Washington State created an unprecedented grassroots process to help navigate its way through one of the most complex Endangered Species Act recovery planning efforts in the nation.
At the heart of this effort are “lead entities"—watershed-based groups—established by law (RCW 77.85.050) to engage citizen volunteers and develop local solutions to the problems facing native salmon.
With strong salmon recovery plans and their associated on-the-ground projects, habitat is being recovered, salmon populations are being restored, and watershed health is improving.
When the federal government listed salmon populations under the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s, Washington chose to write its own recovery plans. Instead of submitting to a top-down federal approach, the legislature developed a means to keep salmon recovery under local control.
Now, lead entities coordinate the work of thousands of volunteers and professionals who are carrying out those recovery plans to restore salmon to Washington’s rivers and streams.
WHAT DO LEAD ENTITIES DO?
Twenty-five state-recognized lead entities are contracted through Washington’s Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO). The lead entities coordinate the identification and prioritization of salmon habitat projects.
As Deschutes WRIA 13 Salmon Habitat Recovery Committee Lead Entity, we bring together tribes, federal and state agencies, local governments, citizens, non-profits, businesses, and technical experts to make local decisions about how best to recover salmon — through identification and prioritization of salmon habitat projects. Our area of focus, Deschutes WRIA 13, encompasses freshwater streams in Thurston and Lewis counties that drain into Budd, Eld, and Henderson Inlets — including 121 miles of fish-bearing streams and 70 miles of shoreline.
The grant applicants that lead entities recruit are typically local governments, regional fisheries enhancement groups, conservation districts, tribes, state agencies, community groups, land trusts, and other local organizations.
While this process requires ongoing and consistent coordination at the community level, in each of 25 watersheds across the state, the collective response has been exceptional.
These partnerships, together with critical support from federal and state governments and regional salmon recovery organizations, have helped Washington communities improve conditions for salmon.
These partnerships have undertaken local projects to:
Remove barriers to fish migration
Reestablish habitat for salmon where it has been lost
Reconnect rivers and floodplains to improve natural processes and reduce flood risks
Replant river banks to make the conditions better for wildlife and salmon.
Due to this persistent, decade-long effort, Washington is beginning to see some wild salmon populations improve.