How Washington should fix hundreds of fish culverts

Mark Doumit, Executive Director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, writes in the Seattle Times this month about forest landowners’ 17-year commitment to clearing fish passage barriers on their land, the progress that all stakeholders are making to clear the barriers and how more state funding is needed to improve salmon habitat.

From Mark’s op-ed:

Washington forest landowners have fixed thousands of culverts as part of the Forests & Fish Law, a historic agreement between federal, state, tribal and county governments, and private forest landowners.

…The state Department of Transportation alone has completed 319 fish-passage barrier corrections, allowing access to about 1,032 miles of potential upstream habitat. Culverts are being fixed on city and county roads through the state’s Fish Barrier Removal Board and by small forest landowners through the Family Forest Fish Passage Program. These are problems we know how to solve and are important steps in improving the health of one of our state’s most precious natural resources.

We have a shared responsibility to address the health of our salmon and waterways. It is a mission too important and too complex for our state’s wide range of landowners to work against each other or to not coordinate our efforts. On the funding side, the Legislature needs to make a long-term infrastructure investment to address the problem. All landowners working together, with long-term state funding, is the best path to success.

Doumit was also interviewed by Lens News about how the state should respond to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that requires the state to replace hundreds of fish passage barriers.

Forest landowners say that to accomplish this goal, the state should heed the lessons learned from the successful removal of thousands of fish barriers on private land.

“Our road system blocking salmon in the long run is not going to be sustainable,” Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) Executive Director Mark Doumit said. “Make salmon recovery a big priority, along with other priorities of our system. As our population grows, this problem becomes more difficult. Over the long-term, our investment is going to pay off in the state.”

…Along with prioritizing work on barriers causing the most harm to salmon, Doumit said the state can also have replacement projects occur alongside infrastructure work on those roads – a strategy used by private landowners prior to a timber harvest.

“We try to do it with ongoing construction, so it would either reduce the cost or costs that were ongoing to be borne at a time of harvest,” he said. “Land owners view their road system as an integrated system and looked at where they could open up the most habitat the quickest.”

The same approach could be utilized by the state, he added. “The ones (state roads) closer to retirement because of (population) growth need to be expanded, (and) that’s where we need to place the higher emphasis this time through.”

However, he also warns that inconsistent funding by the legislature could dampen those efforts.

“Every year there needs to be work done on a systematic approach, not just ‘we’ll do some this year,’” he said.