Landmark “Pathway to Recovery” For Skagit River Chinook Completed

LA CONNER (June 14, 2005) — After more than a decade of hard work, a groundbreaking recovery plan for Skagit river chinook salmon was completed on Friday.

“The plan is a pathway to recovery for wild chinook salmon,” said Lorraine Loomis, fisheries manager with the Swinomish Tribe. “We will not rest until we have achieved our recovery goals, and this is a huge step toward bringing back healthy wild salmon runs.”

The Skagit Chinook Recovery Plan has a wide array of stakeholders, and it already has the endorsement of three: the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The tribes worked in close collaboration with WDFW to ensure that the strongest possible plan would be developed.

“For the past 11 years, we’ve been gathering the best scientific information available,” said Lawrence Joseph, natural resources director for the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe. “We’ve incorporated insights from many different sources to develop this document, which offers real solutions to the salmon recovery puzzle.”

One of the plan’s strengths, tribal officials say, is that it calls for specific action steps rather than simply publishing a list of abstract principles.

“The plan outlines a comprehensive strategy for boosting salmon populations and supports that strategy with data specifically tailored to our region,” said Steve Hinton, director of restoration with the Skagit River System Cooperative. “It doesn’t just offer recommendations: it shows precisely what science backs up those recommendations and why.”

The Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC) is the natural resource arm of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes.

Jeff Koenings, Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the Skagit River is the keystone to salmon recovery for Puget Sound.

“The Skagit watershed is home to six of the 22 Puget Sound chinook stocks that are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. There cannot be a long-lasting, meaningful recovery of Puget Sound chinook without healthy populations of Skagit River chinook.”

Koenings said that a broad-based, collaborative approach similar to the one which led to completion of the draft Puget Sound Chinook Recovery Plan will now be used to gather public input on the Skagit plan.

“We’re looking forward to expanding the dialogue on salmon recovery even further to ensure that everyone with a stake in protecting and restoring chinook in the Skagit has been heard,” he said. “Options other than those set forth in the draft Skagit Recovery Plan will need to be explored and, if appropriate, incorporated into the final document.”

Public comment on the draft recovery plan is expected to run through the summer and into the fall.

The long and laborious process of plan development began with the Chinook Work Group, a body established in 1994 following a Memorandum of Understanding between the tribes and WDFW.

After Puget Sound spring chinook salmon were listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1999, tribal scientists and policymakers added to and re-shaped that group’s work.

More than anything, tribal leaders say, the plan offers an opportunity to move forward toward the shared goal of salmon recovery.

“This is a meticulous examination of how to bring back wild chinook, and it is one road to recovery that we are confident will work,” said Loomis. “We’re open to further dialogue with the public about how to proceed from here. Our aim is to find constructive solutions. We believe this plan does just that.”

The full report will be available for download at the SRSC website, Monday, June 13.

For more information, contact: Larry Wasserman, Skagit River System Cooperative, (360) 466-7250.