Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
6730 Martin Way E.
Olympia, Washington 98516-5540
Phone: (360) 438-1180
Fax: (360) 753-8659
Tribe Teams Up to Protect Chico Creek Watershed’s Resources
CHICO (Nov. 19, 2003) – Over the past several decades, the
Chico Creek watershed has been the most productive salmon system
on the Kitsap Peninsula. Draining 68 miles of streams – 17
of which provide prime spawning and rearing habitat for salmon – the
area remains mostly undeveloped.
On average, about 20,000 chum salmon return to the Chico Creek watershed
each year. Coho salmon and steelhead are also supported by the system,
along with a small number of Puget Sound chinook salmon, which are
listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species
Eventually, however, things will change. As more people move into
Kitsap County, the demand for housing will increase. Development
of the watershed seems inevitable. And too often an increase in infrastructure
leads to a decrease in salmon habitat. But for the Chico Creek watershed,
that scenario might not play out.
The Suquamish Tribe has joined forces with a group of citizens and
stakeholders to try and weave future developments into the natural
ecosystem without harming fish and wildlife. The plan illustrates
how people with diverse interests can move beyond conflicts and create
a common vision for the future. This approach is a microcosm of the
one used by the Shared Strategy for Puget Sound, a cooperative effort
that links ongoing wild salmon recovery initiatives at the tribal,
state, federal and local levels. The decisions and commitments that
emerge from the Chico watershed planning process will contribute
to the Shared Strategy’s overall regional salmon recovery plan.
More importantly, it provides a practical example of how to manage
a watershed so that both people and fish can thrive.
"It's a novel approach because we are looking at development
from the watershed perspective," said Tom Ostrom, environmental
biologist for the Suquamish Tribe. The tribe, which has always depended
on natural resources from the Chico Creek watershed, is involved
in the planning process and has a representative on the Chico Creek
Watershed Advisory Committee. "We are creating different scenarios
and we are looking at the cumulative and long-term effects of those
scenarios on the area's natural resources. The idea is to protect
the watershed and it's fish and wildlife as the county continues
Before drafting a new Chico subarea plan, which would guide the
development in the watershed, the Chico Creek Watershed Advisory
Committee looked at different development scenarios that could take
place. The committee explored the effect of development on the area's
fish and wildlife under current zoning, and then came up with three "alternative
futures," addressing scenarios that could happen to natural
resources under different levels of development.
Conservation, development and moderate alternatives were all put
to the test. Under each level of development, the number of housing
units and amount of impervious surface in the watershed was determined
and their effects on water quality, water quantity and wildlife habitat
According to the study:
- Under current zoning, the 1,300 housing units in the watershed
would increase to about 5,050. Impervious surfaces, such as streets,
would go from 7.2 percent to 10.4 percent.
- Under the conservation alternative, the number of housing units
would increase to 2,600 and 8.8 percent of the watershed would
be covered with impervious surfaces.
- Under the development scenario, housing units would balloon to
25,000 and streets and driveways would take up 21.6 percent of
- Under the moderate scenario, housing units would increase to
4,900 and 9.2 percent of the area would be covered with impervious
The process also helped identify a corridor important for wildlife
within the Chico Creek watershed. In looking at the overall watershed
instead of just political boundaries, the advisory committee discovered
the corridor, said Paul Nelson, Kitsap County planner who is leading
the team of scientists and community members. That big-picture approach
also allowed the committee to identify other critical areas for fish
“We went through this process with that in mind, and at the
same time we were providing for that growth that we know is coming,” Nelson
said. “The watershed is not so big that we can’t get
our arms around it, and that can go a long way toward protecting
Identifying what long-term impacts on the environment would occur
under each alternative future scenario was helpful, said Phil Best,
who represented the Great Peninsula Conservancy on the watershed
committee. The group was able to look at all the tools available
in the planning process.
“And we were letting science tell us what would happen,” Best
After looking at all the “future scenarios,” the committee
suggested the moderate alternative as the preferred jumping off point
to begin drafting the subarea plan. The moderate scenario represents
a likely reality for the watershed because it recognizes the need
for protecting natural resources while acknowledging that some development
will occur over time.
A good example of this occurred when the group looked at water quality
and quantity. Under the moderate scenario, the population in the
watershed would significantly increase, but the type of development
allowed would mitigate the impacts to water quality and quantity.
This was possible because the moderate alternative focuses on areas
designated for future potential growth, encouraging low-impact development
In all scenarios, natural resources, particularly salmon, would
be harmed. An increase in storm water run-off from impervious surfaces
would take its toll on water quality, which plays a role in degrading
salmon rearing and spawning habitat. That's why the Suquamish Tribe
also is categorizing a list of possible improvements to salmon habitat
in the watershed, such as replacing faulty culverts and removing
"There are a number of ecological problems mostly in the lower
watershed — along the main stem and into the estuary," Ostrom
said. "We have a high density of chum salmon spawning in the
area. The main stem has been confined by road crossings and the channel
has been diked and armored with riprap. We are looking at a number
of projects that would correct these problems and restore some of
the historic floodplain."
Dri Ralph, who is the environmental planner for the City Of Bremerton
and a committee member, said the science-based approach was a refreshing
way to look at watershed planning. With so many participants on the
committee, all the information regarding the stakeholders concerns
was readily available.
“The next step is to take these different scenarios and develop
land-use regulations,” Ralph said. “I think the process
served a good purpose. Now, once we have a subarea plan, we will
see if it transfers into responsible land use.”
For more information, contact: Tom Ostrom, environmental biologist
for the Suquamish Tribe, (360) 394-8446, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darren Friedel, information officer Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission,
(360) 297-6546, email@example.com.