May 7, 2013

By Staff

Kokanee Work Group progress is heartening

A few years ago, the news about the kokanee salmon was pretty uniformly discouraging. Now, thanks largely to the efforts of the Kokanee Work Group, the fish species seems like it might be taking a step back from the brink.

Old-timers will tell you about the days when the streams running into Lake Sammamish were so thick with fish returning to spawn, you could practically walk across the water on their backs.

As years went by, the salmon suffered. Exploding development, particularly in the late 20th century, degraded streams and likely exacerbated a series of infamous algae blooms in the lake.

A few years ago, as few as 100 salmon fry were counted making their way into Lake Sammamish, where kokanee spend their adult lives. In spite of the low numbers, the federal government refused to designate the kokanee as an endangered species.

Things did not look good for our local salmon.

A group of local governments and individuals stepped in to try and save the fish.

The Issaquah Salmon Hatchery began a breeding program.

Local governments learned from the mistakes of the past and continue to require new developments to protect water quality, among other efforts. Individual residents also pitched in, particularly Sammamish’s Wally Pereya, who spent $175,000 of his own money to improve the stretch of Ebright Creek that flows across his property.

These efforts have paid off. In December, officials counted more than 1,000 fry swimming into the lake — an order of magnitude above the counts only a few years prior.

It’s easy to dismiss the countless task forces, work groups and fact-finding commissions that government spawns. Many are feel-good enterprises that produce reports destined to gather dust. The Kokanee Work Group, however, seems to be one example of a group that works. While it was denied help from the federal government, it has managed to leverage the efforts of other levels of government, private groups and private citizens to produce tangible results.

This success story is helping the fish and the environment.


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