Saving Salmon on the White River in Washington

Today’s guest blog about the #8 White River in Washington- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Dave Seabrook. Dave is a long-time salmon recovery activist in Tacoma, Washington, and a founding board member of the Puyallup Watershed Coalition.

Injuried fish from Buckley Dam rebar, White River, WA | © Russ Ladley

Tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fix the dam and modernize its fish passage system to stop the fish kills on the White River | © Russ Ladley

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Well, the Army – their Corps of Engineers, that is – has let us down. It appears they have violated the law and broken their promises. The result is a slaughter of our threatened White River Spring Chinook salmon – one of the most important salmon population groups in Puget Sound.

They are violating the Endangered Species Act and have failed to keep promises made in the first decade of our new millennium. Replacement of the totally inadequate and outdated (65 years old) fish trap has been neglected, and the resulting fish kill is a clear violation of the law.

The fish trap is a requirement because the Mud Mountain Dam (a large Army Corps flood control project upstream of the trap) cannot accommodate a fish ladder to get the salmon upstream past the dam.

The solution to this problem (which is the responsibility of the Army Corps) is an upgraded fish trap at Buckley Dam. This fish trap’s purpose is to collect the fish. The fish are then hauled up above the dam in trucks where they are released. From here they continue on to their spawning grounds in the upper White, Clearwater, Greenwater, and West Fork of the White rivers and Huckleberry Creek. But the old Buckley trap has become completely overwhelmed by non-endangered fish, thus choking out the endangered Chinook salmon.

Salmon live in the freshwater of our rivers and streams, but they also live in the saltwater of Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. Chinook salmon are coldwater fish. This makes the mountain-fed streams flowing into Puget Sound an ideal habitat for spawning salmon. The hatchlings from the spawned eggs also need freshwater for growing before they can survive in saltwater and migrate out to the ocean.

Injuried fish from Buckley Dam, White River, WA | © Russ Ladley

Fish are getting injured on the rebar at Buckley Dam while trying to swim upstream to spawn | © Russ Ladley

Chinook salmon also require a gravel substrate that is suitable for their size and strength, but not for other salmon species who could disrupt their spawning sites. You see the female Chinook salmon dig holes in the gravel for their eggs. They do this by vigorously snaking their bodies and tailfins over the gravels that they alone can move. After they lay their eggs in the depression, they attract just the right male, as only a female can, who fertilizes the eggs.

In the White River, one of the major producers of salmon in the Puget Sound region, we have the unfortunate circumstance that many of these threatened Chinook salmon cannot even get upstream to the spawning grounds that they need.

Salmon are of inestimable value to us, not only here in the northwest, but throughout the world. They returned to this part of the world, along with the arrival of the first humans, after the last Ice Age left the Sound. Some of our favorite stories are from the 19th century when we could, “walk across rivers on the backs of the salmon!” Or the gift of salmon we gave to the Washington (D.C.) Bullets after the Supersonics won the NBA Championship in 1979. Unfortunately, these salmon are now in danger of becoming extinct.

Please join us in asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fix the Buckley Dam on the White River in Washington to save the Chinook salmon!

2 Responses to “Saving Salmon on the White River in Washington”

janet Edge

Army Corp of Engineers,
I am very disappointed in your care of our wildlife. It is hard to think that those entrusted for their care would show such blatant disrespect.

Jason Huston

Well if they are going to make the tax payers foot the bil then they should open the river to sport fishing,god knows what happens to the money from our fishing lisence’s it all goes to the general fund,? Fund for what?