OLYMPIA - In the past decade hundreds of miles of habitat have been restored, several hundred fish passage improvements have been completed and millions of salmon and steelhead have been reared and released into state waters, thanks to the efforts of citizen regional fisheries enhancement groups (RFEGs).
Those and other accomplishments are detailed in a recently released annual report which can be viewed at http://wdfw.wa.gov/volunteer/ on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's website.
"Besides completing hundreds of projects that benefit fish, RFEGs have amplified salmon recovery efforts by raising awareness of recovery goals within local communities across Washington," said Jeff Koenings, PhD., director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Created by the Legislature in 1990, RFEGs are local, citizen-led organizations dedicated to restoring and protecting state salmon and steelhead. The groups, which have increased in number from 12 to 14, involve local communities, businesses, governments, citizen volunteers and landowners in salmon recovery efforts.
Working within specific watersheds, each RFEG's members develop and propose projects aimed at fish enhancement and recovery. Traditionally RFEGs have worked with tribal and state fish managers to ensure proposed projects are compatible with laws and fish recovery goals for particular watersheds.
In recent years, RFEGs are increasingly melding their efforts with the priorities of local salmon-recovery lead entities--the local governments, conservation districts, tribes and non-profit groups that prioritize projects for funding by Washington's Salmon Recovery Funding Board.
"Whatcom County has developed a strong partnership with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association," said John Thompson, lead entity coordinator, with Whatcom County Water Resources.
"The NSEA has proven to be a strong partner for salmon recovery through its participation in lead entity-sponsored processes and projects as well as through its own initiatives. The ability to find creative solutions that engage the community benefits both the lead entity and the NSEA tremendously."
Among the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association's work is the acclimation and and release of spring chinook salmon on the North Fork Nooksack River, which has helped boost the population from a low of 10 natural spawners in 1990 to an estimated 3,687 in 2002.
Other RFEG efforts statewide include these projects:
- The North Olympic Salmon Coalition annually rears and releases summer chum into Salmon, Chimacum and Jimmycomelately creeks in the Hood Canal/Strait of Juan De Fuca watersheds, as part of a federal summer chum recovery initiative. The coalition's efforts have boosted the number of returning summer chum salmon by more than 5,000.
- Skagit and Walla Walla-area RFEGs worked with property owners to place 312 acres of streamside property into conservation easements, and then replanted the stream banks and placed woody debris into streams.
- Through a 20-year land lease, the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group has created an interpretive trail providing public access to one of the South Sound's healthiest native chum runs. Volunteers act as trail guides to some 5,000 visitors per year, including school groups.
In the past eight years alone, RFEGs have collectively spent 557,000 volunteer hours--the equivalent of 276 full-time employees--completing more than 1,500 salmon projects, including estuary restorations, re-vegetation, surveys, research and stewardship and education programs. The projects include nearly 400 improvements for fish passage, restoration of 300 miles of rivers and streams, release of more than 50 million fish and distribution of 340,000 salmon carcasses to provide nutrient enhancement to watersheds.
Besides tackling on-the-ground salmon recovery projects, RFEGs have obtained donations from businesses and individuals, and grants from government agencies and private entities. Since 1995, the state's RFEGs have leveraged $10.3 million of state and federal funding into an additional $49.6 million through partnerships and collaborations with individuals, groups, corporations, tribes, foundations and agencies.