With salmon runs waning throughout Washington State, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz is asking legislators for $90 million to restore fish habitat — including nearly $4.5 million for projects in Lewis County.
The bulk of the local funding would be put toward restoring habitat in the hands of private landowners and removing barriers to fish passage that have choked the path of salmon moving upstream.
“The Family Forest Fish Passage Program and Forest Riparian Easement Program are two important ways to help increase salmon runs and protect water quality throughout Washington,” Franz said in a statement provided to The Chronicle. “These investments will support Lewis County landowners and community members while also helping protect our region’s iconic fish for future generations.”
The riparian easement funding will pay landowners who have opted to sign onto the plan not to harvest the trees near waterways that form an important part of the riparian ecosystem. Property holders will receive at least 50 percent of the trees’ timber value to leave the areas free of cutting.
In Lewis County, 23 parcels would be included in that program under the plan Franz has asked the Legislature to fund. County landowners would be paid more than $3.2 million for the easements, with payments ranging from $8,000 to just more than $1 million. Included properties would span the county, from Pe Ell to Packwood.
The other main component, designed to improve fish passage, would pay for the replacement of salmon-blocking culverts on private lands. Nine such culverts would be replaced in Lewis County, at a cost of $125,000 apiece and $1.125 million total. Those projects would also be spread throughout the county, from Centralia to Winlock to the area near Eatonville.
Both the easement and culvert programs are opt-in, meaning the landowners slated to be part of the projects have applied and been accepted for the funding by DNR.
Meanwhile, Franz’s proposal also calls for the relocation of access to the “E Line” road in Capitol State Forest, a major timber-hauling and recreational route. The $340,000 slated for that project would move it away from a culvert that is currently impeding fish passage.
Another $100,000 would go toward improving road drainage and stream crossings in the Tahoma State Forest, as well as replacing a salmon-blocking culvert with a short bridge.
The overall proposal, designed to help restore salmon runs, is also intended to help Puget Sound’s struggling southern resident orcas, whose population has dwindled, in part because of the salmon shortage.
“The struggle of many of Washington’s native species requires us to make immediate and significant investments in restoring our waterways and landscapes,” Franz said in a statement.