Freeing the Salmon, Feeding the Orcas

Editors note: In 2019, the Washington state legislature set aside money from its capital budget to help remove the dam. The project is set to begin in 2020.

Across the Puget Sound, salmon populations are facing significant challenges. Adult returning salmon are at a fraction of historic populations and their absence is affecting food chains, ecologies and economies. The salmon are stuck. Since 1962 they have been trapped behind the Middle Fork Nooksack Dam, unable to reach the clean streams and rivers they need for spawning and rearing and return to the Puget Sound.

The Middle Fork Nooksack River Fish Passage Project is a community-supported dam removal that will open 16 miles of critical spawning and rearing habitat, it is one of the quickest, easiest ways to increase wild Chinook by 31 percent, which will assist orca recovery. We need to unstick the salmon, and the only way is by removing the dam. Watch the video below to swim alongside these salmon in their quest to return to the Salish Sea. This project is “shovel-ready”, but it needs political will to push it the last mile. The removal can start as soon as the Washington State Legislature gives it the green light.

In order to take the last step for this important project, the Legislature needs to fully fund the overarching Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) Fund. Read more about this critical Legislature in this op-ed from State Representative Sharon Shewmake here. Washington State Legislature must act, before it is too late for the humans and wildlife who depend on Chinook salmon for their survival.

Paul was dedicated to protecting fragile ecosystems in his home waters and beyond and like all of Paul and Vulcan’s efforts, from day one the effort to remove the Nooksack River Dam was a collaborative process, leveraging public and private partnerships to make public dollars go further and achieve a shared community good. We are teaming up with funders and partners like the City of Bellingham, Lummi Nation, Nooksack Indian Tribe, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Resources Legacy Fund and American Rivers to help free the salmon and get them back to the Sound. We must encourage the Legislature to do their part in this effort to free the salmon. Everyone stands to benefit from this effort, but most importantly, the salmon and the resident orcas who are facing a dark future.