Second Substitute Senate Bill 5886 - Fish Passage Task Force 1997 Report to the Legislature
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Second Substitute Senate Bill 5886 - Fish Passage Task Force 1997 Report to the Legislature

Category: Habitat - Fish Passage Technical Assistance

Date Published: December 1997

Number of Pages: 100

Author(s): Paul Wagner and Paul Sekulich


The Problem: Fish Barriers and Habitat Loss

The severe decline of Northwest wild salmon and trout populations has many well recognized causes, including over-harvest and habitat degradation. There is, however, one key factor in the wild salmonid equation that, until recently, has not received adequate attention and is not generally well understood. Over 100 years of road building and development have resulted in an estimated minimum 2;400 human-made barriers at road crossings. These structures block fish access to an estimated 3,000 linear miles of freshwater spawning and rearing habitat; this is equivalent to the loss of all habitat in a watershed the size of the Snohomish River system. Removal of these barriers offers a tremendous opportunity for habitat restoration and is a critical component in the effort to restore wild salmon and sea-run trout populations.

The Washington State Legislature recognized and addressed this fish passage barrier problem in 2SSB 5886 (1997), which directed a task force of representatives from state and local government, tribes, business, and environmental and regional fish enhancement groups to . recommend how to develop a program to identify and remove fish barriers. As directed in this bill, this report summarizes the task force findings on the following: (1) coordination and priorities, (2) funding, and (3) legislative action needed.

What is Now Being Done for Fish Passage?

The first step in the barrier removal process is identification and prioritization of known barriers. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), tribal governments, regional fisheries enhancement groups, and others have been inventorying fish barriers at road crossings for many years. However, because of limited resources and the massive scope of the problem (tens of thousands of road crossings statewide), only a fraction of the barriers have been identified and even fewer have had sufficient data collected to assess the habitat benefits necessary for establishing correction priorities. Data from these limited inventories suggest that up to 10 percent of the road crossings of fish bearing streams either partially restrict or totally block fish passage. All barriers do not have to be located before corrections can be initiated. Substantial progress has been made on correcting known barriers with an average rate of about 40-60 corrections annually in recent years.

One serious problem with the existing data on barriers is lack of standardized, agreed upon criteria for data collection and organization. This means that barrier data have been collected in different ways and placed in incompatible database formats used by various organizations. This prevents the easy exchange and broader use of barrier information. Another obstacle is the limited number of qualified staff and trained volunteers available to conduct the inventory work. Currently, WDFW conducts periodic workshops in fish passage design and inventory methods for state, county, and city engineers and volunteer organizations. Training workshops are also offered by other organizations such as Washington Trout. Here again, a coordinated approach is needed to improve consistency and efficiency.

Funding Barrier Corrections

It is estimated that state, federal, and local governments and private entities are spending $4 to $6 million annually to correct fish barriers at the rate of about 40 to 60 barriers each year. At this rate, it will take approximately 40 to 60 years to correct all the barriers believed to currently exist. Clearly, the creation of new barriers must be prevented and the rate of barrier correction must be accelerated if Washington's wild. salmon and trout stocks are to recover.

The average cost of barrier correction on state and county roads is currently estimated at $100,000 per project with a range from a few thousand to several hundred thousand dollars. Based on this figure, the cost of resolving the 2,400 barriers believed to currently exist is $240 million.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and WDFW have developed a successful model program for identification and removal of barriers on state highways. This program costs $2 million annually. WDFW uses a similar model in cooperation with various Washington counties. In this program, WDFW conducts county-wide inventories and counties are then eligible to have some of their barriers corrected by WDFW if they contribute 50 percent of the costs associated with the correction of high priority barriers. Indian tribes and regional fisheries enhancement groups are also actively correcting barriers using other funding sources.