Fir Island Farm Restoration Project

By Julia Luna, Communications Specialist

Nestled between the north and south forks of the Skagit River, Fir Island is a unique place where freshwater, farms, and Puget Sound meet. On an unexpectedly rainy day at the end of June, a group of people dedicated to Puget Sound recovery met with Governor Inslee at the Fir Island Estuary Farm Restoration site. The site itself is a unique landscape with channels weaving through mudflats, active estuary, and productive farmland. The gathering with the Governor, which was originally foreseen as an event filled with speeches and addresses, instead was woven through with meaningful conversations about the importance of Puget Sound recovery and the important funding and collaboration role played by the Puget Sound Acquisition Restoration (PSAR) fund.

Executive Director, Sheida Sahandy and Governor Jay Inslee are all smiles in the pumphouse

Successful investment of PSAR funds
The Fir Island Farm Estuary Restoration Project was made possible, in part, by PSAR funds — nearly 70 percent of the total amount, in fact. PSAR projects receive thorough review, are based on proven science, and align with the region’s salmon recovery plan. It isn’t easy to get PSAR money, and applicants have to work hard to prove that their project is a good investment. Because PSAR projects are conceived and championed at the local level, they help bring communities together. The review process for each proposed project starts at the local watershed level — bringing together local residents, counties, cities, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies. This allows for community buy-in for the highest priority salmon recovery projects in the watersheds.

Orca L92 off San Juan Island in 2015. Photo credit: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

Chinook salmon populations are a fraction of what they once were and are continuing to decline. These salmon are woven into the identity of our region and are also a vital part of the Puget Sound food web. As many of you may know, Chinook salmon are the preferred diet of the Southern Resident orcas, of which we only have 75 left in Puget Sound after the recent death of the 23-year-old orca known as L92, or Crewser. To recover our beloved orca, we need to seriously address Chinook salmon recovery.

Safeguarding habitat
Our partners in recovery can use PSAR funds to protect critical habitats and ecosystems and safeguard our investments in restored areas. Project owners apply PSAR funds to big, multi-benefit, regionally significant projects, with the potential to make a big difference in salmon recovery, just like the one at Fir Island Farm.

This restoration project ensures protected and restored habitat for juvenile salmon, giving them a safe place to eat and grow. It also ensures protection of farmland that has been in use for more than 100 years from flooding and sea level rise. This restored estuary creates a ripple effect — protecting these farmlands from flooding also safeguards agricultural work, and providing a safe habitat means more salmon, which could mean more orca, all of which contributes to a healthier Puget Sound.

Group photo at the restoration site.

A healthy salmon population and a healthy community are intertwined — and this special place is prime evidence of how people and salmon can make a difference on the landscape. Here, recovery is also contributing to the identity of the Skagit County as a place with beautiful, healthy ecosystems, promoting stewardship and collaboration within the community. It’s an opportunity to learn why restoration is important, what salmon need to survive, and why they both are critical to our way of life.

This project exemplifies what PSAR strives to accomplish, tying salmon recovery projects to ecosystem recovery, and demonstrating that when communities come together, we can truly benefit salmon, people, and the environment.