Herald: Stillaguamish salmon threatened by silt, drought

The Herald has a long story featuring the Stillaguamish Tribe’s natural resources department, describing the challenges salmon face on the Stillaguamish River.

The Stillaguamish is home to three species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act: Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and bull trout. In recent years, however, the river suffered two blows that have threatened the survival of those species.

First came the Oso mudslide on March 22, 2014. In addition to killing 43 people and cutting off Darrington from the rest of the county, the slide dumped tons of sediment into the river, turning the north fork opaque gray.

After the bodies of all the victims had been recovered and Highway 530 reopened, one of the concerns of biologists was what the silt was going to do for fish habitat.There were signs the river was rebounding from the slide.

Then came the second blow: record low winter snowpack combined with high temperatures and drought caused record low water levels this summer just as the salmon started to return.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife provides forecasts for each year’s run of different salmon species, and the numbers tell a tale of a river faced with challenges.

For example, the department has estimated that 525 Chinook salmon will return to the Stillaguamish River this year, compared with 4,159 on the Snohomish and 11,796 on the Skagit.

The estimates for Coho are also lopsided, with 31,263 expected in the Stillaguamish, compared with 151,549 in the Snohomish and 121,426 in the Skagit.

Even the plentiful pink salmon run this year, estimated at 210,000 for the Stillaguamish, pales in comparison to more than 603,000 expected in the Skagit and 1.6 million in the Snohomish. In past years, however, there have been runs of up to 1 million pink salmon in the Stilly, (tribal biologists Jason) Griffith said.

The Stillaguamish Tribe has not fished for Chinook commercially since 1990, and its hatchery operations are focused on restoring wild runs of Chinook and Coho, Griffith said.

Read the full story here.