Salmon recovery efforts vital to economy, quality of life

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 28, 2014 

The natural beauty of Northwest Washington makes our region an increasingly popular destination for visitors and residents alike. From the forested mountains of the Olympics and Cascades to the many rivers that feed Puget Sound, the Pacific Northwest is a desirable place to call home.

As our area continues to grow, the lands and waters that make this place unique need our attention and protection. These resources not only make for a high quality of life, they also contribute to our economy.

The iconic Northwest salmon serves as an important cultural symbol and environmental linchpin. But salmon also provide a good living. Washington's commercial and sport fishing industries contribute over $2.5 billion annually to the state's economy, supporting over 28,500 jobs. Of the approximately 286,000 anglers who take to Washington's marine waters each year, the pursuit of salmon account for over half of the angler days.

As urbanization has encroached on rivers, estuaries and wetlands that make up vital salmon habitat, we as Washingtonians have a responsibility to make sure our children and grandchildren can reap both the recreational and economic benefits of salmon. I have led several efforts in Congress to protect and restore Puget Sound waters and shorelines, which are home to some of the largest salmon runs in the continental U.S.

The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund helps local, state, federal and tribal stakeholders carry out conservation and restoration projects across the Northwest. The fund was established in 2000 to reverse the decline of salmon in the region. It is working. Hundreds of thousands of acres of salmon habitat have been improved and more than 5,000 miles of streams are now more accessible for spawning populations.

Last year I helped secure $65 million for this fund and have made the case to my colleagues in Congress again this year. Not only is the fund improving and protecting salmon habitat, it also directly supports jobs and provides economic benefits to our communities.

Successful restoration and preservation of these complex habitats call for a multifaceted approach. The Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project is another project that will move salmon recovery efforts forward in a big way if Congress provides the funding. This is one of the largest habitat restoration projects in the United States and it also relies on partnerships, bringing together the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local, state and federal governments, tribes, industries and environmental organizations. These are all voices that need to be at the table for these projects to succeed.

To date the project team has evaluated dozens of sites that could benefit from restoration activities, from river delta estuaries to beaches and bluffs. Strong candidates are shoreline habitats whose improved health is expected to have a higher impact on Puget Sound as a whole. Several sites are within the second Congressional District, including the Nooksack River Estuary in Whatcom County.

Last fall I secured language in a bill that passed the House of Representatives allowing the Army Corps to spend more on habitat restoration throughout Puget Sound as part of the nearshore project, tripling the impact of the dollars that Washington state spends on bridge repairs that improve habitats near water.

Salmon recovery efforts go beyond Washington's shoreline. We must be vigilant in protecting our environment by recognizing potential impacts of distant projects with competing interests. The Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay in Alaska is one such project. I was pleased with the Environmental Protection Agency's decision in February to stop the proposed mine. Thousands of Washington fishers and processors depend on the vibrant sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. The mine's development likely would have caused irreparable damage to this vital salmon habitat because of acid drainage and leached metal. It is common sense to avoid activities like the Pebble Mine that would set back years of salmon recovery efforts.

Pacific salmon are integral to our region as a food source for predators, a major industry that creates thousands of jobs, and a longstanding recreation that allows its practitioners quiet time in the beauty of local rivers. The efforts under way to restore salmon habitat are critical to ensuring healthy populations of the fish will continue to support economic growth and environmental strength today and long into the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D., represents the 2nd District that includes parts of Bellingham, Sudden Valley, San Juan County, Island County and portions of Skagit and Snohomish counties.

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