State Begins to Remove Barriers to Salmon Habitat

Jun 16, 2014

After a long, costly and fruitless legal struggle with Indian tribes over salmon habitat, the state of Washington is setting up a new board to oversee removal of fish barriers in the state's streams. It's called the Fish Passage Barrier Removal Board.

Its members are charged with finding ways to remove barriers, largely road culverts on state, local and private lands which prevent steelhead and salmon from returning to their customary spawning grounds. And there are a lot of barriers - something on the order of 30,000 culverts, mostly in western Washington, which block migrating fish.

The board was formed by the last legislature after a final appeal of a federal court injunction against the state failed.

The issue has been kicking around in federal court for at least 13 years. Finally, last year a Seattle federal judge told the state it must act.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission hailed the decision, but charged that state officials bloated estimates to fix culverts. The late Indian rights activist, Billy Frank, said the state claimed the average cost to replace a culvert is more than 2-million dollars. But he said evidence in the case showed the actual cost is about $658,000.

Under the bill approved by the legislature, the state Department of Transportation will have 17 years to tear out or modify culverts, starting with projects that will most immediately aid salmon recovery.

Board membership includes the Indian Fisheries Commission, along with the Yakima and Colville tribes.