Resource Challenge The Skagit is the third largest river on the west coast of the lower 48 states and drains more than 2,000,000 acres. It is home to some of the largest and healthiest populations of salmon in the contiguous United States. It produces eight species of anadromous salmonids, comprising about 30 percent of all anadromous fish entering Puget Sound. While it is considered one of the healthier rivers in the region, it has experienced significant habitat degradation and loss, especially in the floodplain and lower basin where much of the development has occurred. In the middle and upper basin, timber management, road building, hydroelectic dams and residential development have led to much of the habitat loss and degradation of natural landscape processes such as sediment delivery and hydrology. Much of the residential, agricultural, and commerical development has occurred in the Skagit delta, resulting in an estimated 72% loss of the historic estuarine-deltaic wetlands. All of this development has had significant impact on the habitats used by salmon, including federally threatened chinook and bull trout. Because of the size and importance of the basin, a multitude of actors have been involved in habitat protection and restoration over the last couple decades. However, until the formation of the Skagit Watershed Council, these activities largely occurred independent of one another and tended to be more opportunistic than strategically focused using a watershed-wide perspective.
Examples of Key Partners The Skagit Watershed Council has grown from 13 organizations in 1997 to 40 member organizations including private industrial and agricultural interests, state and federal agencies, local governments, tribes and environmental and citizen-based groups. Member organizations comprising the Board of Directors are: Skagit County, Skagit River System Cooperative, Skagit Conservation District, US Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, Seattle City Light, Long Live the Kings, and the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.
Results and AccomplishmentsThrough the establishment of a natural-process-based scientific framework and the rigorous screening of projects proposed for salmon recovery funding, the Council has succeeded in making overall basin-wide restoration efforts more effective. The Council has also successfully established a sustainable process for watershed-scale collaboration among a diverse group of organizations. Projects that have been screened by the Council compete more effectively for funding due to the strong scientific scrutiny they have passed. More salmon recovery funding (>$15 million for 51 projects in five years) has been passed through the Skagit Watershed Council than any other such watershed organization in the state of Washington. The standards for the types, location and quality of restoration projects in the basin have been raised and few entities continue to pursue purely opportunistic projects. Duplication of effort amongst groups has been reduced and there are a growing number of collaborative partnerships in the basin that reach well beyond salmon recovery. On the ground the result of these partnerships has been hundreds of acres of high quality habitat have been protected, dozens of miles of forest roads have been treated to reduce the amount of sediment being delivered to the river, many miles of stream have been made accessible to fish, hundreds of acres of riparian forest have been replanted and vital tidal marsh habitats are being restored.
The Council has moved a diverse membership from a largely opportunistic approach to salmon habitat restoration and protection to a coordinated, strategic, watershed-scale approach.