The cumulative impact of good conservation work | Editorial

The region’s salmon are a powerful emblem, a metaphor for life in the Pacific Northwest. As fish go, they’re mighty creatures — wide-ranging and strong, dramatic and almost mythic in the sweep of their lives.

And because of the complexity of their life cycle, their habitat needs are varied and vast. They’re born in freshwater streams, linger as juveniles in saltwater estuaries, then venture into the wide-open waters of Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean for several years before returning to their natal stream to spawn and die.

Protect habitat for salmon, and you’ve safeguarded places that a wide range of animals need. Protect habitat for salmon, and you’re protecting the maritime Northwest.

Vashon factors into this picture in a significant way. In central Puget Sound, we’re very nearly it — one of the few places left with long stretches of unarmored shoreline, healthy eelgrass beds and saltwater-inundated estuaries.

And thanks in large part to the diligence of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust and King County, Vashon offers up another critical piece in this complex picture — miles of clean, naturally flowing freshwater streams where central Puget Sound salmon can find the gravel beds they need to lay their eggs.

The land trust and the county have been working methodically to protect Judd Creek, our biggest watershed, for the last several years, piecing together a mosaic of properties that is beginning to represent serious and far-reaching conservation.

Taken individually, these purchases along Judd Creek don’t capture the same kind of attention as other conservation efforts. The restoration work that follows — building fences, for instance, to keep cattle out of the stream — is tedious and slow-going.

But the cumulative impact of this work is significant. As a result of the combined efforts of the county and the land trust, two miles of Judd Creek and its tributaries are now protected. Thousands of native trees and shrubs have been planted. Cattle are no longer wading through the stream. And this year, more than ever, there’s indication this work is beginning to pay off.

The dramatic increase in coho salmon — a run considered highly imperiled — is likely due to La Niña-influenced ocean conditions, a change in water temperatures that is producing more prey for salmon and pushing the coho farther south. What’s exciting is that those fish have decent habitat to return to: a stream with plenty of gravel, clean water, pools and eddies, overhanging trees and shrubs.

So if you find yourself near the shores of Judd Creek with a few minutes to spare, walk along its bank and peer into its clear waters. And should you see one, cheer for that coho salmon, a symbol of ecological repair in a wounded world.


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