Opinion

Milestones to salmon recovery are adding up | Being Frank

It’s raining hard today — Sept. 1 — the first heavy rain we’ve seen in a while, and it makes me feel good. The air is clean, the fish are moving up the rivers and the dust of summer is being washed away.

The end of summer is a good time to look back at what we’ve accomplished recently in restoring and protecting salmon and their habitat here in western Washington.

I believe we are on the road to success. The milestones are adding up.

The first bids were awarded recently for the removal of the two Elwha River dams. Work will begin this time next year and should be completed by the spring 2014.

Hundreds of acres of estuary at the mouth of the Nisqually River have been restored. Dikes are being removed and land that once used to raise cattle is now providing a home for fish.

Fish passage is being restored between Lummi Bay and Bellingham Bay in the Nooksack River delta, giving juvenile salmon access to important estuary habitat.

There’s an emergency tug stationed year-round now in Neah Bay to help protect our shoreline from oil spills.

The Skokomish River watershed is being put back together. Habitat improvement projects are helping to heal the river system and restore salmon. We’re also learning more about the dead zones in Hood Canal and taking steps to stop them.

It has taken us a long time to reach this point in our journey. After decades of hard work by local, state, federal and tribal governments, conservation groups, shellfish growers and many others, I believe we are standing on the threshold of a positive future for us and salmon.

These salmon recovery efforts mean everything to us tribes. Nothing less than our culture and treaty-reserved rights are at stake. It’s why we’re involved in every part of natural resources management in Washington.

We have the highest standard for salmon recovery and the quality of our environment: harvestable numbers of fish. The things we are doing to recover the salmon are the same things we need to do for the rest of our ecosystem: Fix and protect salmon habitat. If we do that, we help the salmon and ourselves. What’s good for the salmon is good for us.

This is an exciting time as we get ready to capitalize on the many large and small projects now under way that are contributing to salmon recovery. We are making progress at a time when we need it the most. And we are doing it through cooperative efforts such as the Puget Sound Partnership. We believe the PSP is an important tool to help us reach our tribal goals for a healthy environment and strong salmon runs.

Yes, we have come a long way, and we still have a ways to go, but I believe we’re going to get there if we keep working together.

— Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Members with ties to the San Juan Islands include the Lummi Indian Nation, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and the Tulalip Tribes.

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