The Policy Protection and Value Attributed to Chinook Salmon and Insects in the Chambers-Clover Creek Watershed
By Makaela Whalen
The Chambers-Clover Creek Watershed is enhanced by the wildlife it offers a sanctuary to. Whether it be the ducks at Spanaway Lake or the seals at Chambers Bays, they are part of the life that is breathed into this ecosystem. Yet, human actions are constantly placing these vibrant creatures in danger, making measures to address these harms and protect the wildlife increasingly important. Policy protections are a key part of these measures.
Legislature and policy protection for wildlife aides this struggle in many ways. It is a declaration that these animals matter, and helps to block harmful actions that might be taken against them. This further allows for a legal response to the problems that have already happened, like when the Endangered Species Act stopped the harm levied upon the bald eagles of Chambers Bay. Policies also build the framework for the governmental action that is undertaken to protect animals. They provide the foundation for the organizations, such as the Chambers-Clover Creek Watershed Council, that are tasked with the complicated work of sustaining a healthy population level. These policies also provide the funding that enables programs such as the one that have allowed elementary classes to raise and release salmon. Policy protections are an important step of wildlife protection across the world and in our own watershed.
Even with this understanding of the importance of wildlife and the policies to protect them, there are a few questions. What values shape these policies? How effective are such policies at protecting wildlife? To consider this, two native examples, the Chinook salmon and the invertebrates that spend at least a portion of their lives in water, simply to be referred to as insects, are to be reflected upon. This discussion will begin with an examination of the value placed upon Chinook salmon and insects, leading to an overview of some of the impactful policies that protect them and an analysis related to that second question of how effective they are. All of which leads to further questions that need to be addressed before coming to a close.
The Value of Salmon and Insects
This is not an argument on whether these animals should be valued but an analysis on whether we do, which is not always easily achieved. There is no postcard sent to everyone in the state asking people to rate whether they care about various species on a scale of one to ten. It is shown through actions and words. For example, the amount of care and work put into their preservation or how often the harms they face are discussed. This is important because people generally protect the things they care about.
Chinook salmon are generally valued rather highly. That can be reflected in the fact that there was over a week of activities and events, called the Swan Creek Salmon Challenge, to celebrate the salmon’s return to the park (“Swan Creek Salmon Challenge 2022”). The salmon are also of extreme religious and cultural importance to the Native American Tribes that have lived on this watershed for countless generations. This importance is highlighted in the First Salmon Ceremony, where someone is honored with the task of catching the first salmon of the season that is shared by all before the bones are returned to the river (“First-salmon ceremony”). There are many salmon education and rearing programs that showcase how salmon are valued in Western Washington. After one of these lessons “Ten-year-old Elliot Hougardy, in Hull’s class, said he’s interested in fish because he likes to eat fish and go fishing. ‘It’s cool because you can see all the organs in the fish,’ Hougardy said about the Wednesday presentation. ‘You see how they’re like us and how they’re different’” (Johnston). There is already a great interest in salmon that is also being passed on to the children as they are given a chance to interact and learn about these animals. The great deal of care people generally have for salmon makes the threats they are facing and current status generally well-known.
Insects typically do not have a great deal of value placed upon them. Despite this, they play a key role in the ecosystem including the aid of decomposition, by burrowing into sediments they circle nutrients, and are a key part of the food web as both predator and prey (Covich 112). Not to mention that they are used as an indicator of water quality (Cuffney). To begin, what is a mayfly? Most people understand the basics of what a salmon is, but a likely response to this question would simply be ‘an insect’. There is also a lack of efforts to figure out how widespread the populations are. Two species that are classified to be of the greatest conservation need to serve as examples. Cinygmula gartrelli is a species of mayfly “The population size of Cinygmula gartrelli is low and the trend unknown” (“Mayfly”). Another at risk is a species of caddisfly. “The population size and trend of Allomyia acanthis is unknown in Washington” (Caddisfly). The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website where this information was retrieved did not even have a picture of these specific species but rather used images of other mayfly and caddisfly species as fillers. Neither Cinygmula gartrelli or Allomyia acanthis have a common name. This requires an explanation of taxonomic classifications. They are basic groups that become more and more specific groups at each level until you arrive at the genus and species such as Homo sapien (genus: Homo, species: sapien) which includes humans (the common name) and not another species of ape. Starting with the broadest group, the order of breakdown is: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Mayfly refers to the order of Cinygmula gartrelli, there is not a more specific term to be used to refer to this particular species or even family of mayfly. There is a gap in the value and knowledge of insects that leads to concerns in how effectively they are protected by policies.
The Policies Protecting Salmon and Insects
There are many policies that protect salmon and insects, in both direct and indirect ways, so this is not an all-inclusive list. Yet, this does present an idea of the tools already being used to protect these animals. Which provides the foundation needed for an assessment of how successful such efforts are to be made.
The Endangered Species Act:
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a key piece of federal legislation that provides protection from human activities for species at risk of extinction, defined as endangered or threatened based upon their level of risk. It also requires measures to be taken so that the species can be recovered and eventually delisted. “Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may warrant listing if it is endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Act defines ‘endangered species’ as any species which is ‘in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,’ and ‘threatened species’ as any species which is ‘likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range” (“Endangered and Threatened Wildlife”).
The Chinook salmon population found in the Chambers- Clover Creek watershed is listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act. This bans certain human actions from impacting the survival of this population. It also requires a recovery plan to be made for the population at the local level and provides resources to those projects, both efforts that will be discussed later. Finally, it requires an evaluation of the status of this population every five years ( Johnson 308). This federal policy provides further protection to the Chinook salmon population at a local level.
The mayfly and caddisfly are not protected by the Endangered Species Act, there are several barriers that prevent them from receiving this level of protection despite their estimated low population levels. The first is simply the fact that we do not have good data on their population level. A petition to have a species protected under the ESA requires that some basic background information is included to evaluate whether they should be protected and that includes their population levels. Another problem returns to the idea of taxonomic groups. “The Act authorizes the protection of species, subspecies, and ‘distinct population segments’ of vertebrates, yet only species and subspecies of invertebrates may be protected” (Black 112). The ‘distinct population segments’ portion allows for the Chinook salmon in this watershed to be listed as threatened while others are endangered, threatened as well, or neither. So for the Allomyia acanthis to be listed, the entire species would have to be endangered or threatened and could not be further specified that the ones in this watershed but perhaps another population somewhere else was perfectly fine, resulting in a barrier to their listing. These reasons are perhaps the reason that under the ESA “The USFWS lists 57 insects as either endangered or threatened, whereas the Natural Heritage Program lists 1,697 insects as either critically imperiled or imperiled” (Black 111). So the insects are left out of these measures which could aid them greatly.
The Endangered Species Act is a critical piece of legislation for protecting species and preventing their permanent extinction. However, it does have many weaknesses. There are species that are overlooked. Then the species that are protected are not guaranteed recovery, only the tools to move in that direction.
The Clean Water Act:
There are many policies that protect salmon and insects in indirect ways, often by protecting or restoring the health of their habitat. The Clean Water Act (CWA) is one of many examples of that. It regulates water quality and the pollutants that are discharged into bodies of water. Which, by doing so, creates a less toxic habitat for both species. There are some further points for both salmon and insects in regards to this act. For salmon, a problem remains with dams, as they alter water temperature, depth and speed. This could be alleviated by requiring them to obtain Clean Water Act source permits which would require changing operating practices to alleviate some of the burden placed on the salmon or subject the dam to CWA sanctions (Blumm 10110). Yet, despite a petition and following lawsuit brought by the National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Protection Agency declined to require such permits (Blumm 10110). Insects have received far better results from the Clean Water Act. Though there is not a local study to pull from, one from Lake Erie highlights an effect on a similar species. “In the past few decades, freshwater habitats have received significant remediation as a result of the Clean Water Act’s call for greater ecological integrity; in particular, their biodiversity has increased… Lake Erie’s levels of dissolved oxygen are increasing in its bottom waters, and mayflies are beginning to return to sediments in the shallow western basin that was once thought to be ‘dead’” (Covich 125). These examples bring both concern and hope for the policy protection of these two animals.
There are also several local policies that tie directly to protecting Chinook salmon. The listing of the Chinook salmon under the ESA made the National Marine Fisheries Service publish the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan, which includes the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project. This is an ongoing project to restore the natural processes of nearshore habitat that will extend all the way into the Chambers- Clover Creek Watershed (“Puget Sound Nearshore”). Not to mention that the protection of salmon is a key feature of many tribal treaties (“Saving our struggling salmon”). The city of Tacoma has also “Passed a Critical Area Ordinance requiring projects to consider salmon habitat impacts” (“Get to Know the Salmon”). A recent but yet to pass bill shows that efforts are being continued on this front. The Lorraine Loomis Act requires landowners, private and public, with property along a body of water to create and maintain a riparian buffer zone with a $10,000 a day fine for each violation (“HB 1838: Bill Analysis”). This basically builds a requirement of a tree line along the river or other water body where the salmon live to improve the temperature, which salmon are extremely sensitive to, and other characteristics of the water quality. There are several salmon specific policies that demonstrate some great effort being undergone to restore healthy population levels, the question of how effective they are remains.
There is far less to mention for insect specific policies. Despite low estimates for population size of both the Cinygmula gartrelli and the Allomyia acanthis there are no recovery plans or other measures to protect these species. Both of their Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife pages only offer a mirror image description of threats and actions needed.
Now that several policies have been explained, the main question reemerges: how effective are these policies at protecting these species. To answer that, one must also know the current status of both of these species. “Puget Sound was once home to more populations of Chinook salmon with a greater diversity of traits than we have today. There are currently 22 Chinook populations remaining. It is hard to know precisely, but scientists believe we have lost over 15 Chinook runs and most of those losses were runs that returned in the spring to their spawning ground. Currently, Puget Sound Chinook salmon are at only 10% of historic numbers” (“Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan”). Despite the variety of efforts being undertaken to protect and restore salmon, their numbers remain low. A recent evaluation from the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife still reports the Puget Sound Chinook salmon population found in this watershed as ‘in crisis’ (“Saving our struggling salmon”). The recovery of a declined species is a complicated process. Even as measures are being implemented to protect the species, new threats are emerging, such as increasing human development and climate change. There is also the fact that despite the focus limited only to the Chambers- Clover Creek Watershed there are a variety of actors implementing strategies to help the salmon. Furthermore, just from the governmental side there is a jurisdictional complication. Within this watershed the land is overseen by many municipalities. A section runs through Joint Base Lewis Mcchord, giving that oversight to federal actors. Cities like Tacoma will implement measures to protect the water as it runs through their jurisdiction. Unincorporated land in Spanaway and Parkland will fall to Pierce County. This all makes tracking past and current recovery efforts more difficult. According to the Treaty Tribes in Western Washington (2020) there has “been local success in the recovery of estuarine habitat” but also states that “We know the status quo isn’t working when it comes to salmon recovery. We know what the science says needs to be done. We know that we must move forward together to address habitat because it is the most important action we can take recover salmon”.
As mentioned previously, invertebrate population levels for species of critical concern are unknown. Furthermore, for the Allomyia acanthis “Larvae are undescribed/unknown” (“Washington’s State Wildlife”). This lack of basic information along with the severe lack of policy protection shows how insufficiently they are being protected. However, an acknowledgement must be given to the difficulty of collecting such information. Identifying individual species of insects is more difficult than, for example, identifying different species of elephants or even salmon. It requires some specialization in taxonomic knowledge. Usually these insects are identified at the family level of taxonomic groups, as the Pacific Lutheran University Environmental Methods class does when they collect insect samples from several locations in the watershed each year (data). This is one of the large barriers in preventing the extinction of the insects that are key to the watershed ecosystem.
Through the analysis of the protection for these two animals, a few further questions emerge. A consideration of these questions will be taken because of the importance these variables will have in the future of wildlife protection policy. How does the charisma of an animal species impact its level of consideration and protection? How does one find a balance for a new policy in achieving its goal without suffering major consequences? When is a species recovered?
The Cambridge dictionary defines Charisma as “the ability to attract the attention and admiration of others” (“Charisma | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary”). This can apply to animals as well. Consider going to the zoo on a time limit. There are certain species that most people will take extra pains to go see, like the elephants, and there are others that they would not mind skipping, like the bug house, especially in the absence of butterflies. A series of studies worked to “consider the way in which eight broad taxonomic groups are ‘socially constructed’ by the public in terms of the way they are positively or negatively evaluated and how this relates to the political power associated with their conservation. They found for example, that plants, birds and mammals were valued significantly higher than fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and micro-organisms along a spectrum of preference” (McGinlay 16). The gap in protections between the insects and salmon provide an example of this. So one must be mindful that an entire population is not allowed to fall into extinction simply because they are less pleasing species to humans.
There is a reason that establishing a new policy is a process. It is meant to give a moment for public comment and so that further amendments can be made to address concerns related to new bills. All policies have to try to find a balance of fulfilling their purpose without causing significant negative consequences. The Lorraine Loomis Act that was mentioned previously serves as a good example. The farmers have voiced concerns about the economic impact they will be burdened with as the land that would have been used for agricultural purposes is diverted to serve as part of the riparian zone (“House Rural Development”). With the complications of cause and effect, the impact of one farm going out of business can lead to other food supply issues in the state. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commision remains steadfast in their support for a policy that can restore riparian habitat to improve salmon health, even as they worry that the bill will become too watered down to have that impact as it moves through the legislative process (“NWIFC Tribes Urge Legislature”). This is a complicated process that aims to satisfy conflicting desires, of various degrees, of several stakeholders. The science is also complicated. Riparian zones along the banks of the river where salmon live will improve the fish’s health. Yet, exactly how far out does this zone need to extend? Thirty feet? One hundred feet? Scaled with the size of the water body? Exactly where does it need to go? Are there any locations where a riparian zone would not be needed? This is a constant process of finding the right questions and then working even harder to try to answer them. This search for a balance is no simple task in policy making but a critical one that must be undertaken.
When is a species successfully recovered? That is a more complicated question than one might expect. “Although extinct is a well-defined state, the recovered state is often poorly or vaguely defined; no common agreement exists on how to recognize a successful recovery. The default criterion is often an increase in population size or geographical distribution” (Akcakaya 1130). This is similar to how the Endangered Species Act defines recovered, “a species is recovered when it is neither ‘in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range’ nor likely to become so ‘within the foreseeable future’. Recovery requires both that a species be sufficiently abundant and that the threats it faces are eliminated or managed such that removing the ESA’s protection does not trigger a recurrence of the species’ decline” (Neel 646). Usually a species’ recovery plan sets the levels necessary for delisting. That allows for the specific circumstances to be properly considered. Yet, it also does not give a simple idea of recovery that can be used in general. The bald eagle is one of America’s great stories of success in recovery, yet, this bird was taken off the Endangered Species list prematurely at one point and had to be relisted later before achieving an actual ‘recovery’. For the salmon, some of the habitat in this particular watershed has been altered in extreme ways. The channel that used to run straight through Pacific Lutheran University was cut off and redirected. So how does this impact the salmon’s ability to reach historic population levels and achieve ‘recovery’? The greatest question in regards to recovery is one to ponder as this ideal is continued to be pursued, what is recovery? As well as, will the lack of a specific answer to this impact the ability to reach such an ideal?
This inquiry began as a simple assessment of how well two animals of this watershed were being protected by the measures of several policies. Only this issue was not so simple, the salmon proved that significant efforts do not always ensure recovery. That was just the beginning of many discoveries as this research brought some further questions. The similar gap between the value given to salmon and insects as well as the level of policy protection they each receive urges a consideration of how the charisma of a species impacts its survival. Policies such as the Lorraine Loomis Act require a balance between the interests of many stakeholders to facilitate new ways to protect the salmon and all the creatures of the watershed. Then in asking whether these species have recovered a healthy population level, we are confronted with the lack of an understanding of what recovery actually looks like. Do not forget these questions, but let them linger. For asking these sorts of questions does not always undermine such processes, and in fact, it often paves the road towards improvement.
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