The Road to Salmon Recovery
The road to salmon recovery in the Nooksack Basin involves local governments, Salmon Co-Managers, and community organizations working together on a multitude of actions, projects, and programs to restore and protect habitat important to salmon.
The strategy for recovering salmon in the Nooksack River Basin is outlined in the June 2005 WRIA 1 Salmonid Recovery Plan, and is built on scientific data collected over several decades. Although the strategy is for all salmonids there is a particular emphasis on chinook salmon because of its listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The WRIA 1 Recovery Plan explains the factors inhibiting salmon populations, and describes strategies and actions needed to recover salmon. An important part of the strategy are 10 key actions that will either provide immediate benefit for early chinook or will lay the foundation for longer term habitat recovery.
Action 1: Restore fish passage at critical barriers.
Obstructions such as culverts, dams, tidegates, and floodgates block access to upstream habitats for both returning adults and juveniles. In WRIA 1, there are two major barriers that are limiting early chinook populations: Middle Fork Nooksack Diversion Dam and Canyon Creek Barrier
Action 2: Restore habitat in the South Fork, Middle Fork, and North Fork Nooksack River, Mainstem Nooksack River, and major early chinook tributaries.
High quality salmon habitat is self-sustaining when functioning properly. However, there is little habitat in WRIA 1 that is considered properly functioning. This action proposes a range of restoration strategies and projects. Four project types considered as part of this action are: (1) large wood jams that stabilize channels, increase habitat complexity, and reconnect rivers to floodplains, (2) streamside (riparian) plantings to increase shading, bank stability, and wood inputs to streams, (3) levee removals/setbacks to increase flood storage and channel/floodplain connectivity, and (4) acquisition of land at risk of development or with high restoration potential.
Action 3: Integrate salmon recovery needs with floodplain management.
Traditional flood control methods typically have not considered impacts to fish. However, a strategic approach to floodplain management can benefit both people and fish. This action is to identify and implement the steps that will lead to integrating salmon recovery needs and floodplain management.
Action 4: Integrate habitat protection with local land use regulations.
Two local regulations, the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) and the Shoreline Management Program (SMP), are important in guiding the interaction of human development and fish habitat.
Action 5: Establish new instream flows for WRIA 1
Instream flow levels set in 1986 by the state Department of Ecology will be revisited over the next several years through the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project. Any new flow regimes will affect how much water is available for current and future instream and out-of-stream uses, as well as water quality and available fish habitat.
Action 6: Protect and restore priority estuarine and nearshore areas
The goal of this action is to protect and restore priority estuarine and nearshore areas that will lead to the recovery of the Nooksack stocks of chinook and other salmonids.
Action 7: Restore and reconnect isolated habitats in lowland and independent tributaries
This action is similar to Action #2 except that it focuses on projects in the Nooksack River's lowland tributaries, which are a lower priority for recovery of early chinook. Factors limiting fish populations in these streams include barriers to fish passage, lack of habitat complexity, impaired riparian functions, and water quantity and quality.
Action 8: Establish a South Fork gene bank and supplementation program
Improving stream habitat conditions is critical to the recovery of South Fork chinook, but it will be a gradual and long-term process. As an interim measure to preserve the unique genetic characteristics of this stock, a South Fork gene bank and supplementation program will operate at Skookum Hatchery.