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A local plan to protect salmon

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - From North Bend to Everett, they've come together to save chinook salmon, creating a plan to keep the mighty fish from disappearing entirely from the Snohomish Basin.

It's not been easy. Members of the Snohomish Basin Salmon Recovery Forum are varied in their backgrounds - including city and county officials, property owners, business representatives, tribal members and farmers - but they all share a common goal.

As part of the Snohomish Basin, the Snoqualmie River is an important focus of their efforts. Because it, and the entire Snohomish Basin, is less urbanized than other rivers in the Puget Sound, the greatest chance of bolstering salmon populations is right here.

The second largest basin in the Puget Sound, the Snohomish Basin, accordingly, has over the years produced the second largest amount of chinook salmon.

"[The Snohomish Basin] is urbanizing, but not yet urban like the basins to the south. So there is still an opportunity to do something." said Martha Neuman, a senior planner with Snohomish County Surface Water Management, which is coordinating the recovery forum.

Something must be done because chinook salmon are listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). And last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service began enforcing the so-called "4(d) rule" in the Puget Sound that limits the taking of salmon and allows lawsuits to be filed against those who harm fish habitat.

In response to these expected developments, King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in 1998 created the Tri-County Salmon Conservation Coalition. Its goal is to create local guidelines for restoring salmon numbers, instead of the federal government handing down such rules for the Puget Sound.

Area basins were divided into Water Resource Inventory Areas, or WRIAs, with the Snohomish Basin identified as WRIA 7. In the past few years, each WRIA has been responsible for creating a plan to conserve salmon that could be incorporated into the federal 4(d) rule.

Last December, the Snohomish Basin Salmon Recovery Forum published the final draft of its chinook salmon "near-term action agenda," the first of the WRIAs to do so. The document will serve as a stop-gap until a long-range plan is adopted in 2005.

Creating the near-term action agenda was crucial for several reasons: It shows the federal government that cities and counties are trying to address the chinook ESA listing. It helps various agencies coordinate their salmon conservation efforts, and it assists those agencies to secure funding for projects such as acquiring land or restoring habitat.

"The small towns in the Valley would find it very difficult to put together a plan for consideration," said Snoqualmie Watershed Forum member Bill Knutsen of obtaining money for projects. He owns an 80-acre farm near Carnation, through which runs Griffin Creek.

It contains a list of projects to improve salmon habitat in the Snohomish Basin, as well as suggestions for what cities, counties and other groups should do with their policies, programs and regulations to protect rivers and streams.

Neuman said many of the projects were already on the drawing boards of different agencies, now they've been organized into one over-arching plan. By doing that, she said, those projects will have a better chance of receiving state and federal grants because they are placed in the larger context of preserving salmon throughout the entire Snohomish Basin.

"I think that's a big issue, being able to focus the money," Neuman said.

However, the near-term action agenda is not a regulatory document. It allows for some flexibility when it comes to salmon conservation because what happens in Everett is not necessarily applicable to Duvall or Snoqualmie.

"[Cities] have their own sort of community vision. They need to consider all those things together, so it will be implemented differently in certain places," Neuman said.

That's not to say local governments have been shirking their responsibilities for protecting salmon. Megan Smith, the Snoqualmie Basin coordinator for King County, said the near-term action agenda and the Snohomish Basin Salmon Recovery Forum provide an arena to discuss what works and what doesn't.

"I think [cities have] already begun to address it," Smith said of salmon conservation, adding, "The cities wanted to have come guidance that they could put to use."

The Snoqualmie Watershed Forum left its imprint on the final draft of the near-term action agenda. The group stressed that the Snoqualmie River above Snoqualmie Falls plays an significant role in salmon conservation, even though chinook are not found in the Upper Valley. It also called for public input on conservation projects; and for controversial projects such as modifying levees, it urged that the modifications first be done on undeveloped, public land.

Work is now beginning on a long-range plan for the Snohomish Basin. Neuman said a draft of the long-range plan should be completed next year, with it being finalized in 2005.

As a farmer, Knutsen said his peers often bear the brunt of salmon conservation rules and regulations. But he has seen the benefit of recovery projects. A stretch of Griffin Creek three-fourths of a mile in length has been restored by King County, while he gave up five acres long the creek to serve as a buffer.

A member of the King County Agriculture Commission, he said he can live with the near-term action agenda, adding not doing anything could potentially be worse.

"You can plan forever, but sometime you've got to jump in," he said.

* The near-term action agenda and the efforts of the Snoqualmie Watershed Forum will be discussed at a joint meeting of the Snoqualmie City Council and Snoqualmie Planning Commission, which begins at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, at the Snoqualmie Police Division building, 34825 S.E. Douglas St. For more information on the near-term action agenda, go to the Snohomish Basin Salmon Recovery Forum's Web site at www.co.snohomish.wa.us/publicwk/swm/salmon/snohoplan/index.htm.

You can reach Barry Rochford at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at barry.rochford@valleyrecord.com.

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