Treaty Indian tribes know the watersheds of western Washington better than anyone else because we have always lived in them.
Over the past three years we have been looking at those watersheds to gauge progress toward salmon recovery. The result is our recently released State of Our Watersheds report that confirms we are losing the battle for salmon recovery. Habitat is being lost faster than it can be restored, and this trend is not improving. It’s causing a steady decline in salmon populations across the region that threatens tribal cultures, treaty rights and economies, and the quality of life for everyone who lives here.
The report is the latest part of our Treaty Rights at Risk initiative to address the erosion of tribal treaty-reserved fishing rights from ongoing loss of salmon. The initiative is a call to action for the federal government to meet its trust responsibility to protect tribal treaty rights and its duty to recover salmon by leading a more coordinated and effective salmon recovery effort.
The State of Our Watersheds report tracks key salmon habitat indicators over time – such as the condition of nearshore marine areas, forest habitat along our streams, and water quality and quantity – in 20 watersheds across western Washington. It includes data gathered from decades of tribal, state and federal projects, and will be updated as new information becomes available.
Some of the report’s findings include:
- A 75 percent loss of salt marsh habitat in the Stillaguamish watershed is limiting chinook populations in the river system.
- Herring stocks in the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s area of concern have declined from healthy to depressed because of degraded nearshore habitat. Herring are important food for salmon.
- In the Chehalis River system, the Quinault Indian Nation estimates that culverts slow or block salmon from reaching more than 1,500 miles of habitat.
We all have made a huge investment in recovering salmon habitat in recent decades, but it hasn’t been enough. As the report shows, we are running out of time. We must be fierce in protecting salmon habitat for the treasure that it is. That includes stronger enforcement of existing laws aimed at recovering salmon habitat, controlling polluted stormwater runoff and putting a stop to development in river floodplains that are important to salmon habitat.
We need to remember that the salmon is really us. All of us. And whatever happens to the salmon is going to happen to us. If we can’t protect the salmon and its habitat, then we can’t protect ourselves from the same things that are driving the salmon toward extinction.
Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.