Salmon Recovery

Working for healthy rivers and streams that provide habitat for salmon and wildlife.

Rivers and streams throughout the Pacific Northwest are the lifeblood of the Salish Sea web of life. Five species of salmon, steelhead, coastal cutthroat, mountain whitefish, and bull trout are native to the Nooksack and Skagit river basins, and depend on an adequate supply of cool, clean water for their survival.

The Nooksack River System is one of the major rivers flowing into the Salish Sea, and is home to five species of salmon — Chinook (listed as threatened on the federal Endangered Species list), pink, chum, coho, and a small riverine sockeye run. It is also home to species of trout such as bulltrout and steelhead.

People in our corner of the Pacific Northwest rely on salmon and other native fish species for food, recreation, jobs, cultural identity, and social tradition. These iconic fish support the Salish Sea food chain and the wildlife that make Washington a bastion of rich life and biodiversity.

But over the years, increased population, poorly planned development, pollution, and a warming climate have led to a rapid and concerning decline in salmon populations. In Washington, salmon have been listed as endangered in almost 75% of the state.

RE Sources works to recover salmon populations by improving water quality, protecting and restoring fish habitat, improving stream flows, and eliminating threats to salmon survival.

RE Sources work to recover salmon populations

Our goal is to protect and enhance fish habitat and to restore salmon, steelhead, and trout populations to healthy and harvestable levels and improve habitats on which fish rely.

Fish need cool, clean water and diverse habitat that provides protection from predators and places to rest at their juvenile and spawning stages of life in order to survive.

Salmon face many challenges in the Nooksack River system. Juvenile salmon can be killed from fast moving floodwaters in the fall and winter caused by hardened shorelines and levies, large amounts of sediment or debris smothering the eggs, or eaten by predators due to lack of places to hide because there isn’t enough diverse habitat (gravel, boulders, braiding in the river). As adults returning to spawn, salmon often encounter low stream levels making it difficult to make it to spawning grounds leaving them stranded in water temperatures so hot they die. Both of these conditions are exacerbated by climate change. Restoring lost wetlands and returning the river to a more natural state can help create resiliency against climate change impacts.

RE Sources’ goal is to ensure there is enough clean water in our rivers and streams to restore salmon, steelhead, and trout populations to healthy and harvestable levels.

Our water supply is finite — even in the Pacific Northwest where it can rain for days-on-end some parts of the year. Each year, regardless of official drought declarations, the Nooksack River tributaries like Ten Mile and Bertrand Creeks become water-scarce in the summer and early fall when rain tapers off and when farms, fish, and people need it most. And this type of drought is likely to become more commonplace as the climate heats up and Whatcom County’s population rises. We need to prioritize solutions like efficient water use and conservation in the summer and fall and restoration and protection of wetlands and habitat near rivers, so a portion of the Nooksack’s water can stay in the streams to keep them cool and flowing for salmon. Learn more about Whatcom’s water supply.

As an individual, you can be part of the water supply solution. Keep an eye on how much water you use by checking your meter or monthly utility bill and consider incorporating small changes like fixing leaks, taking shorter showers, and doing full loads of laundry. If you water a garden or landscaping in summer, avoid watering in mid day, and consider installing drip irrigation, adding a timer to your watering system, or mulching plants during midsummer, and/or installing a rainwater catchment system off your roof to supplement your outdoor water needs. You can find more tips here.

Whatcom County is taking steps to establish a water efficiency and conservation program county-wide. This work will look at steps rural residents, business and agriculture can take to conserve water and improve water use efficiency. RE Sources is following formation of the Water Conservation Program closely. Join our newsletter list for updates on what you can do to support this critical step in saving water.

Whatcom County’s population is expected to grow by 75,000 in the next 20 years. Without proper foresight, coordination, or funding to plan well for this growth, critical salmon habitat, and sensitive wetland areas (as well as our county’s farmland) risk being overtaken by sprawl and inappropriately sited rural residential development.

RE Sources has worked with the community and decision makers to incorporate stronger protections for critical habitat and management of our water supply into the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan. The Comp Plan informs regulatory policy, budget decisions, and development standards for local government on a 20-year planning horizon and determines how and where our county will direct growth into the future. Read more about our work on the Comp Plan.

RE Sources staff also keep an eye out for development projects that could cause harm to salmon. Read about our recent partnership work to block a potentially devastating mining project in Skagit County.

We also work at the state legislative level to champion policies that not only protect salmon habitat and streams but also restore lost habitat and address threats to salmon recovery. Read more about our legislative action work.

Shorelines (including streams, rivers, lakes, marine shorelines, and adjacent wetlands and uplands) sustain a bounty of aquatic life, filter toxic substances from rain runoff, provide critical habitats, prevent erosion, and moderate impacts from flooding. Contaminants from stormwater runoff, invasive aquatic plants, and toxic algae blooms threaten drinking water and are damaging critical freshwater shorelines and fish habitat. And the threat of more structures like docks, piers, wharfs, floats and ramps would affect eelgrass and kelp beds that provide shelter for forage fish and juvenile salmon — impacting habitat needed to support the food chain that orcas depend on. The Shoreline Management Program dictates what’s allowed to happen within 200 feet of any type of shoreline and some wetlands — that’s a huge portion of Whatcom County, and why your voice is so important to hold county officials accountable for keeping shorelines safe into the future.

Read Executive Director Shannon Wright’s editorial on the subject to learn more: Save Whatcom County money and plan for sea level rise now. 

Our goal is to ensure that the quality of our water is sufficient for current and future uses, including restoring and protecting water quality to meet the needs of salmon and shellfish, contact recreational uses, cultural uses, protection of wildlife, providing affordable, safe domestic water supplies, and other beneficial uses.

From watchdogging permits to conducting pollution patrols RE Sources has been working to protect Whatcom County water quality for over 20 years. To learn more about our work to protect water quality and prevent pollution visit our Fighting Pollution page. Learn more about pollution permits and opportunities to provide public comment through the Watchdogging Permits page.

The Cooke Aquaculture net pen collapse at Cypress Island showed our communities the damage that aquaculture-raised Atlantic Salmon can have on wild fish populations when the damaged pen released over 200,000 non-native fish into the Salish Sea in August 2017. Net pens introduce further stresses on wild salmon with the threats of disease and competition for food, in addition to untreated wastewater. Within six months of the disaster, RE Sources and partners helped to pass legislation in Washington State to phase out non-native fin fish open-water marine net pens by 2025. We will continue to watchdog the remaining leases as the phase out proceeds and keep a watch for new permit requests for similar projects.

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Nooksack Watershed Environmental Caucus Meetings

Join an engaged group of local environmental advocates and organizations that are working to protect and restore the Nooksack River watershed (also known as Water Resource Inventory Area 1 or WRIA 1). We meet monthly on the third Monday at 3pm in RE Sources’ Community Library. All are welcome to join and participate so long as our group vision resonates with you: We envision a future Whatcom County where our community is unified in restoring and protecting a resilient ecosystem as our highest priority.

Questions? Want to join? Contact Karlee Deatherage here.