State awards nearly $7 million in Mason, Thurston and Kitsap fish projects

OLYMPIA – Efforts to restore Chinook salmon, a critical food source for endangered southern resident orcas, and other Puget Sound salmon populations just got a boost thanks to more than $45 million in grants announced Monday.

The Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board, in partnership with the Puget Sound Partnership, awarded 64 grants in counties surrounding Puget Sound, Washington state’s biggest estuary. The grants focus on improving salmon habitat and conserving pristine shorelines and riverbanks.

“When we invest in salmon recovery, it’s not just salmon that we’re saving,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “Whether you live near, love to play in, or simply care about Puget Sound, this funding is a cornerstone of doing that—and investing in that habitat kick starts a suite of other benefits. We’re also preserving our Pacific Northwest legacy, our way of life, our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our communities.”

“We know that restoring salmon to levels that support our environment, other wildlife, and people, takes time, effort, and of course, sustained funding,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, which houses the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. “That’s what makes this continued investment so important, and we’re looking forward to seeing it play out in the shovel-ready projects teed up across Puget Sound.”

“The Puget Sound Partnership is committed to recovering salmon populations in this region and we are thrilled to see this funding come through,” said Laura Blackmore Puget Sound Partnership’s executive director. “Salmon are integral to the identity and traditions of the Pacific Northwest and are a vital part of the Puget Sound food web. This funding will support projects that help recover salmon populations and feed our struggling southern resident orcas.” 

In Mason County, a total of $3.8 million will be spent by the Mason Conservation District. A majority of the funds will be used to improve fish spawning and passage along the Skokomish River. The Squaxin Island Tribe will get close to a million dollars to purchase 649 acres in the Skookum Valley and to develop preservation plans along Skookum Creek. Natural resources development and conservation projects in Thurston County will be assisted with $1.4 million. The largest project by Capital Land Trust will be to preserve habitat along the middle Deschutes River. In Kitsap County, $1.5 million will go towards river and watershed restoration projects.

In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon in the Pacific Northwest endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In the next few years, 14 additional species of salmon and steelhead and 3 species of bull trout were listed as at-risk of extinction.

By the end of the decade, wild salmon had disappeared from about 40 percent of their historic breeding ranges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. In Washington, the numbers had dwindled so much that salmon, steelhead, and bull trout were listed as threatened or endangered in nearly three-fourths of the state.

Recovery efforts in the past 20 years have started to slow, and in some cases, reference the declines. Puget Sound steelhead populations are showing signs of recovery but Chinook salmon populations continue to decline.

Projects are prioritized by local watershed groups, called lead entities, as well as regionally ranked by the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council. The Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency responsible for leading the Puget Sound recovery effort, coordinates project ranking.

Funding comes from the legislatively approved Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund, supported by the sale of state bonds.

Since its inception in 2007, the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund has leveraged $78 million federal and other matching funds and created more than 2,600 jobs. Fund investments have protected more than 3,000 acres of estuary, 80 miles of river for migrating fish and 10,000 acres of watershed habitat. 

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