Small forest owners key to helping salmon

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This is the time of year when many communities across our state hold their annual salmon festivals, and anglers are starting to enjoy our fall salmon runs.

Large, recent salmon habitat restoration projects like the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Olympic Peninsula get a lot of well-deserved attention. As we celebrate our salmon and work to restore their runs, it is easy to forget that small woodland owners play an equally important role.

Why, you ask? Small woodland owners comprise 3.2 million acres of Washington’s forests — about half the private forestland in the state.

Their income helps contribute to the state’s annual $16 billion forestry economy and helps sustain many rural communities. At the same time, these family forests provide cold, clean water to thousands of miles of fish-bearing streams.

Crossing those streams, in many cases, are roads. Road culverts and other stream-crossing structures that are aging, too small, or improperly installed can block fish from reaching their spawning grounds.

The same barriers then confound the migration of young salmon from forest streams to the ocean.

Responsible owners of small woodlands and forests have been working with the state to take action. Since 2003, nearly 200 landowners have taken advantage of a state program that has replaced 232 barriers and opened more than 485 miles of stream habitat — 485 miles, that’s about the width of our state and back again.

We’re poised to do a whole lot more.

To help protect salmon and maintain the economic benefits of these lands, state Forest Practices Rules require forest landowners to address fish barriers by 2016. That deadline is not far off.

Recognizing that eliminating these barriers can be costly for the small woodland owner, the 2003 Legislature established the Family Forest Fish Passage Program. The program provides 75 to 100 percent of the cost of correcting a barrier by installing a new, fish-passable culvert or bridge.

Thanks to a new round of funding from the Legislature, Washington state Department of Natural Resources through the Small Forest Landowner Office will complete at least 100 of these projects over the next two years.

Considering that each replacement project creates construction jobs, the Family Forest Fish Passage Program is a helpful boost to many rural communities.

What’s needed now is a large pool of applicants seeking funding so the most significant of the remaining stream barriers can be corrected.

Because the barriers are prioritized and repaired on a “worst-first” basis, not every landowner who applies and enrolls in the program receives funding immediately. All the same, there is an important reason for landowners to sign up: those enrolled in the program get a pass on the 2016 deadline until the state provides them with financial assistance.

If you are a small woodland owner with a road-crossing structure, such as a culvert, then consider applying to the Family Forest Fish Passage Program.

Find more information through DNR’s Small Forest Landowner Office at: www.dnr.wa.gov/sflo or call 360-902-1404.

Aaron Everett is a forester with the Washington state Department of Natural Resources.

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