Squaxin Island Tribe develops new tool for salmon restoration

A detailed and interactive geographic information system database, analysis and online map application of Puget Sound south of the Tacoma Narrows doesn’t just tell the story of the ecological health of our region. The map developed by the Squaxin Island Tribe also provides guidance as to how and where South Puget Sound can be restored and protected.

“Our ability to practice our treaty-reserved harvest rights depends on clean water and healthy beaches,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe. “We know that the best science will guide our decisions to protect and restore these resources.”

The online interactive map application is viewable at: https://maps.squaxin.us/flex/hotss/

The Squaxin Island Tribe recently completed a coastal catchment analysis of the entire marine nearshore of South Puget Sound. The analysis brought in multiple data sources including from the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, NOAA’s most recent land cover atlas and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. These data sources define various ecological functions such as nearshore marine habitats, shoreline modification salmonid presences, total forest cover and development.

“Users won’t just get a sky-high view of ecological health, they’ll be able to dig into the data and see why a particular catchment is rated the way it is,” said Scott Steltzner, research scientist for the tribe.

The analysis will help inform preservation and restoration efforts by the tribe and its partners including salmon enhancement groups, land trusts, conservation districts and technical advisory groups. “This is a way for us and our partners to find out where to best apply their efforts,” Steltzner said. “This isn’t a straight up and down list of priority projects, but rather a tool to guide the placement projects on the landscape where ecological conditions indicate a particular project has a greater chance of success and to compliment other projects already undertaken.”

This kind of holistic planning is important because environmental restoration needs almost always outstrip the money available. “This tool will give stakeholders a way to effectively plan the restoration of the Puget Sound,” Whitener said.

“One of the ways to think about this project is in terms of neighborhoods,” Steltzner said. If a particular nearshore catchment is in poor health, but is surrounded by other catchments in relatively good health, then restoration would be a good idea there. “The idea is to conserve and restore nearshore habitats near other relatively high functioning habitats, that way they can work together and not be isolated.”

The tribe intends the result of their work to be useful by any local organization that wants to take on a piece of restoring the region. “Anyone should be able to pick up this tool and use it to finish a piece of the puzzle,” Steltzner said. “To really clean up Salish Sea Headwaters will take everyone’s involvement, so we wanted to create as open a solution as possible.”

“We know that bringing this place back to health is going to take cooperation from many different groups and people. We hope this research will be a big step in that direction.”

The tribe has shared the database with multiple partners and intends to update the database and analysis as updated datasets become available from state, federal and tribal agencies.