A local approach supported by data and science helps get things done.
by John Fultz-
As an individual who is a fish biologist and environmental engineer by training (Go Cougs!) and has been interested in the aquatic environment with a particular interest in fish for most of my life, I had always assumed I would end up working primarily with fish.
As it turns out, by working in the field of salmon habitat restoration I have learned that working with fish — in this case mostly salmon and steelhead — really means working with people and the community.
Rather than working mostly in an aquatic ecosystem with aquatic organisms, I work with local elected officials, citizen stakeholders, private property owners, tribal staff, state agencies, permit writers, engineers, regulators, scientists, field technicians, grant funding sources and a multitude of other people.
This work, of course, includes working within the aquatic ecosystem, but at the end of the day we work with people and with the local community to provide added value and a solution that works for stakeholders.
I have also learned the benefits of salmon habitat restoration are abundant and reach far beyond our primary focus on salmon and steelhead habitat.
Community-based salmon habitat restoration works. Washington state has adopted an infrastructure and process for locally based restoration efforts done in the Walla Walla Way — a term, as I understand it, coined by our local legislators.
This idea and term has been adapted as the Washington Way.
The Walla Walla Way, or now the Washington Way, means there is an effort to find a local, balanced, coordinated, common-sense approach to a problem — in this case to salmon recovery and salmon habitat project implementation.
It efficiently brings together tribes, federal and state agencies, local governments, citizens, nonprofit organizations, businesses and technical experts to make local decisions about how best to recover salmon.
These decisions are based on local knowledge and experience and local stakeholder input, striving to provide value to all around.
This work has multiple benefits:
It works for the economy. These community-based salmon recovery organizations develop on-the-ground projects to improve salmon and steelhead habitat, bringing family-wage jobs. Salmon recovery funding has resulted in more than $1.1 billion in total economic activity since 1999. This supports recreational and commercial fishing by spearheading efforts to recover and sustain salmon populations in Southeast Washington and throughout the state.
Washington recreation and commercial fisheries support an estimated 16,374 jobs and $540 million in personal income. Salmon recovery funds are a good investment: Every dollar spent returns approximately $3 of additional matching funds and a great deal of in-kind labor and materials.
It works locally. In 1999, Washington state worked with the federal government to allow watersheds to write their own recovery plans for Endangered Species Act listings. This action kept decisions local and not in the hands of the federal government.
Additionally, these projects, implemented through local groups, protect agricultural lands, provide flood protection and fix roads, bridges and other public infrastructure. They also create tourism and recreational opportunities.
Project funding also stays local; 80 percent of grant funding is spent in the county where the particular project is located. For every $1 million spent on restoration, 15.7 to 23.8 new or sustained jobs are created and $2.2 million to $2.5 million in total economic activity is generated. These community-based salmon recovery organizations engage numerous citizens as volunteers on local committees to solve the problems in our own communities.
It works for the environment. Habitat restoration efforts go far beyond the benefit to salmon and steelhead habitat. Businesses locate in Washington because of the quality of life provided by abundant and beautiful natural resources. By maximizing the public benefit of habitat restoration, these locally implemented projects improve water quality and water supply, helping to provide clean and reliably available water for drinking, irrigation and recreation.
By reconnecting floodplains, the flood risk for communities can be reduced. These floodplains also filter sediment and pollutants. Healthy forests and riparian areas absorb carbon and can themselves provide economic opportunity for recreation. These actions also can provide benefit for multiple other wildlife species and can also be attributed to improving human health and wellness.
We could not do this work without the great communities we have in Southeast Washington.
I am glad we live in a collaborative society where we can take a common-sense-based, local approach supported by data and science to get things done.
John Foltz is a program manager for the Snake River Salmon Recovery Board in Dayton. He and his family live in Southeast Washington, where they enjoy the people and outdoors on the dry side.