Squaxin Island Tribe's Natural Resources

Squaxin Island Tribe's Natural Resource Department Weblog

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Beach Seining it up!!

September 10th, 2015 by Candace Penn Comments Off on Beach Seining it up!!


Pictured: Will Henderson (Fisheries Biologist), Daniel Kuntz (Fish Biologist), and Candace Penn (CC Ecologist Trainee)

Photo credit: Sarah Zaniewski


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A Walk Down Squaxin Islands Climate Change Road

August 20th, 2015 by Candace Penn Comments Off on A Walk Down Squaxin Islands Climate Change Road

Some of you might be wondering what we as a tribe are doing about climate change? How is Climate Change effecting our first foods like shellfish, salmon, and harvestable plants? As the Climate Change Ecologist Trainee for the Tribe these are things I think about quite often. I have collected various graphs, charts,and images that I hope will resonate with you about what climate change is and how first nations are being affected. You will see two Links below, The first is a short video about indigenous people and climate change. I have also attached a presentation that I presented to our tribal council and I felt as though I left them wanting more information about Climate Change here in the Pacific Northwest. I hope you as well are left wanting more information, I would be happy to email anyone more links and media that illustrate issues related to climate change or just sit down and talk about Climate Change. Stay tuned for my next exciting post about Ocean Acidification!



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Each dock counts towards hurting salmon

July 28th, 2015 by Scott Steltzner Comments Off on Each dock counts towards hurting salmon

OAQN7p copyHow much progress are we really making in restoring Puget Sound?

On one hand, community partners get together with us here at the tribe and at local governments to push forward a few habitat restoration projects a year. At the very most.

But, on the other end, dozens and dozens of shoreline development projects seem to sail through the local permitting process. Each of these projects is small on its own (a new bulkhead there, a dock here), so no one is bound to complain.

But, these tiny projects all put together are having a massive impact on Puget Sound, and its ability to produce salmon.

Nearshore habitat provides a critical nursery for juvenile salmon as they prepare to make their seaward migration, and also serves as migration corridors for returning adult salmon.

Here’s the short course on how these tiny developments can add up:

One way things like bulkheads and docks damage the environment is by disconnecting land and marine ecosystems. This disconnection prevents things like logs and bugs from entering and moving along the water, which ultimately alters the food chain and eliminates important habitat.

Another impact from shoreline modification is that it affects currents, which change where and how much sand is deposited. This in turn harms habitat of forage fish and invertebrates that are an important source of food for young and returning adult salmon.

But, I see dozens of these projects go through, with no mind paid to what the total impact of all the projects ever permitted is having.

Every letter we receive from Pierce County about yet another bulkhead or dock somewhere in Puget Sound includes language like this:

What does that mean in everyday language?

The County insists that this dock (or bulkhead on its own) isn’t a problem. But, they’re not going to actually look at its individual impact. Also they are not going to look at cumulative impacts to find out if this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or, in this case, Puget Sound’s back.

SQ blog
And, what does that look like on the ground?

Here’s a visualization of Horsehead Bay (you can see a larger version here), which in its natural state would be great rearing habitat for juvenile salmon. But, when you add a few dozen docks, the value to salmon plummets.

SQ docks animation for web 500px

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Youth Fresh Water Mussel Surveys

July 16th, 2015 by Candace Penn Comments Off on Youth Fresh Water Mussel Surveys


IMG_0258 - Copy

This picture was taken by Natanya Epstein while at a training in Portland, Oregon hosted by the Xerces Society. The training was for Fresh water mussels protocols and proper survey techniques.


SIT staff attended this Fresh Water Mussel survey training to prepare for future programs with tribal youth. The pictures above are from a training at Crystal Springs Creek in Portland, OR. Below are pictures from a our tribal youth pilot program at Mill Creek in Shelton, WA. The below pictures are from a pilot youth mussel survey program we started this summer to hopefully get money to fund next year for a tribal youth internship program. If we are awarded the funding we would be able to take tribal youth out to this kind of research again.


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The Squaxin Island Tribal youth are having a great time in these pictures, having fun while also collecting vital data. Our group of youth ranging in ages from 13-20 surveyed Mill Creek in Shelton, WA to identify the presence and/or absence of fresh water mussels as well as stream habitat surveys. They are collecting data on a species that there is very little know about and at the same time introducing tribal youth to the wonderful world of science. The Fresh water mussels species we see most often is the Western Pearshell or Margaritifera falcata Fresh Water Mussel pictured below.



Western Pearlshell or Margaritifera falcata Fresh Water Mussel

Mussels and Climate Change:

Fresh Water Mussels of the Pacific Northwest Guide Book:


Pg.17  [Western freshwater ecosystems have suffered increased levels of alteration and exploitation since settlers first arrived more than 150 years ago. Mussels have been eliminated from portions of rivers and even entire watersheds through the combined effects of habitat loss, pollution, blockage of anadromous fish, and introduced species. The factors that seem to have had the greatest effect on western freshwater mussels include water availability, dams, introduced species, loss of host fish species, and the chronic effects of urbanization, agriculture, and logging on habitat quality. Global climate change will exacerbate the effects of many of these stressors on western ecosystems (see www.epa.gov/climatechange).

There is a critical need for greater research into freshwater mussel biology, distribution, status, and threats. This information is vital for effective conservation of western mussels. Specifically, there is a need to better understand the distribution, habitat, host fish species, life history, population structure, recruitment, and population trends of all western freshwater mussel species. More information is needed to understand the taxonomy of what is currently called the western Anodonta, and whether these animals can be identified by shell morphology. In addition, there is a need to understand how western freshwater mussels are affected by threats to water quality, habitat fragmentation, hydrologic alteration, global climate change, altered water levels, and loss or reduction of host fish. Increasing public and government awareness of the importance of freshwater mussels will contribute to effective conservation of these species in the West.]


Related Studies:

  1. Overlooked Gems: The benefits of Fresh Water Mussels By Al Smith and Sarina Jepsen.

An article from Wings magazine


A few lines from the study:

{Archeological records show that Native Americans have harvested mussels for at least ten thousand years. Their soft bodies were eaten, and their hard shells were used as spoons and hoes, crushed as temper to strengthen clay when firing pottery, and made into jewelry. The pearls created by some species of freshwater mussels were often strung into necklaces or used decoratively, inlaid as eyes into animal designs. Native Americans were not the only ones who were attracted to these gems. During the second half of the nineteenth century, pearl hunting became a big business, sparked in 1857 by the discovery in New Jersey of a pearl that sold for $2,500 —in excess of $50,000 today! The ensuing clamor for pearls was so intense that entire streams were stripped of their mussels.

To this day, the harvesting of mussels threatens some populations in the southeastern United States. Freshwater mussels remain in demand by the pearl industry, though not for their own pearls but for their shells. Pieces of the thick mussel shells are cut and placed inside marine oysters as seeds to stimulate the formation of oyster pearls. As important as this market has been, however, the greatest mussel-based industry was the manufacture of “pearl” buttons. Johann Boepple pioneered the craft, opening his first factory in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1891. Stamped out of mussel shells, the best buttons came from thick-shelled species such as the yellow sandshell (Lampsilis teres) and pistolgrip (Tritogonia verrucosa). At the time, there appeared to be an endless supply of these shiny, durable shells, and Boepple’s success inspired others to join the industry. According to the University of Tennessee’s Frank H. McClung Museum, by 1912 there were nearly two hundred button factories in the United States. Mussels remained at the heart of the industry until the 1940s, when they were replaced by plastics.}

  1. The Threat of Climate Change to Freshwater Pearl Mussels Populations
  2. http://www.fws.gov/columbiariver/mwg/pdfdocs/Hastie%20paper.pdf

{Changes in climate are occurring around the world and the effects on ecosystems will vary, depending on the extent and nature of these changes. In northern Europe, experts predict that annual rainfall will increase significantly, along with dramatic storm events and flooding in the next 50–100 years. Scotland is a stronghold of the endangered freshwater pearl mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera (L.), and a number of populations may be threatened. For example, large floods have been shown to adversely affect mussels, and although these stochastic events were historically rare, they may now be occurring more often as a result of climate change. Populations may also be affected by a number of other factors, including predicted changes in temperature, sea level, habitat availability, host fish stocks and human activity. In this paper, we explain how climate change may impact M. margaritifera and discuss the general implications for the conservation management of this species.}


Other Related Projects:

Western Freshwater Mussel Database: The Xerces Society and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have compiled a database of western freshwater mussel records for the following species and clades: Anodonta californiensis/nuttalliana, A. oregonensis/kennerlyi, Gonidea angulata, and Margaritifera falcata.  (Margaritifera falcata: is species we commonly see in our creeks, Mill Skookum and Goldsborough)

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Go Inslee!!!

June 17th, 2015 by Candace Penn Comments Off on Go Inslee!!!



Sand Lance and Surf Smelt (Forage Fish) Eggs


Governor Inslee signs Forage Fish Bill (SB5166)!

This bill directs WDFW to conduct extensive forage fish spawning surveys throughout Puget Sound over the next two years and will provide significant benefit for improving habitat protections.

Proposed by Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, the bill requires the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and state Department of Natural Resources to team up on an ambitious survey of forage fish spawning areas and a mid-water trawl survey at various depths throughout the sound. The survey results will help Fish and Wildlife develop conservation strategies for small fish populations that appear to be declining.

“The population of forage fish is really important to the recovery of Puget Sound,” Rolfes said. “But we really don’t now how precarious their population is right now.”

The spawning survey will be carried out along shorelines with the assistance of volunteers and military veterans employed by the Washington Conservation Corps.



By Senators Rolfes, Ranker, and Hasegawa

Read first time 01/15/15. Referred to Committee on Natural Resources & Parks.

AN ACT Relating to the management of forage fish resources; amending RCW 77.32.010; and creating new sections. (See new sections below)

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 2.  The departments of natural resources and fish and wildlife must collaborate to conduct a survey of the location of surf smelt and sand lance spawning grounds throughout Puget Sound, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To the extent available, the departments of natural resources and fish and wildlife must conduct the surveys using crews of the veterans conservation corps created under RCW 43.60A.150. Results from this survey must be used by the departments of natural resources and fish and wildlife to expand knowledge of spawning habitat areas. The survey results must be made accessible to the public.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 3.  The department of fish and wildlife must conduct a mid-water trawl survey at various depths throughout Puget Sound to evaluate the prevalence of adults of all species of forage fish. The department must integrate the results of the survey into existing Puget Sound ecosystem assessments to assist the department of fish and wildlife in the management and conservation of forage fish species and the species that prey upon them.

The department of fish and wildlife must complete the survey by June 30, 2017.

For more information please visit:




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Intertidal Forage Fish Training with WDFW, Its an Egg Hunt!

June 8th, 2015 by Candace Penn Comments Off on Intertidal Forage Fish Training with WDFW, Its an Egg Hunt!


Phillip Dionne pictured in blue holding the plastic bag

We were lucky enough to have Phillip Dionne from WDFW join us at the Natural Resource Department. He gave a presentation about forage fish and there critical habitat along the shores of Puget Sound. Forage fish lay their eggs in the sand-gravel beach zone as well as the outer tide flats. A substantial amount of forage fish spawning habitat has been lost or destroyed by the high impact of shoreline usage and development in Puget Sound. As you can see below the shoreline is armored and because of the location forage fish spawn it makes them vulnerable to shoreline development and other human actions.


Example of shoreline armoring and example of forage fish spawning habitat survey

The need for public education about forage fish and their ecological role is constant to maintain a well-informed community. Many people are unaware of just how many species utilize the shoreline; forage fish being a few of them. The term “forage fish” can be broadly applied to many species that are, in many cases, related through ecology and not phylogeny. Pacific herring Clupea pallasii, Northern anchovy Engraulis mordax, Pacific sardine Sardinops sagax, Surf Hypomesus pretiosus, Longfin Spirinchus thaleichthys, Pacific sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, and Rock sole Pleuronectes bilineatus are just a few species that use the shorelines. For a map of spawning activity please visit, http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/research/projects/marine beach spawning/


Natural Resource Crew watches as Phillip Dionne demonstrates, “The Vortex Method”

IMG_2180 IMG_2177 Phillip Dionne (WDFW) giving a demonstration on laboratory procedures for recovering forage fish eggs

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What the Heck is a Fresh Water Mussel?

November 21st, 2014 by Candace Penn Comments Off on What the Heck is a Fresh Water Mussel?


Photo Courtesy of Marbet, Erika

Photo Courtesy of Marbet, Erica

The average individual could walk through a creek without even noticing these small gems. In fact most people are completely unaware of their existence. Freshwater bivalves are a kind of freshwater molluscs. They are bivalves which live in freshwater, as opposed to saltwater. The majority of species of bivalve molluscs live in the sea, but a number of different families live in freshwater. Fresh water mussels can thrive in many different habitats small ditches, lakes, canals, rivers and creeks. While walking Mill creek with our summer youth program employees we found hundreds of fresh water mussels. The species we found is the Western Pearlshell (shown in all pictures). The Xerces Society is dedicated to developing a variety of publications that educate people on how to identify and conserve fresh water mussels, as well as manage their habitat. “The Society uses advocacy, education, and applied research to defend invertebrates”. For more information about fresh water mussels of the pacific northwest visit, http://www.xerces.org/western-freshwater-mussels/.

photo courtesy of O'Connell, Emmett

photo courtesy of O’Connell, Emmett

photo courtesy of O'Connell, Emmett

photo courtesy of O’Connell, Emmett

photo courtesy of O'Connell, Emmett

Pictured is Rana Brown Shellfish Biologist photo courtesy of O’Connell, Emmett

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Telling South Sound Stories

October 23rd, 2014 by eoconnell Comments Off on Telling South Sound Stories

The final presentation of the day is from Katie Campbell and Ashely Ahearn with Earthfix.  They work to get media coverage for all the wonderful work scientists are doing all over the Puget Sound area.   Stressing to remember that when giving an interview that it’s not live, no one is trying to make you sound stupid and everything can be edited.  If you can aim your content toward 6th graders and relate your science to real people it’ll be easier to draw their interest.  Some times the story requires a picture or a video in order for the issue to hit home for the average person who is not in the scientific community.  Remember that scientists have their thumbs on the pulse of what is happening in our ecosystems and weather the information is good or bad it is our duty to share it with the rest of the world.


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Science-based strategies and unique partnerships to restore endangered species to South Sound Prairies

October 23rd, 2014 by Erica Marbet Comments Off on Science-based strategies and unique partnerships to restore endangered species to South Sound Prairies

This talk is being given by Sarah Hamman of the Center for Natural Lands Management.
I’m jumping in a little late to blog this talk, but here we go.
Prescribed fire is a very important tool to remove scotch broom and non-native grasses from South Sound prairies. They have over fifty trained fire fighters (fire setters) who work on prescribed burns. Over the past decade, they have learned how to use fire to its greatest benfits. From 50 acres in 2005 to over 2500 acres burned in the past year. A hot headfire removes scotch broom. A low intensity low severity burn increases bare ground and stimulates germination. Once they complete a fire, they put seed on the ground. They have been adapting farming and agricultural practices to try to get as many native species on the ground as possible. Each species takes a different strategy.

They have been able to greatly increase the poundage of native seed production over the past decade. Field germination rates of native species are typically less than 25%, many less than 10%. Very low germination rates, which one of the reasons why these species are struggling in the first place.

The checker spot butterfly is very picky about where it germinates. It needs golden paintbrush, Indian paintbrush, and plantain. That went by fast. I need to check the exact name of those three species.

Women from the Sustainable Prisons Project helped grow plants and tend to butterflies in studies of butterfly preference.

Understanding the most efficient effective strategies for each step of restoration will help restore prairies successfully in the Pacific Northwest.

Some important, unique partnerships have been key to forwarding prairie restoration here. Joint Base Lewis McCord, Department of Corrections, Universities… The list was so long, that I could not write it out.

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Prairies in the Pacific Northwest- Natural history and current challenges in this conservation landscape

October 23rd, 2014 by Candace Penn Comments Off on Prairies in the Pacific Northwest- Natural history and current challenges in this conservation landscape

untitledHannah Anderson Center for natural lands management;

A look at a lesser known precious and rare habitat, the prairies of the Puget sound. Human development has hit our prairies pretty hard. Habitat degradation is also a serious problem when it comes to prairie habitat restoration.  Large trees , oak grass, and scotch broom are species encroaching on prairie habitat.

“A rare habitat equals rare species” some of the species of concern include, Streak horned Lark, Pocket goffer, and checker spot butterfly (Pictured above).

One of the partners of CNLM is JBLM, the local military base. This base is one of the last highest quality habitats for the streak horned lark and the checker spot butterfly. The artillery range o base serves both the DOD and species of concern as well as endangered species like the checker spot butter fly.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project is another partner of CNLM they have partnered with Department of corrections to restore endangered species of prairie taxa. Having previously worked with this organization I have nothing but praise for all the work they have done in the realm of prairie management, plant production, and endangered/native species reestablishment.

In conclusion an overall restoration success!


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