You all know by now that the mighty Skagit River is the king of salmon in Puget Sound, with all species of native salmon and trout still producing a substantial resource for people to harvest and to sustain our natural environment.
Unlike many salmon runs in Puget Sound, the Skagit’s populations are hanging on, but their health is a mixed bag and there is cause for concern. First, the good news is that sockeye salmon runs into Baker Lake are increasing significantly, providing expanded fishing opportunities for fishermen and fisherwomen in Skagit County. Steelhead are on the rise again as well following a reduction in fishing for a few years and some reforms in hatchery practices that we all hope will lead to restored fishing opportunities in 2018 in the Upper Skagit River. Bull trout are stronger in the Skagit than anywhere else in the United States. And even Chinook salmon are holding steady here.
But, the bad news is that some species are seeing strong declines, particularly chum and coho salmon. Chum salmon declines are very significant, and you can see the impact of this by tracking the parallel decline in the number of over-wintering bald eagles around Rockport. Coho salmon (after great years in 2012 and 2013) have suddenly plummeted to the lowest numbers in generations (maybe even of all time), and you can see the impact of this where recreational fishing has been eliminated throughout Puget Sound to protect Skagit’s coho salmon. Our best hypothesis for the coho problem is that marine conditions are starving them due to a warmer ocean. What a loss for our cultural heritage!
And while we can say with certainty that our 40 member organizations and our friends are working hard every day to reduce the legacy effects of actions our society took in the old days (such as fish-blocking culverts or diking off wetland areas for juvenile salmon), we cannot yet say that the future is looking brighter for these icons of the Pacific Northwest. Even while harvest, hatchery, hydropower, and habitat reforms are progressing, emerging threats of human population growth and poorly planned development, climate change, and invasive species weigh heavy on this region’s shared future, threatening the very existence of sustainable salmon runs.
While it is painful to recognize that we are the problem, it’s hopeful to know that we are also the solution. You, and your friends and family, can make a difference with just a little effort. Here’s how:
◊ Share this story with them.
◊ Tell anyone who will listen you are concerned about our natural resources such as salmon, forests and farmland.
◊ And find a group or organization that you can help in their cause; there are plenty out there that will fit your situation!
• Go plant trees or count salmon with the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.
• Go pull weeds and look for birds and frogs with the Skagit Land Trust.
• Perk up your backyard wildlife habitat with the Skagit Conservation District.
• Go ask your city council how you can help them with their sustainability plans.Go help steward your local park with Skagit County Parks and Recreation.
• Visit the Children’s Museum of Skagit County or spend a weekend at the North Cascades Institute to learn about our natural environment through an experience.
• Go count eagles at the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center and talk to the tourists about the plight of chum salmon.
• Or just send a little bit of cash to your favorite, local conservation group so they can get their message out to the public.
The point is that we are a necessary part of preserving this wonderful place, its natural resources, and the communities we call home, and with just 2 or 3 days a year you can be a part of the solution, not the problem. Salmon and the Magic Skagit need your help now more than ever!