Chinook recovery hits 10-year mark

Chinook salmon in King County are celebrating an anniversary, but they have no idea it's so important to their future.

Chinook salmon in King County are celebrating an anniversary, but they have no idea it's so important to their future. The Chinook Recovery Plan just hit its 10-year mark, with nearly 100 projects completed.

One of them is the Rainbow Bend project on the Cedar River.

"You can imagine if you were a salmon the size of my pinky-finger how hard it would be to swim in this current," ecologist Josh Latterell said, while trying hard to stand in a swift current. "They just can't do it."

For decades, spawning was nearly impossible at that section of the river.

"About eight years ago now, if you were walking with me you would've seen about 50 mobile homes," explained King County Councilman Reagan Dunn.

Dunn remembers when the area was covered with homes that flooded every few years. The levee that was built to control it destroyed fish habitat.

"People would experience water levels much higher than we have right here like this," said Salmon Recovery Manager for the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz.

Representatives from 28 local governments set out to help humans and fish with the same project. They bought the land and helped residents relocate.

"But if you're going to spend the money to do that, for an extra 2-3-4-5% you can create really impressive natural areas with multiple benefits," Dunn said.

That's exactly what they did. First, they removed the levee. That allowed the river to carve its own path with logjams that make it easier for small fish to swim.

The Rainbow Bend project is just one of 85 completed as a part of King County's Chinook Recovery Plan.

"We have 1,200 in our plan, so while we've done a lot of great work, there's a lot left to do," said Mulvihill-Kuntz.

The next thousand will be complex like this one. So ecologists are studying what worked here. The Cedar River's adult salmon stock has nearly doubled since work began.

"This is a good example of working with nature instead of fighting against it," Latterell said.

The updates to the Chinook Recovery Plan will finalize next year.  So far, officials have spent $25 million in state, federal, and local funding.


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