Plans to restore Wiley Slough have been stymied by hunters’ concerns about losing a popular recreation site.

The Skagit Valley Herald (full story is available online):

CONWAY — Pressure from hunters has put the brakes on a plan to restore the Wiley Slough wildlife area to a salmon-friendly estuary. Now the state must go back to the bargaining table and find a way to please both outdoor recreation enthusiasts and salmon supporters.

In accordance with the state budget passed Sunday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife can only spend federal funds available for the nearly $4 million restoration if it helps hunters and other affected groups mitigate the habitat loss that will result when the slough is turned back into an estuary.

Fish and Wildlife and the Skagit River System Cooperative, the natural resource arm of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes, had proposed to restore 175 acres of the department’s Skagit Wildlife Area on Fir Island near Conway into an intertidal estuary.

Steve Hinton, director of habitat restoration for the Skagit River System Cooperative, is upset about the project’s sudden halt. Before the budget passed Sunday, Wiley Slough’s restoration was nearing an environmental public comment period. Supporters had hoped to start work this summer.

“This isn’t just about the Wiley Slough project,” Hinton said. “It’s about salmon recovery in Puget Sound. … To have a project of this importance be held hostage by a put-and-hunt pheasant site … is a little disconcerting.”