Lake Sammamish earns federal designation

September 17, 2013

By Ari Cetron

Lake Sammamish is one of only two places in the nation to earn a new federal designation. While the details of the program are unclear, it seems to mean that local officials will get some federal help in explaining the importance of the lake and its ecosystem.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has placed Lake Sammamish, and Masonville Cove in Baltimore, in its Urban Partnership Program, according to Denise Hawkins, of fish and wildlife.

The idea for the program came from the group that designates wildlife refuges. Typically, that means designating huge tracts of land as a refuge in order to protect wildlife habitat, Hawkins said. These typically end up in more rural areas, so in order to allow more people to be able to visit an area and learn about it, they decided to work in more populous settings.

Hawkins said the designation does not involve any additional regulations being slapped on property owners; it was simply to help provide information.

Toward that end, the federal government is spending $30,000 to fund early planning of the project around Lake Sammamish, which might help people better understand and enjoy the lake and its wildlife.

Local officials were happy to get the help.

“This initial funding is really a huge step for us,” said David St. John, of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

The money will allow county and local officials to work on setting priorities and determining points of interest. St. John said that eventually the program could lead to a host of different programs. Interpretive signs could be one aspect of the program, St. John said, along with things like boardwalks and viewing platforms that could allow people to access areas they might not otherwise be able to reach.

“I think we’re trying to reach beyond the traditional kiosk idea,” Hawkins said.

One of the components will certainly focus on kokanee salmon, St. John said. He is also a member of a kokanee work group that has been studying the salmon and trying to find ways to help a fish that a few years ago was on the brink of extinction.

Now, the work group is engaged in a host of projects to help the salmon habitat. Members have been working to help refurbish drainage culverts from streams that flow into the lake, including Zaccuse, Ebright and Lewis creeks.

Hawkins was supportive of helping the kokanee, but she noted that the project would likely be larger.

“The information we’re hoping to supply will go beyond the little red fish,” she said.

Both Hawkins and St. John noted the plans are preliminary. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hosting a conference in West Virginia from Sept. 23-25, when they hope to hash out more details.


Kokanee comeback

A few years ago, the kokanee salmon native to Lake Sammamish seemed on the brink of extinction, with only a few hundred returning to local streams. Last year, that turned around and about 15,000 fish — the highest number on record — came back up the streams, according to David St. John, of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

St. John said about 10 percent of the fish came from the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.

If these numbers keep up, he said, there might be some changes on the lake. People who study the salmon are trying to determine how many fish they need to see to consider the population self-sustaining. Another possible step could be to allow salmon fishing in the lake, something that’s been forbidden while the numbers are low.

St. John cautioned they would need data through at least 2020 before they could have enough information to make a determination.


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