Inslee announces new strategy and investments to protect and restore salmon

Gov. Jay Inslee today announced ambitious legislative and policy proposals to bolster the governor’s statewide salmon strategy. The event took place on Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation under the cover of a large Swinomish Cedar Hat, alongside the Swinomish Channel. The governor was joined by people from the Swinomish, Tulalip and Nisqually tribal communities, legislators and state agencies who work on salmon, water and habitat issues.

The proposals call for several actions:

  • Protect and restore vital salmon habitat.
  • Invest in clean water infrastructure for salmon and people.
  • Correct fish passage barriers and restore salmon access to historical habitat.
  • Build climate resiliency.
  • Align harvest, hatcheries and hydropower with salmon recovery.
  • Address predation and food web issues for salmon.
  • Enhance commitments and coordination across agencies and programs.
  • Strengthen science, monitoring and accountability.

To achieve these actions, the governor unveiled a suite of budget and policy changes for 2022 to help restore salmon populations across the state. Inslee’s budget would invest $187 million total in salmon recovery.

“Healthy salmon populations mean healthy water systems. We are updating our salmon strategy to provide a comprehensive, statewide foundation for salmon recovery,” Inslee said. “This approach is based on the latest science and tailored to address the stressors in the diverse regions of our state, spelling out the many different actions we must take to protect and restore salmon.”

“The Governor’s update to the salmon recovery strategy and his budget proposals represent the most significant state investment in salmon recovery in 20 years,” said Erik Neatherlin, director of Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office. “Combined, these investments will help Washington take significant strides forward in saving this Pacific Northwest icon, which provide jobs, food for starving orcas, and important cultural elements for Washington’s sovereign tribes. Saving salmon helps us all.”

Protect & restore vital salmon habitat, invest in clean water infrastructure for salmon & people, correct fish passage barriers & restore salmon access to historical habitat, build climate resiliency, align harvest, hatcheries & hydropower with salmon recovery, strengthen science, monitoring, and accountability.

“We are grateful to Governor Inslee for his bold leadership to honor treaty rights by introducing the Lorraine Loomis Act to restore the riparian habitat necessary for salmon recovery. We applaud the governor’s strong commitment to create climate resiliency in our salmon streams, and we look forward to working with him on it during the legislative process to ensure salmon recovery for tribal nations, killer whales, and all Washingtonians.” said Steve Edwards, Swinomish Chairman

Image of the governor at the salmon media availability

Restoring Populations

More than 30 years ago, the Snake River’s Fall Chinook salmon were declared endangered. Since then, the federal government has listed 13 additional salmon species in Washington as endangered or threatened. Dwindling Chinook salmon populations, meanwhile, are pushing Southern Resident orcas closer to extinction.

People across the region have worked to bring salmon back from the brink of extinction, and those efforts have restored thousands of acres of fish habitat. Still, salmon and other species are losing more habitat than they are gaining. Over 70% of endangered or threatened salmon and steelhead populations are not keeping pace with recovery goals, are still in crisis or require immediate action.

Protecting Habitat

The governor is proposing legislation that would create a new salmon habitat standard to protect and restore riparian habitat, the green corridors along rivers and streams that are important for clean, cold water during critical periods of a salmon’s lifecycle. Titled the Lorraine Loomis Act, after a prominent salmon advocate and Swinomish tribal elder who passed away last year, this legislation sets a ‘measurement standard’ based on the height of trees that grow in that area to create the right size of riparian zone. This will protect riparian corridors from development, incorporate the standard in local land use plans, and provide landowners with financial assistance to help them meet the new requirement.

The new standard implements recommendations from the State-Tribal Riparian Protection and Restoration Workgroup that the governor and tribes established at the 2019 Centennial Accord.

To implement this new protection for salmon riparian habitat, the state will invest $123 million in riparian standards, habitat conservation grant programs, and clean water programs for riparian protection.

$123 million investment in new protections for salmon riparian habitat. Establish riparian standard legislation, create a new Riparian Habitat Conservation grant program, use Centennial Clean Water program for riparian protection.

“Conserving and restoring riparian habitat — whenever and wherever possible — is essential if we have any hope of seeing healthy salmon runs return to our streams and rivers. I look forward to partnering with the governor and my colleagues in the Legislature in the coming months to adopt and implement a bold strategy to protect and restore salmon habitat across the state,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes.

Inslee’s proposal would also improve water quality, decrease stream and river temperatures, and reduce nutrient loading — all of which salmon need for spawning, incubating eggs in the stream gravel, and rearing young smolts.

“As our region faces an accelerated climate crisis and as more neighbors move here, we must invest in adequate, and innovative clean water infrastructure. These investments will help us reduce pollution and ensure healthy waters for fish and forests for generations to come. I’m pleased the Governor has prioritized clean and sufficient water on his list for salmon recovery” said Alyssa Macy, CEO of Washington Environmental Council.

“We know what salmon populations need to recover, what we need is the political will and investment to make it happen before it’s too late,” said Kelly Susewind, Director of WA Department of Fish & Wildlife. “We take our role and responsibility to recover and co-manage salmon seriously. To be successful, it is critical for us to receive adequate resources to improve habitat in the face of changing climate conditions, to improve our capacity to manage and monitor fisheries, and to assertively enforce regulations.”

Investing in Clean, Cold Water

Salmon need cool, clean water to thrive, yet pollution and climate change compound habitat losses and make it harder for salmon to recover. The governor proposes over $16 million in investments to accelerate improvements to water quality, decrease stream and river temperatures and reduce pollution from stormwater and wastewater treatment plants.

Invest in clean, cool water for salmon and people. Build green infrastructure for streamflow resilience to climate change, encourgage recliamed water and evaluate water laws, reduce pollution from stormwater, toxic sites and wastewater, address tire chemicals.

Funding will help reduce stormwater pollution and advance innovative projects, address toxic tire chemicals that have been shown to kill Coho salmon, and ensure wastewater treatment plants reduce pollution that degrades water quality. The governor is also proposing $5 million in a green infrastructure grant program that would support projects that use natural solutions to help store water during high flows and release it during low flow periods. This will help offset the alterations in water flows we are already experiencing due to climate change.

Addressing Other Barriers to Salmon Recovery

Large amounts of historic fish habitat are blocked to salmon by inaccessible culverts on roads and highways. Dams diminish important areas for rearing and spawning. The governor’s proposal expands state efforts to correct fish passage barriers, mitigate impacts of existing barriers, and prevent new barriers from occurring.

Preventing overharvest of commercial and recreational fisheries is key to rebuilding critically low stocks. It is also necessary for the state to meet its co-management responsibilities with the state’s tribes. The governor’s budget would also create a robust monitoring program to ensure recreational and commercial harvest of salmon and steelhead are within permit limits and demonstrate accountability on the state’s share of salmon harvest. It also ramps up enforcement and prosecution of fisheries crimes.

“The Governor’s Salmon Strategy sets forth bold actions to recover salmon populations statewide. His legislative package, grounded in science, will help us take maximum advantage of federal funding to make crucial progress on multiple fronts in our collective salmon recovery work.” said Director Laura Blackmore, Puget Sound Partnership

Successfully recovering salmon requires additional investments in science and monitoring to ensure recovery actions and investments are occurring in the most effective and efficient manner. The governor’s proposal would expand resources to implement salmon recovery plans, improve monitoring efforts, and work collaboratively on regional issues. The governor’s budget proposal invests $6.5 million to strengthen these efforts.

“We are on a mission. Protecting and restoring our salmon is personal to me — it’s a legacy left to us by previous generations and we should do the same for our grandchildren,” Inslee said. “I’m committed to taking greater steps to ensure their survival. I will work closely with tribal partners and other leaders throughout the state to get the job done. It’s a mission that requires coordination across our government and a comprehensive approach — and my budget and policy priorities reflect that.”

Read full policy brief here.

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