Press Release:


Obscure salmon struggles to survive
Last updated August 2, 2007 5:02 p.m. PT

Beneath the surface of Lake Sammamish, a little slice of Washington's native salmon legacy is silently struggling to survive. Far from the minds of the water skiers and too few to register much of a blip on anglers' fish finders, the native run of Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon languishes in relative obscurity compared with the lake's other attractions.

Once so common that our ancestors harvested them to fertilize gardens, fewer than 1,000 remain today. The largest run of native kokanee in Issaquah Creek quietly blinked into extinction a few years ago, while the responsible federal agency did nothing to respond to citizen cries to protect them.

Today we have another chance to save a remaining native run of Lake Sammamish kokanee and, in doing so, preserve and restore another chapter in Washington's salmon tradition that would otherwise merely become a part of its history. We should not squander the chance to act this time.

Because of its acute need for cold, clean water and intact, healthy habitat, kokanee -- landlocked cousins of sea-going sockeye -- are indicators of a healthy watershed, and, conversely, their disappearance is among the first signals that something of ecological importance has gone wrong or has gone missing. That signal amplifies as it moves downstream toward Puget Sound. A healthy watershed fosters a healthy community and a functioning ecosystem that reaps economic and quality-of-life benefits throughout, for all its residents and visitors. That means not just the kokanee, but chinook, steelhead, whales and people.

The Lake Sammamish kokanee have survived this long facing much of the worst that human progress can dish out, even when it is exacerbated by Mother Nature's torrent. This past fall, it was amazing that a few of the little red fish made it up the rushing water to spawn, and even more surprising, their nests of eggs were not all washed away in the floods. They have hung on despite the worst of our land-use decisions, pollution and heating of the cool water they require, and now they are migrating to Lake Sammamish only to face ever-warmer waters and predatory warm water fish.

Rather than see how much more the kokanee can take, it seems like now would be a good time to offer these great fish some much-needed help.

Although a number of individuals and organizations in the basin are doing good things for kokanee, and the kokanee are responding, we can do more. Merely dodging their extinction for a few more years should not be the goal here; rather, real and lasting recovery should be.

Recently, a number of organizations, including ours, filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Lake Sammamish kokanee under the Endangered Species Act. Giving these fish that safety net will bring together current activities aimed at saving the fish, and encourage others to join us.

We failed to act sufficiently in time for the Issaquah Creek stock, and the result is that it is now a part of our unfortunate history with salmon. But we certainly have the time and the means to act to save the remaining stocks, and to keep another critical part of Washington's native salmon legacy going. This time, we should remember the Lake Sammamish kokanee in time to act, not just remember them in history.

Mark Taylor is president of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited. Matt Mattson is tribal administrator of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe. Other authors of this essay are Joanna Buehler, president, Save Lake Sammamish, and Kathy Fletcher, executive director, People for Puget Sound.

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