The Nature Conservancy is working to protect wild Pacific salmon from the coasts of Alaska, where the runs are the strongest in the world, to California, where they are struggling to survive.
Salmon touch almost every region where the Conservancy works in Washington, connecting the sea to the mountains and even touching the arid lands of eastern Washington.
Where salmon run, forests are healthier and so are the plants and animals that live there, from eagles to bears. If you take care of the salmon, you take care of the whole watershed.
Salmon in Washington
In Washington, the Conservancy has identified five watersheds crucial to the survival and recovery of wild salmon on the West Coast: the Hoh, Queets, Skagit and Wenatchee rivers and Lake Ozette.
“These are places where salmon runs are strong, and nature’s systems continue to work well,” said James Schroeder, freshwater program director for the Conservancy in Washington.
Conservancy scientists have analyzed all of Washington’s freshwater rivers, streams, and lakes and identified those that offer the greatest potential for preserving Washington’s plant and animal life. Click here to download the story from Washington Wildlands’ spring 2007 issue (pdf).
Five Washington Watersheds
These five watersheds leaped out of the research as important to salmon and other species and were also identified by the Wild Salmon Center, an international salmon conservation organization, as places where salmon runs are strong and conservation work would be effective.
Some of these watersheds are places where the Conservancy has worked for years. Others have active and effective local conservation groups. The Conservancy is just beginning to explore ways to support those existing efforts with technical expertise and experience gained from our years of restoration work.
- Hoh and Queets Rivers
The Hoh and the Queets rivers rush out from Mount Olympus and the Olympic rainforest. When they are running high, they pull cedars and Douglas-firs and other rainforest giants out of the ground and toss them around like matchsticks. These are pristine glacial Olympic rivers, with such diverse habitat as alpine lakes and braided gravel river beds. They are also two of the best salmon rivers on the west coast of the United States, with runs of coho, chinook, and pink salmon. Also finding their way to the river are coastal cutthroat trout, bull trout, Cope’s giant salamander, Van Dyke’s salamander, tailed frog, and many native wetland plants and aquatic birds.
The Hoh River has been designated under the National Rivers Inventory as a wild and scenic study river. The majority of the watershed is protected within Olympic National Park, though much of the lower half of the watershed is managed for commercial timber operations on a mix of private and state Department of Natural Resources forest lands.There is considerable conservation momentum in the Hoh River basin, led by the Hoh River Trust.
The entire headwaters of the Queets River and all but a few miles of its mainstem are protected within the Olympic National Park. However, the Clearwater River, a major tributary, and lower reach of the Queets have historically been degraded by forestry and are in mixed-state private and tribal ownership, presenting a management challenge and opportunity.
- Wenatchee River
The Wenatchee River flows out of the ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests on the east slope of the Cascade Mountains, winding down to meet the mighty Columbia River in the dry country of central Washington. Its six major tributaries all flow out of wilderness, so the headwaters are protected and relatively pristine. What makes this river unusual is that it encompasses a natural lake, Lake Wenatchee, and has no impoundments or barriers to salmon passage on the main stem of the river.
Lake Wenatchee provides home for the only Columbia River sockeye salmon in Washington. In addition to sockeye, the Wenatchee provides habitat for chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, bull trout, mountain sucker, westslope cutthroat trout, Umatilla dace, spotted frog, harlequin ducks, and a number of state listed aquatic plants. The river basin is the focus of numerous substantial salmon recovery efforts and organizations with a conservation emphasis.
- Skagit River
The Skagit River is born high in the north Cascades and flows out to Puget Sound, where it accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the fresh water flowing into this giant estuary. The Skagit is home to the largest Chinook, chum, and pink salmon runs in Puget Sound and is the only river in Washington that supports all five native species of Pacific salmon and all eight species of anadromous fish.
The river’s broad floodplains and low tributaries absorb floodwaters and provide a rich complex of rivers, side channels, beaver ponds and backwater sloughs that support, in addition to the salmon, massive populations of migratory shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors. The size of the river and its salmon runs make it the most important in maintaining the health of Puget Sound and its salmon-feasting orca population.
- Lake Ozette
Lake Ozette rises out of the mists of the Olympic Peninsula’s coastal rainforest. It’s the only spawning area for Ozette sockeye salmon, and it's home to a unique population of lake-dwelling cutthroat trout. The lake was likely a refuge for freshwater species during glacial periods and contains the highest density of native freshwater species in the Olympic National Park.
Lake Ozette and the Ozette River are entirely contained within the Olympic National Park, though most of the lake margin is protected only by a narrow strip of National Park Service ownership. While the National Park offers considerable protections, forest practices, development and non-native species introductions from recreational boaters present significant threats.
May 10, 2012