On-the-ground habitat restoration projects will be the focus of a new coalition to jumpstart salmon productivity in the Deschutes River watershed. The Squaxin Island Tribe and the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Yelm are establishing the Deschutes Watershed Environmental Stewardship Coalition.
“The Deschutes coalition will be an ongoing alliance to fund and conduct on-the-ground projects to restore a healthy watershed,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe. “The coalition will put words into actions and start restoring productivity to the Deschutes River.”
Initial projects are slated for the 197-acre farm on the Deschutes River near Lake Lawrence that the cities recently purchased as part of mitigation for their new water rights.
Smith Farm near Lake Lawrence
In the past, the Deschutes River was the largest producer of coho salmon in deep South Sound. A landslide in 1990 destroyed the most productive coho tributary in the watershed. “The impact of that landslide is still being felt throughout the watershed,” said John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the tribe. “But we know the Deschutes can be a productive salmon stream again.”
“Thirty years ago, we were seeing coho returns in the tens of thousands, now we’re talking about coho runs in the hundreds,” said Jeff Dickison, assistant natural resources director. “We need to get our hands dirty now to improve coho habitat and bring back stronger runs.”
Because the upper Deschutes River is relatively undeveloped – less than 10 percent has been converted to impervious surface – its still possible to restore salmon habitat and productivity. “If we restore some habitat and give these fish half a chance, they’ll recover,” Dickison said.
“The tribe’s treaty rights, economy and way of life are meaningless if we aren’t able to harvest salmon,” Whitener said. “Protecting and restoring salmon habitat is the most important thing we can do to restore coho and protect our treaty right to fish.”