for salmon recovery.

The five goals this plan seeks to achieve are:

1.   Protect and clean up aquatic habitat
2.   Restore, conserve, and connect forests and riparian habitat
3.   Revitalize urban forests and streams
4.   Engage and invest in communities
5.   Reduce and combat climate impacts

It expands and connects existing DNR efforts like derelict vessel removal, investments in urban forestry, removal of fish passage barriers, and aquatic conservation and restoration. It also launches new initiatives that complement existing programs.

One example is the new Large Woody Debris partnership, which will provide large trees for in-stream habitat projects – ensuring a reliable supply of natural infrastructure to support cool water and stream conditions that salmon rely on.

The plan also calls for “greening” urban areas, like Everett, along the watershed. Planting more trees in urban settings can reduce air and water pollution and cool temperatures for salmon. These projects will provide more tree canopy and investments in green infrastructure in communities that are most impacted by pollution.

Additionally, kelp and eelgrass are key near-shore aquatic species that salmon rely on for food and shelter from predators. The Watershed Resilience Action Plan includes new protections for kelp and eelgrass while reducing pollutants and restoring vital habitat for the food web that salmon rely on for survival.

All of these efforts are listed and tracked on the new DNR dashboard tool, where project status will be updated and mapped to show progress and the returns on investing in healthier salmon habitat.

Plan Centered on Local Partnerships

DNR’s stewardship role upstream and downstream places the agency at the nexus to help identify and coordinate with partners in the community to accomplish the necessary and inter-related actions to restore this watershed for generations to come.

In crafting the plan, DNR consulted with dozens of partner agencies, organizations and tribes in the Snohomish River Watershed, including the Tulalip Tribes, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, the Snohomish Basin Salmon Recovery Forum, King and Snohomish counties, the City of Everett and the Port of Everett.

The Watershed Resilience Action Plan builds upon the numerous, federally-approved salmon recovery plans such as the Snohomish River Basin Salmon Conservation Plan, the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan and Washington’s Statewide Strategy to Recover Salmon.

“Salmon are integral to who we are as Indian people. They provide food that sustains us year round, the cycle of the salmon tells us the time of year, and they remind us to respect and care for the environment, so that they will continue to be there for our people,” said Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors Chairwoman Teri Gobin. “Protecting and enhancing salmon habitat truly is for the health of all of us.”

“The Snohomish watershed is critical to Snohomish County and our region’s economic, cultural, and environmental health,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. “I applaud the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Commissioner Franz for partnering with Snohomish County and many others to improve the watershed. The Tribes have been stewards of these resources since time immemorial, and we look forward to working with them to improve all of our watersheds. As a former fisheries biologist, I am fully committed to doing what we can to protect this vital resource and ensure it is healthy and thriving for generations to come.”

“As a responsible steward of our shoreline environment, salmon recovery and habitat restoration in the Snohomish Watershed is an initiative we care deeply about and continue to prioritize,” Port of Everett Commission President David Simpson said. “The Port is proud to partner in this collaborative effort led by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Tribes and watershed partners to kick off this innovative and holistic approach to salmon recovery, while also creating new training and job opportunities in the process.”

“The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area has always supported conservation and restoration of working and protected forests, both public and private, to improve and connect habitat, promote healthy watersheds, provide clean air and clean water, and deliver economic benefits for communities,” said Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust Board President Doug McClelland. “We applaud DNR’s Watershed Resilience Action Plan for salmon recovery and forest health restoration in the Snohomish Watershed, a critically-important basin for salmon, water quality, and local communities.”

Restoration Leads to Economic Benefit

According to an economic analysis performed by RTI International released earlier this week, for every dollar spent on salmon recovery in the Snohomish River Watershed, 77 cents become wages for a Washington resident.

When combined with DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, the Watershed Resilience Action Plan could create 2,930 jobs and generate more than $131 million in income for Washingtonians.

The study also found that spending $1 million on salmon recovery projects identified using DNR’s new beta WatershedConnect tool for the Snohomish watershed would support 15 full-time jobs.

Working with the Legislature to Advance Salmon Recovery

This legislative session, DNR is working to secure funding to implement key components of the Watershed Resilience Action Plan, starting with protecting and restoring 10,000 acres of kelp and eelgrass meadows, which are essential habitats for salmon, and expanding DNR’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program.

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“Kelp forests are proving more and more important in the fight against climate change,” said state Representative Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham). “They sequester carbon, are a critical home for sea creatures, protect shorelines and homes from increasingly severe storms, and even feed humans and livestock. I’m grateful to everyone who is working hard on legislation, research and projects to make our water ecosystems more resilient.”

“Washington has one of the most beautiful natural environments in the country, but at every level our ecosystems are facing an existential crisis,” said Senator Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes). “Kelp and eelgrass are a crucial part of the overall ecosystem, and we need to act now to ensure every species in our state is protected for generations to come.”

In addition, DNR is seeking funding to retain and add Puget SoundCorps crews that will restore habitat, enhance salmon recovery, protect recreational opportunities, and develop into future leaders of Washington’s natural resource industries.

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