Treaty tribal and federal, state and local government representatives recently unveiled a draft plan to harness the various efforts now under way to restore Puget Sound's wild salmon populations and establish a single, shared recovery strategy.
In the plan, released for public review last week, the representatives said work currently is underway in numerous areas to reverse the decline of the region's wild salmon, including habitat protection and restoration, improvements in harvest management practices and hatchery reform.
But despite the considerable progress already made towards salmon recovery, a shared strategy is now needed to establish common, agreed-upon recovery goals and determine how and when those goals will be met.
"As salmon recovery efforts accelerate in the months and years ahead, we have to make sure we're all on the same page, that we're guided by very clear, specific goals determined in a collaborative fashion," said Bill Ruckelshaus, chair of the Shared Strategy Effort.
"A shared strategy will help us accomplish this by creating an unprecedented level of partnership spanning multiple layers of government as well as the private sector."
The draft plan, called the "Shared Strategy for Recovery of Salmon in Puget Sound," is an outgrowth of a workshop held last fall in Port Ludlow where 150 public and private sector leaders gathered to discuss solutions to the Puget Sound salmon crisis. It was developed over the past several months by representatives from treaty Indian tribes in Western Washington, the Governor's Office, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and King and Kitsap counties.
The shared strategy seeks to build and implement a recovery plan for Puget Sound salmon over the next two years by establishing specific goals for each watershed and for the Puget Sound basin. It seeks to clarify the roles and responsibilities of those involved in recovery efforts; identify the actions necessary to achieve recovery goals in watersheds; and monitor the results of those actions.
Initially, the strategy focuses on those Puget Sound species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) - Puget Sound chinook, Hood Canal summer chum, and bull trout. However, the plan, which relies on an ecosystem-based approach to recovery, also is geared towards avoiding future ESA listings of other stocks.
Tribal and government representatives said they hope to gather comment on the draft shared strategy from groups and individuals in coming weeks, and then implement it this winter.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Puget Sound treaty Indian tribes, which co-manage the state's salmon, have already endorsed the shared strategy. Both have stated the strategy is the most efficient way to integrate goal-setting processes with the federal government, which has responsibility to set those goals under the ESA, and make sure recovery projects are approved using the best science possible.
The tribes and state said such a strategy is especially timely now because over the next two years, several hundred projects are expected to be undertaken to preserve and restore salmon habitat in Puget Sound.
"The shared strategy is the next logical step for Puget Sound salmon recovery," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Jeffrey P. Koenings. "As we move forward, building on the successes and progress already made, we need to make sure all of us are pulling in the same direction and striving for the same outcomes."
Said Billy Frank, Jr., chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission: "The main goal of the treaty tribes in western Washington is to restore wild salmon to levels that are self-sustaining and can again support harvest. We are confident that by working together-all of us-we can accomplish this goal."
Donna Darm, Acting Regional Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service noted that the federal government is responsible for developing a recovery plan under the ESA, but "can't do it alone and successfully recover salmon. We need a partnership with the state, tribes, private sector, local governments, and watershed groups. The Shared Strategy offers the type of partnership we need for success."
Copies of the Shared Strategy have already been distributed to several hundred interested individuals and organizations. Copies are available by contacting Ross & Associates Environmental Consulting at (206) 447-1805 or are downloadable from the following website www.sharedsalmonstrategy.org