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Support Your Local Salmon

by Ed Palm
Kitsap Sun, March 14, 2015

Don't get me wrong.
I'm a fan of our salmon.

A coho salmon attempts to leap into a culvert. (Meegan M. Reed / Kitsap Sun photo) Forget Rachel Carson's 1962 book "Silent Spring" and all the more recent books that have been written about the harm people have done to the environment. When it comes to salmon restoration in this state, our all-too-eager conservationists seem to have been inspired by an altogether different source, the Kevin Costner film "Field of Dreams" -- except that they have put their own spin on it: Whereas a voice from beyond was telling Costner's character to "build it and they will come," our salmonistas are telling us to "tear it down and they will come!"

In all fairness, as Christopher Dunagan has reported, they are only following orders ("Cost of replacing culverts looms for state lawmakers," Jan, 25, 2015). A federal judge has ordered the state to remove some 1,000 salmon-impeding culverts by 2030, at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of our salmon. I understand that productive salmon runs are vital to the survival of our iconic orcas, without which we would be much the poorer. And I even have two personal reasons for wanting to see our salmon thrive.

My wife and I eat salmon regularly, and we much prefer the healthier wild varieties over the farm-raised Atlantic salmon. Also, as I've admitted before, photography is my passion, and one of my proudest achievements in recent years was a dramatic image of a chum salmon jumping upstream in Chico Creek.

The only way I could get a comparable image at Chico Creek this coming fall, however, would be to place an accomplice in the creek to catch and throw up a salmon on my command.

In all seriousness, it is not a scarcity of salmon coming up Chico Creek that would tempt me to employ this stratagem. The numbers may be down from past years. I leave it to the experts to establish that. The problem is the restoration that has already occurred. Chico Creek salmon no longer have to jump. They now stream along a veritable salmon superhighway.

My aesthetic frustrations aside, I concede that this is a good thing. But I do have to question some of the extremes we've gone to, and are about to go to, on behalf of our scaly little friends.

First, there was the destruction of the bridge and culvert on Kittyhawk Drive last August. That culvert may have been an obstacle, but salmon were making do with it for 50 years. More to the point, I've been wondering how the residents on the far side of the bridge feel about the project.

I recently spoke to Tom Ostrom, who managed the project on behalf of the Suquamish Tribe. Ostrom assured me that the residents were consulted and that the tribe bought the estuary land and built an alternative access road. Still, I wonder whether the project will really prove to have been worth the $2 million spent on it. And if the restorationists have their way, more than $30 million will be spent, and a lot more people will be inconvenienced, in building a new salmon-friendly freeway bridge farther upstream.

And, then, there is the $19 million project already underway -- a new four-lane Bucklin Hill Road bridge designed to expedite the return of chum salmon to Clear Creek from Dye's Inlet. All of us who live in Silverdale, and those who routinely shop here, are destined to be inconvenienced for upwards of a year. Aside from benefiting salmon, the project has been billed as improving traffic flow. Bucklin Hill Road, however, doesn't need four lanes; Ridgetop -- which is already congested and which will bear the brunt of the bridge closure -- does. A cynical construction worker of my acquaintance, moreover, maintains that the concern for salmon is largely pretext: Roughly half the money will come from the federal government, so why not go for it and build a new bridge?

The restoration project that I find especially troubling, however, is the county's push to shame shoreline property owners into tearing out their bulkheads ("Bulkhead Removal Pushed by County," Jan. 29, 2015). The county will be providing some incentive money, but for now, they are taking what Kathy Peters, the county's habitat biologist, is calling "a friendly approach." Volunteers will soon start talking to the property owners. I'm reminded of a TV news report I saw long ago about China's one-child policy. If the mother of one child is found to be pregnant again, a group of volunteer women hound and harangue her until she agrees to have an abortion. Is that how our bulkhead-removal volunteers will proceed?

Having lived 60-some years, I'm no longer surprised when well-meaning idealists fail to appreciate what it would take to implement their reforms. What does surprise me in this case is that more people are not questioning and complaining.

Ed Palm columnist
Support Your Local Salmon
Kitsap Sun, March 14, 2015

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