Salmon planning battle to heat up

Christopher Dunagan
Bremerton Sun Staff

September 25, 2003

Bremerton, WA - By the end of the year, the debate over protecting salmon habitat could be back on the front burner -- and simmering like never before.

Hood Canal Coordinating Council is drafting a formal plan focused on summer chum habitat and designed to rebuild healthy populations in Hood Canal and the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The "recovery plan" is required by the Endangered Species Act. Puget Sound is one of the few places in the nation where local jurisdictions -- instead of the federal government -- have taken responsibility for drafting such a plan.

Scott Brewer, salmon recovery manager for the coordinating council, is writing the plan, drawing from dozens of studies that, stacked together, would reach to the ceiling.

The plan will consider every major stream and every stream segment in the Hood Canal region to see if they are adequately protected. If not, the plan will propose ideas to fix the problems.

"We know we are not going to be able to get old-growth back in many areas," Brewer said. "We have people and fish in these watersheds and we have to find ways to make things work."

Hood Canal coordinating Council is made up of county and tribal officials in the Hood Canal region -- parts of Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties.

The Hood Canal planning effort is part of the regionwide Shared Salmon Strategy for Puget Sound, which covers all threatened and endangered species, including Puget Sound chinook.

Jim Kramer, who heads Shared Strategy, told the Kitsap County commissioners this week that the county is well on its way to salmon recovery because of past efforts, including negotiations with NOAA Fisheries.

"You've done a lot of work and engaged a lot of people along the way," Kramer said. "You've had some difficult times ... and you don't want to re-create that."

Of the public uproar two years ago, Vivian Henderson of Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners said conflicts could have been avoided if the commissioners would have waited for the Shared Strategy program to emerge.

Jay Watson, director of the coordinating council, told the county commissioners that the negotiations with the federal government turned out to be too much of a guessing game for the county. And the county never received credit for the efforts it made.

Coming discussions, which will include the entire community, will be different, he promised.

"At any point that you're not happy with what is coming out, you can pull the plug," he said.

County Commissioner Jan Angel said it is hard to comprehend all that has been done to save salmon.

"We have a lot of puzzle pieces, but how do they fit together?" she asked.

"We've had a lot of process, a lot of community involvement," added Commissioner Chris Endresen. "Give us a list of puzzle pieces, show us where the holes are and tell us how to get there."

As the recovery plan moves forward, Kitsap County also is revising its "critical areas ordinance," with sections on fish and wildlife habitat. State law requires that the rules be revised to conform to current studies about habitat -- known as "best available science."

Current county rules are interpreted to require 200-foot buffers for high-level salmon streams with threatened species -- although that can be reduced by submitting a habitat management plan.

Habitat rules in Mason and Jefferson counties are similar but call for 150-foot buffers, according to officials in those counties.

Jefferson County recently updated its ordinance, after subjecting it to "best available science, " said county planner Josh Peters.

Each county has its own group of volunteers and education programs aimed at saving salmon.

Watson said the upcoming recovery plan will allow each county to follow its own path. The final test will be whether the overall plan will restore summer chum populations enough to remove them from the Endangered Species Act.

Brewer said he hopes to have a draft plan out for public discussion by year's end.


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