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Responding to a request from the Vashon Island Audubon Society and the
Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, Washington Trout is surveying Vashon
Island streams to identify which are being used by salmon and trout. The
streams of Vashon Island have historically provided habitat for sea-run
cutthroat trout, coho, and other salmon. Sea-run cutthroat populations have
severely declined in Puget Sound, and Puget Sound coho are a candidate for
listing under the Endangered Species Act. The community groups are concerned
about the effects that development and other land use practices are having on
the Islandís native salmon and trout streams.
In Washington, the degree of protection afforded streams depends on how they are classified by the Department of Natural Resources. All rivers and streams are identified under five "types." Type-one, -two, and -three streams are fish-bearing. Type-four and -five streams are non fish-bearing. Accurate stream typing is essential to protecting fish and their habitats. For example, riparian buffer zones required on type-two streams may be smaller on type-three streams or may only be voluntary on type-four streams. Buffers are generally not required at all on type-five streams.
DNRís original stream typing underestimated the actual miles of fish-bearing streams by almost 50% statewide. Little on the ground verification was done, and thousands of miles of streams were incorrectly typed and mapped throughout the state. Put simply, streams that needed protection did not get it, and hundreds of miles of wild salmon and trout habitat in Washington have been lost forever. In 1997, responding to data from Washington Trout and Quinault tribal biologists, DNR implemented an emergency ruling that revised their physical standards for fish bearing streams. However, the ruling is applicable only to forest practices. Most county and local governments rely on old, often inaccurate water typing maps. Many streams in areas facing impending development are still not being adequately protected.
Under our Habitat Lost and Found Project, WT has carried out stream-typing surveys on over 4000 streams throughout Washington, upgrading the status of thousands of fish-bearing streams. In the spring of 1999, Rayna Holtz, president of Vashon Island Audubon Society, contacted WT to request a stream-typing survey on Vashon Island. The Audubon chapter and the Community Council pledged volunteer time and $1600 in cash toward the project, and last fall WT secured an additional $5000 grant from the Trout and Salmon Foundation to fund the field work. This spring, King County pledged additional money to supplement the fieldwork and to collate data collected in the stream-typing surveys into Geographic Information System (GIS) files. Field work was originally scheduled for ten days in June, 2000 and was extended an extra week to include surveys on streams that do not appear on current DNR Base Maps.
Vashon Island is relatively small (approx. 30 sq. miles), drained by typically small, low gradient streams, many shorter than 1/4 mile. Many of Vashonís streams are currently classified as non fish-bearing and only a handful of the relatively larger streams are classified as type-three or above. These types of small, isolated drainages have often been overlooked or written off. But many of Vashon Islandís streams are known to harbor populations of sea-run cutthroat and coho salmon, and could potentially harbor populations of pink and chum salmon as well. Many potentially fish-bearing streams on the Island are currently unclassified or not identified on maps at all, and qualify for no legal or regulatory protection whatsoever.
Washington Trout crews are surveying all of Vashon Islandís streams according to Timber, Fish & Wildlife protocols, physically walking and recording habitat notes for each stream (including data on stream substrate, riparian habitat, gradient, barriers to fish migration, species encountered, etc.), verifying fish presence by visual observation or by electro-fishing. By June 13, crews had surveyed almost 50 streams on the Island. Theyíve found evidence to upgrade the classification of twelve streams from non fish-bearing to fish-bearing. Nine streams (Robinwood; Green Valley; Baldwin; Dilworth; Gorsuch; Glen Acres; Tsugwalla; Paradise Cove; one unnamed creek) will be upgraded from type-four to type-three, and three (MacLeod; McCormick; one unnamed creek) will be upgraded from type-five to type-three.
Crews have also collected data to upgrade two sections of Fisher Creek, one of the Islandís larger systems, to type-two. Lower Fisher will be upgraded from a type-three to a type-two stream based on significant anadromous fish use (by sea-run cutthroat trout). Sections of upper Fisher Creek will be upgraded to type-three from type-four and type-nine (untyped), and another unmarked section will be upgraded to a type-two water supply. Ellis Creek, identified as a type-four stream on the DNR base map, will be upgraded to a type-two water supply. WT crews found fish all the way to a fish-blocking diversion dam on Ellis Creek, indicating that without the barrier, the creek could be providing even more fish habitat. So far WT has found evidence of coho in at least one stream, and substantial use by sea-run cutthroat trout throughout the islandís streams. WDFW records indicate that coho and chum salmon have historically used several island streams.
When the field surveys are completed and the data analyzed, the results will be submitted to DNR to amend water-type maps and distributed to any interested state or local government agencies. If the results of the survey are not successfully challenged within 30 days, the relevant streams will immediately receive new, stricter protections, without any lengthy and costly judicial, administrative, or legislative processes. The classifications will also be translated into King county Sensitive Area Ordinance (SAO) designations. Under the SAO, streams upgraded to type-three and type-two on the DNR Base Map will be categorized as Class Two streams (with salmonids), and qualify for protections that include 100 foot stream buffers.
With funding from King County, WT will collate survey and GPS data collected by our field crews, and create multiple GIS layers and shape files that will include the new stream designations, the location of fish barriers, and other important information. The layers will be incorporated into GIS maps and other products that can be readily accessed, analyzed, and updated by WT, King County, and any other entity interested in a complete, accurate assessment of Vashon Islandís watersheds.
Many of the type-four and -five streams that drain directly to the shoreline around the island may have been possible over-wintering habitat for juvenile fish, but are now completely blocked from estuaries and near-shore habitats by bulkheads and culverts. During the course of the surveys, crews identified scores of other fish barriers caused by derelict water supply systems. Many currently used water systems, including the Countyís, are barriers as well.
Water use may be a significant limiting factor for the Islandís native fish. Water supply systems block fish migration and alter the hydrology of the streams. Current maps do not even show the source points for many streams (springs), many of which are type-two water supplies. The Islandís streams are almost entirely fed by ground water, and the decreased average flow in many streams may be evidence that Vashon Islandís aquifers are being depleted. Water District 19 diverts a substantial amount of water from Beall Creek, on the eastern side of the Island. They have maintained that Beall is non fish-bearing and in past years they have significantly de-watered the stream (even though it is already classified as type-two). Contrary to the Districtís claim, WT crews found fish in Beall Creek right up to the water-diversion barrier.
The Benefits of Community Commitment
The Vashon Audubon chapterís initial interest in the project was sparked by questions from landowners that wanted to know whether fish still used the streams on their property. They wanted to know whether factors such as logging, culverts, development, or greater seasonal water flow fluctuations had degraded the streams or hurt the fish that use them. Rayna Holtz sees the stream surveys as an effort by and for the landowners along the Islandís streams.
According to Holtz, many Vashon Island landowners are proud stewards of their streams, but are concerned about impacts above and below their property boundaries. The Audubon chapter wanted to acquire a factual baseline for the whole community to use in making land use decisions that involve streams.
Through Washington Troutís involvement, conservation-minded landowners have the service of experts to help them evaluate the health of their stream, what fish use it, where problems exist, and how much additional habitat could be opened by fixing the problems. Knowing the facts will help them write grants or recruit volunteers to help work on restoration and preservation projects. Development-minded stream owners get free information they need to apply for permits to develop their property, information they would otherwise pay hundreds of dollars to get through the services of a professional biologist/consultant.
Audubon volunteers have put in hundreds of hours raising money and publicizing the stream surveys, contacting landowners to get permission to survey streams on private property, and guiding the WT team. The Audubon chapter expects to put in many more hours disseminating the information gathered in the surveys. Many landowners have voluntarily welcomed the WT team, in many cases accompanying them, showing them stream features, asking for advice and information. The cooperation of these stream owners has made it possible to look at key parts of nearly every single stream on the island, and in most cases the entire length of the year-round streams.
Vashon Island is susceptible to the same rapid growth pressures being suffered throughout the Greater Puget Sound area. Residents and community groups on the Island are concerned about the pace and direction of that development, and want all the Islandís streams accurately classified and adequately protected. They know that wild native fish use the Islandís streams, and they understand the contribution those fish make to the quality of life on the Island.
They did not, however, have the equipment or expertise to demonstrate how and where fish use Vashon Islandís streams, or the clout needed to persuade state or county authorities to step in. Washington Trout does have the knowledge and experience, and we were excited to respond to the communityís request for help. The streams of Vashon Island - and their native fish populations - will benefit from the commitment of the Islandís residents.