Opinion

‘If we give salmon a chance, they will recover’ | Forecasts for 2010

By BARBARA ROSENKOTTER

As the Salmon Recovery coordinator, there are two questions I am frequently asked:

— Are we succeeding in recovering salmon? The short answer is “Yes,” and “No,” and that we need to be involved and dedicated to recovery programs over the long haul.

— Why should we worry about recovering salmon? Because salmon are the circulatory system which supports the Pacific Northwest ecosystem. Salmon transport nutrients to and from freshwater and saltwater systems; they are the living link between the great forests of the Northwest and the ocean.

Many other species, such as orcas, eagles, bears, sea birds, forests, and humans depend on salmon. And just as our environment is dependent on salmon, salmon depend on just about everything in the environment. Salmon need high-quality freshwater, shorelines, and oceanic habitats. Thus, if salmon are doing well, we can surmise that the overall ecosystem is doing relatively well. If not, then there is a breakdown in the ecosystem.

Some salmon are doing better than others, but our iconic chinook species is not doing well and some stocks have been depleted by over 90 percent from historic levels.

San Juan County waters are used by every population of salmon from Puget Sound. Our waters have 30 percent of the kelp in Puget Sound which provide refuge for salmon. Our waters provide forage fish such as herring which are a food source for salmon. Our shores are some of the least impacted in all of Puget Sound. We are the breadbasket and a critical rest stop for salmon.

Yes, we are making a difference. I have seen salmon return almost immediately to many habitat restoration sites throughout the state and locally. “If you build it they will come …” Salmon are hungry for good habitat and will seek it out. A recent example is a project on Lopez where forage fish spawned on newly restored shoreline and the salmon were feeding on the forage fish.

Unfortunately, at the same time we are restoring habitats much more is being degraded. There are fewer healthy remaining habitats, so protection of the remaining habitats is critical to salmon recovery. Additionally, protection of intact habitats is much less costly and more effective than restoration.

We have federally approved recovery plans but even in good economic times these have only been funded at about 30 percent. Preventative measures have also been slipping and in the current economic climate both are slipping further. Recovery is not happening as quickly as it should.

Salmon are resilient; if we give them a chance, they will recover. The lesson of the “Ghost of Christmas Future” is that these are shadows of what is to come but the outcome can be changed. The Pacific Northwest ecosystem depends on salmon. The salmon depend on us.

The stakes are high. Island citizens are engaged in tasks that are leading to salmon recovery. Continued support is needed for salmon recovery efforts to be successful and we must make a long-term commitment toward completion of this work.

— Barbara Rosenkotter is county coordinator for salmon recovery. Contact her at 370-7593 or barbarar@sanjuanco.com.

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