Strong Laws Will Protect Salmon

November 1, 2004

We need good, strong laws to protect salmon.

King, Pierce and other counties surrounding Puget Sound are strengthening habitat protection rules by updating their Critical Area Ordinances. These rules are required under the Growth Management Act. They protect water quality, prevent flood damage and make sure new development doesn’t harm salmon.

Making these rules stronger is a great idea. They will prevent trees from being cut down along salmon streams and keep oily water from running off our roads and into Puget Sound. They will protect what salmon need most, good habitat and cool clean water.

In my lifetime good salmon habitat has become a pretty rare thing. Meanwhile, the population of the Puget Sound region has increased by more than 200 percent. These new neighbors have ballooned urban sprawl across our region, pushing the limits of good salmon habitat farther and farther back.

Things have gotten so bad that three species of salmon in western Washington have been listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

For salmon recovery, local zoning laws are where the rubber meets the road. If counties don’t protect habitat, salmon will disappear. Writing and enforcing strong habitat protection laws show that we can be responsible.

When the tribes’ treaty-reserved rights to fish for salmon were reaffirmed by Judge Boldt in the 1970s, we knew those rights came with responsibilities. We knew that we had to be responsible co-managers to ensure that salmon are always here for us.

Since that time, treaty tribes in western Washington have made difficult sacrifices to make sure salmon will thrive. We have drastically reduced the number of fish we catch. In some places we have reduced harvest up to 90 percent.

When we realized that salmon were on the decline, tribes led the way in salmon recovery planning. We are taking a close look at how we manage our hatcheries. Most of the salmon we catch are produced at hatcheries, but we know that sometimes hatcheries can be harmful to wild salmon. Based on scientific recommendations from an independent panel, we are changing our hatchery operations to benefit wild salmon.

Reducing harvest and reforming hatcheries won’t bring salmon back if salmon habitat isn’t protected. No one seriously thinks that people will stop moving here, but we have a responsibility to make sure that new homes, office buildings and roads don’t hurt salmon.

Too many streams have been paved over and too much salmon habitat has disappeared. We need to stop the slow creep of habitat loss and destruction that comes along with urban growth by writing strong laws to protect salmon.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer (360) 438-1180