Lummi Nation Research Will Be Key For Threatened Chinook Salmon

BELLINGHAM (March 24, 2005) — To help bring back healthy runs of adult wild salmon, the Lummi Nation is currently completing a study of the areas juvenile fish use to transition from fresh to salt water – estuaries and nearshore habitat in the Nooksack River basin.

“By studying how habitat used to function when we had prolific salmon runs, and comparing that to the way things work today, we hope to learn how to bring those natural habitat processes back,” said Merle Jefferson, director of Lummi Natural Resources. “This information will help us select the best restoration projects for the job.”

The historical analysis of land-use patterns dating back to the 19th century will build scientists’ understanding of how the processes of habitat formation have changed over the years. That, in turn, will help tribal resource managers plan restoration efforts that will maximize the benefits to fish, including endangered species such as the Nooksack River spring chinook, listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“In every area, we looked at how that habitat was important for feeding and rearing juvenile chinook historically,” said Melissa Brown, a habitat biologist with the Lummi Nation. “Then, we examined the changes that have occurred to habitat-forming processes.”

The tribal research initiative covered a vast swath of land and water, ranging from Point Whitehorn in the north, Portage Island in the west and Fairhaven’s Post Point in the south. That area also includes Cherry Point, home to a historically abundant – but now troubled – stock of herring, fish that are a prominent indicator of ecosystem health.

“This study focuses on juvenile chinook,” said Brown, “but the information will have application for other fish as well, including all salmon species and endangered bull trout.”

Over decades, conversion of forested wetlands and estuarine scrub shrub habitat to agricultural land ranks as the most significant overall change, Brown said. Overall, about 80 percent of historic estuary habitat in the Lummi and Nooksack deltas has been lost.

Pictures, like a sequence of aerial photographs taken between the 1930s and 2004, helped tribal staff get a clearer view of changes over time in the Nooksack basin. Nautical charts obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also offered valuable insights about early conditions in the watershed.

Besides large-scale photographic evidence, tribal scientists examined plants, animals and invertebrate species from around the region.

The Lummi findings will be reported April 1.

The project was funded by a 2002 grant from the state Salmon Recovery Funding board. Additional funding was provided by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.


For more information, contact: Jeff Shaw, North Sound information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 424-8226, (360) 920-5094 cellular