Habitat - Fish Passage Technical Assistance
Date Published: January 2000
Number of Pages: 31
Author(s): Laura Till, Chris Soncarty and Mike Barber
Salmonids have been an esteemed natural resource, rich in food value and spiritual significance, throughout the history of the Northwest. In recent years, salmonids have become an icon for this region, symbolic of its high quality environment, abundant natural resources and outdoor life style. Salmonids require a high quality natural habitat and are considered indicator species (“the canary in the coal mine”) for the health of our streams. In 1994, the Washington Salmon Industry experienced, for the first time in its history, a coast-wide fishing closure to protect Pacific salmon stocks too weak in numbers to support harvest. This, along with the listing of Puget Sound and Columbia River chinook and chum salmon stocks under the federal Endangered Species Act and the classification of many other salmon stocks as “critical”, has profiled concerns for the future of our salmonid resource.
The roots of the salmonid “problem” have centered on three causes; 1) a long history of overfishing without regard for impacts to individual salmon stocks, 2) massive destruction and fragmentation of habitat units from land conversion, urbanization, logging, agriculture, dams, and road building, and 3) genetic weakening of individual stocks through hatchery stocking practices. These issues are not new to those who have fought to protect against the progressive decline of Northwest salmonid populations. Loss of habitat viability and associated impacts to our salmonid stocks may be irreversible in streams converted to urban run off or pooled by hydro power dams. Conversely, significant resource gains can occur by restoration and protection of flood plain and riparian areas, improved fishery management and forest practices, if public will demands it. (Adapted from Cowan, L., et al., 1995)
Restoration can be as simple as restoring access to productive habitat blocked by human-made fish passage barriers such as road culverts, dams, floodgates, fishways or weirs. Correction of these barriers is one cost-effective method of salmonid habitat enhancement and restoration. In Jefferson County, inventories have identified 91 miles of productive stream habitat partially or wholly inaccessible due to impassable culverts. The correction of human-made fish passage barriers is mandated by the following State laws, RCW 75.20.060, RCW 75.20.061, RCW 77.16.210, and RCW 77.12.425 (for complete language see Appendix A).
In January of 1997, WDFW and Jefferson County entered into an agreement for a comprehensive fish passage barrier inventory and correction program (Letters of Agreement - Appendix B). Subsequently, WDFW conducted an inventory of county-owned roads to identify barriers to fish passage, verify passage up to each barrier, identify additional barriers and to measure the quantity of the upstream habitat to be gained by reestablishing access. The product of the inventory is a priority index (PI) used to prioritize barrier correction efforts (Fish Passage Barrier Assessment and Prioritization Manual, WDFW 1998). The PI is a general guideline to be used with other relevant factors to select projects that are mutually acceptable for correction. WDFW conducted the inventory at no cost to Jefferson County.
To facilitate barrier correction, WDFW offered $50,000 annually for work on Jefferson County owned barriers. This money was offered on a 50% cost share arrangement where WDFW would provide project design, permitting, and construction work and Jefferson County would reimburse WDFW for 50% of the project cost, up to $50,000 annually, subject to the availability of funds. This arrangement is not intended to be permanent, but a “jump-start” to allow the County an opportunity to learn how to address fish passage and to budget for future barrier correction. In addition to the dedicated funding the County agreed to integrate barrier correction into its road planning activities so as to correct barriers during road maintenance and construction work. Maintenance of completed fish passage structures becomes the responsibility of the county.