April 2019 Newsletter
Snoqualmie Watershed Forum

Orca Update

Photo:NOAA Fisheries

This winter has reaffirmed the need to invest in actions to restore the Southern Resident orca population. In early January, with the arrival of a new calf nicknamed “Lucky,” the Seattle Times reported that two other orcas are in poor health. J17, an important matriarch of the J pod, and mother of J35, or Tahlequa, who carried her dead calf for 17 days last summer, and K25, who lost his mother in 2017, are both likely ailing from a lack of sufficient food.

The Lummi Nation hoped federal officials could launch an emergency response to help the two orcas, but due to the January government shutdown, approval and coordination of a launch could not take place. The Lummi Nation is now calling for NOAA to develop a plan for immediate action to provide food to starving orcas. Preceding the death of Scarlet, or J-50, in 2018, and continuing after her death, experts have discussed possible treatment methods for ailing orcas. Scientists look back to the successful rescue of Springer, a two year old orphaned orca in Puget Sound, 16 years ago. While the debate continues, “marine mammal veterinarians and biologists are moving forward with plans to compile medical records on each of the 75 surviving orcas in the southern resident population.” The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound examines wildlife rescue strategies and medical interventions for other species, including African mountain gorillas and resident bottlenose dolphins in Florida. A short video from Seattle Times shows NOAA researchers tracking and analyzing whale scat for insight on stressors and monitoring salmon numbers off the Washington coast.

In part three of Seattle Times’ Hostile Waters series, Lynda Mapes explains the contributing factors behind orca malnutrition. Ocean temperatures, detriments to habitat, fishing, and predation all play a role in the decline of salmon, which are the preferred diet of the Southern Residents. NOAA is examining whether new restrictions on fisheries are needed to prevent the extinction of the Southern Residents. NOAA plans to work with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, Tribes, and state agencies to assess the effects of fisheries on the Southern Residents and develop a long-term approach to management. Researchers are also exploring whether the biennial cycle of pink salmon could have an effect on the orcas. Researchers noticed that significantly more whales have died in even-numbered years than in odd years from 1998-2017. Pink salmon outnumber Chinook 50:1, and only return in odd-numbered years. Orcas almost never eat pink salmon, and researchers hypothesize that the large number of pinks in odd-numbered years interfere with the echolocation orcas use to hunt Chinook, affecting mortality and reproduction rates the following year.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Government is considering approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. The country’s National Energy Board found that the project would likely have a significant negative impact on Southern Resident Orcas, increase greenhouse-gas emissions, and could cause oil spills, yet the Board still recommended the Government approve the project. The Canadian Government has 90 days to consider final approval for the project.

A Canadian metal company also recently applied for an exploratory mining permit to drill for mineral deposits in the headwaters of the Skagit River in British Columbia. Seattle Mayor Durkan argues that mining at this location would violate a 1984 treaty between Seattle and British Columbia. Conservations are worried as copper and other metals are toxic to salmon. Low concentrations of dissolved copper in water can damage salmons’ sense of touch and smell, potentially preventing them from finding food, evading predators, or reaching their spawning grounds. Skagit Chinook are critical for Puget Sound orcas.

The Snoqualmie Watershed Forum’s 2019 legislative priorities support the Orca Task Force’s first recommendation, to “Significantly increase investment in restoration and acquisition of habitat in areas where Chinook stocks most benefit Southern Resident orcas.” Forum members including Councilmember Peggy Shepard, citizen representative Becky Chaney, and North Bend’s City Administrator Mark Rigos joined Forum staff Perry Falcone and Elissa Ostergaard on February 6 and February 27 in Olympia, where they met with legislators about these priorities. The state legislature is scheduled to be in session until April 29, so it is not too late to make your voice heard.

Celebrating our new Mountains to Sound Greenway Designation

After eight years of tireless advocacy and support from partners, the Mountains to Sound Greenway has become a National Heritage Area. National Heritage Areas are places designated by Congress where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes. The designation will allow the Greenway to more effectively conserve natural resources, protect our cultural heritage, and contribute to the economic vitality of the region. The Greenway can also serve as a national model for collaborative conservation. It is a creative, non-regulatory approach to conservation that is rooted in cooperation among tribal, federal, state, and municipal agencies, and local residents.

Streamflow Restoration Grants Update

Ecology is offering funding for 15 projects totaling approximately $20 million in requests. The list of applications and selected projects is located on Ecology’s Streamflow restoration implementation grants webpage. In the Snohomish watershed, the Snoqualmie Valley Watershed Improvement District was offered funding for its Snoqualmie Natural Storage Enhancement and Comprehensive Storage Study and the Snohomish Conservation District was offered funding for its Community-based water storage restoration project.

Snohomish WREC Update

The Snohomish Watershed Restoration and Enhancement Committee (WREC) has voted to approve the Snoqualmie Watershed Forum as an ex officio (non-voting) Committee member. For meeting information, visit the Committee webpage.

New 2018 State of Salmon in Watersheds Report

The Washington Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) recently released the 2018 State of Salmon in Watersheds report that depicts Washington State’s efforts in salmon recovery. The report notes salmon still are in trouble, with only 3 of the 15 genetically distinct populations of salmon and steelhead nearing their recovery goals. The report highlights successes and challenges in recovering salmon and steelhead. The press release states that “In the past 10 years, regional recovery organizations received only a fraction—16 percent—of the $4.7 billion documented funding needed for critical salmon recovery projects.” The report is covered in the Seattle Times article “After 20 years and $1 billion spent on Washington state salmon programs, fish still declining, new report says.”

5 Things That Would Improve Salmon Habitat

Chinook salmon make up 80% of Puget Sound Orcas’ diets. Check out this video to learn about the different ways to improve salmon habitat and preserve our unique Puget Sound ecosystem.

Plantings and Conferences:

2019 Salmon Recovery Conference — April 8-9, 2019
The biennial Salmon Recovery Conference, which hosts around 800 attendees, more than 200 presenters, and 50 exhibitors, will be held in Tacoma on April 8-9, 2019. Online registration is closed, but on-site registration is available. This year’s conference marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Salmon Recovery Act in Washington State.

Earth Day Celebration Event — April 20, 2019
Celebrate Earth Day with the Snoqualmie Tribe, Mount Si Hi School, and other local nonprofits on Saturday, April 20 from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm. The event will be on the east fork of Kimball Creek.

City of Duvall Earth and Arbor Day Event — April 20, 2019
The City of Duvall is proud to present Duvall’s 6th Annual Earth and Arbor Day Festival on April 20th, from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at Depot Park, 26219 NE Burhen Way, Duvall, WA. There will be lots of fun activities, free coffee and cookies, music, and free bare root trees and plants. There will also be free drawings for trees and a rain barrel.

Women in the Woods in the Middle Fork — May 11, 2019
This Mother's Day weekend, recruit a mom, friend, or fly solo and join Mountains to Sound Greenway in celebrating women of all kinds by working on the trail together. Be sure to pre-register for this event — and sign the online waiver — spaces are limited!

Salmon Ocean Ecology in a Changing Climate — May 28-20, 2019
The second International Year of the Salmon Workshop on “Salmon Ocean Ecology in a Changing Climate” will be held in Portland, OR on May 18-20, 2019. Registration is open.

Salmon in the news:

Photo: WA Dept. of Ecology

Tidal forests offer hope for salmon
The estuary around Otter Island in the Snohomish Delta provides ideal habitat for juvenile salmon, with forest structures providing shade and overhanging branches providing bugs and other nutrients into the water. Otter Island and other estuaries like it used to be common in Puget Sound, but as development has advanced, the habitat has declined. Tidal forests have decreased by more than 90% since the mid-to late-1800s. Restoration projects like the Smith Island project and tree plantings are helping restore and preserve existing estuaries, as scientists plan for future forests amidst sea level rise.

Nearshore and Estuary Habitat
Salish Sea Marine Survival Project researchers have found that smaller fish disappear in Puget Sound watersheds without intact estuaries, suggesting that healthy estuaries protect small fish, possibly improving overall adult returns.

Most Washington state salmon returns predicted to be worse than last year
As a result of lingering effects of The Blob, a large mass of warm ocean water off the West Coast in 2014-2015, fisheries professionals expect poor salmon returns for many species in 2019.

Scientists see improving ocean conditions off West Coast, but ‘we are not quite out of the woods yet’
While ocean conditions are improving for salmon entering the ocean this year, adult fish sought out by hungry orcas will still be limited due to their first few years in the ocean during The Blob.

The World Is Losing Fish to Eat as Oceans Warm, Study Finds
Declining fish populations is a global trend. “The study found that the amount of seafood that humans could sustainably harvest from a wide range of species shrank by 4.1 percent from 1930 to 2010, a casualty of human-caused climate change.”

International Voyage Aims to Unravel Mysteries of Pacific Salmon Survival
An international team of researchers crisscrossed the Gulf of Alaska this winter to sample fish in hope of collecting location and survival information on West Coast salmon stocks.

Food Groups, Tribes Concerned Over Genetically Engineered Salmon
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently lifted an import ban, allowing imports of genetically engineered salmon eggs. The Center for Food Safety has challenged a previous FDA approval of genetically engineered salmon for human consumption and is considering a lawsuit in regards to the way the genetically engineered salmon is labeled, with concerns about the potential for future net pen aquaculture and the risk of interbreeding with wild salmon.

And, as always, remember that the beautiful “From Mt. Si to Wild Sky” watershed posters – featuring the photography of talented Valley residents – are available FREE from Laura West or by calling (206) 477-7574.

The Snoqualmie Watershed Forum works to protect and restore the health of the SF Skykomish and Snoqualmie Watersheds in harmony with the cultural and community needs of the Valley.

If you would like to be added or removed from the Snoqualmie Watershed Forum mailing list, or if you would like to submit an item for inclusion in the next Snoqualmie Watershed Forum e-newsletter, please contact Laura West.

Funding for this publication is provided by King County Flood Control District.