It’s Time to Warrior Up for Salmon

Being Frank

by Ed Johnstone

  Billy Frank Jr. walked on almost 10 years ago, but one of his most powerful lessons lives on — If we want to recover salmon, we must work together. All of us.

The Billy Frank Jr. Salmon Coalition embodies this. It was formed after the former NWIFC chairman’s passing by a group of leaders from all sides of the salmon recovery effort because nobody wants to imagine a world without salmon. The coalition recently launched a campaign inviting every Washingtonian to join them in becoming a Salmon Warrior.

Five first steps are outlined on 1) Commit to one waterway; 2) Understand your impact on the environment; 3) Buy local, eat local; 4) Activate your voice; and 5) Get to know the Salish Sea.

In short, be part of the solution.

Treaty tribes are asking our federal, state and local partners to do the same. Collaborate with us to develop and implement more effective watershed recovery plans for the benefit of all species that depend on a thriving ecosystem.

NWIFC recently updated its riparian management policy statement to intensify the call to align government programs, regulatory authorities and legislation that protect and restore riparian habitat. Every effort must use the best available science — confirmed by affected tribes in each watershed — and comply with water quality standards.

We already know that salmon can’t survive without cool, clean water, and that human development has led to high water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen, insufficient nutrients and increased water pollution. It’s up to all of us to act purposefully, quickly and together to reverse that trend.

Billy said it years ago: We are running out of time.

We need to do more. We know that salmon recovery depends on better protection and restoration of riparian areas with buffers as wide as the tallest possible tree in the area. Best available science has shown us that this site-potential tree height is needed to provide shade from the sun, filter runoff and increase climate resilience.

Unfortunately, not all riparian habitat is protected under existing conservation and recovery plans. Laws such as the Growth Management Act try, at best, to balance development with conservation by trading environmental impacts in one place with restoration somewhere else.

We had an opportunity to make a change a couple of years ago with the Lorraine Loomis Act, but it failed to move through state Legislature. Named for another former NWIFC chair, that bill would have provided financial assistance to help landowners comply with the law and a regulatory backstop for those unwilling to comply.

Without legislation in place, we’re counting on federal and state agencies to work with us to eliminate the statutory and regulatory barriers that slow down riparian restoration project permitting, funding and implementation.

Maintaining vegetated buffers requires a long-term commitment that should be supported with additional funding and increased capacity for regulatory programs. Our state and federal partners can help by providing incentives, flexibility and regulatory certainty to landowners who wish to improve their water-adjacent property with riparian buffers.

In addition, the state departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife must control and prevent nonpoint source pollution and habitat destruction. They have a responsibility to exercise their authority to require best management practices to meet water quality standards for temperature, dissolved oxygen, sediment transport, pathogens, toxics and other habitat impairments.

We already know that recovering salmon isn’t easy, but extinction is not an option. Nobody wants a world without salmon, where the only place we can see them is in a museum. We all have a duty to protect the salmon. To work together. To become Salmon Warriors.


Ed Johnstone is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission ( This column represents the natural resources management interests and concerns of the treaty Indian tribes in western.

Ed Johnstone

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