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The Planet
May 1999 Volume 6, Number 4

Can Saving Salmon Help Stop Sprawl?

by John Rosapepe

Consider these two arduous journeys: the upstream migration of salmon, rushing to their birthplaces to spawn, and the asphalt migration of commuters, fuming through rush-hour traffic to get home to their families.

Imagine that one action could make both trips easier.

Enter the March 16 listing of the Puget Sound chinook salmon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Area politicians, who attacked the spotted owl listing in the 1980s, hailed the salmon listing as an opportunity. The listing, they said, could not only protect and restore clean water and salmon habitat, but curb suburban sprawl and its accompanying congestion, pollution and impact on quality of life.

"By saving the salmon," Seattle Mayor Paul Schell said, "we may very well be saving ourselves."

Puget Sound chinook salmon were among nine Northwest salmonid populations listed in March as threatened or endangered. Also listed were chum, chinook and steelhead on different reaches of the Columbia River, steelhead and chinook on the upper Willamette River, and chum on the Olympic Peninsula.

Puget Sound chinook runs, which numbered over 700,000 at the turn of the century, have fallen to less than 40,000 in recent years. Also known as king, chinook salmon can grow to more than 100 pounds and leap rapids eight feet high.

"The listings should have an impact on our ever-increasing sprawl," said Gail Twelves, chair of the Cascade Chapter's Sammamish Group. "We have been battling King County officials to make sure land-use policies rein in the spread of impervious surfaces - like parking lots and subdivisions - and insure instream flows. This will help us do that." The solution, said Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club's Northwest regional director, lies in doing lots of things a little better - like requiring wider buffer zones and keeping concrete farther away from our rivers and streams, protecting salmon from stormwater runoff and targeting and permitting development only in ecologically appropriate areas. "What if those of us who drive took public transit once a week?" he said. "That one step could add up to a 20 percent improvement."

Unfortunately, the Washington state legislature continues to pretend the crisis doesn't exist or blames the listing on predators or bad ocean conditions.

Legislators have voted down funding to clean up more than 600 degraded waterways and are pushing a backroom deal that would give windfall tax incentives for Big Timber and fail to protect salmon habitat.

Though Gov. Gary Locke (D) has the right patter - "Extinction is not an option" - he has failed to provide the leadership or use his political clout to secure necessary protections.

Salmon advocates are urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop new rules that protect salmon and allow the species to recover. What the agency does here can set a standard - good or bad - for salmon recovery along the entire West Coast.

Bill Feddeler, vice chair of the Loo-Wit Group, which calls the lower reaches of the Columbia River its home, hopes the listings will light a fire under government officials who have ignored the demise of salmon and steelhead.

"Our group has been trying to educate people about watersheds and how activities both upstream and downstream affect riparian areas and water quality and salmonids," said Feddeler. "In our programs in the local schools, students study sections of the rivers and get involved in solving the problems they encounter."

To take action: Contact George Frampton, Council of Environmental Quality, Old Executive Office Building, Room 360, Washington, DC 20502; (202) 456-6224. Remind him that salmon are an irreplaceable part of America's wild heritage and that the administration must set standards that will recover salmon.

For more information: Contact John Rosapepe or Bill Arthur at (206) 378-0114;,; or Rebecca Sayre at (206) 523-7147, John Rosapepe is an Environmental Public Education Campaign Organizer for the Sierra Club.

Go on to the next article, "Budget Battle Begins Again"

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