Shared Strategy for Puget Sound
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Salmon Recovery Plan
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Meet the Salmon

The Snoqualmie and Skykomish Rivers each host one population of threatened Chinook salmon. Historically these populations, along with those in the Stillaguamish and Skagit rivers, formed the backbone of Chinook populations in Puget Sound. The Snohomish watershed also is home to threatened bull trout, Skykomish and Snoqualmie River Coho. Populations of chum and pink and sockeye salmon and steelhead also inhabit the Snohomish system.

Bull Trout
Chum Salmon
Pink Salmon
Salmon images courtesy of King County. Steelhead image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.
How Salmon Use the Waterways

Salmon use of the basin is as varied as that of human use. For example, threatened Chinook rely primarily on the highly-altered habitat along the broad, lowland reaches of the Snohomish and the lower Skykomish and Snoqualmie Rivers. Coho on the other hand spend much of their freshwater lifecycle in the smaller tributaries of major rivers and so are still relatively abundant in the Snohomish watershed, which offers hundreds of miles of high-quality habitat in its middle and upper reaches. In fact, the Snohomish is home to the largest population of wild Coho of any watershed in the Sound. Bull trout spawn in two sub-basins under wilderness protection and unlike other salmon species, will migrate between fresh and saltwater several times in their lifetime making their migratory corridors between upland and lowland areas critical.


Salmon and the Snohomish Watershed



For more information about salmon recovery planning in this watershed, click here to visit the website.

Click here to read this watershed's feedback summary.


Key Facts

Forest lands and wilderness cover 74 % of the basin; 5 % is agricultural. Urbanization is concentrated near the estuary.

Located in King and Snohomish counties, towns and cities in the watershed include Carnation, Duvall, Everett, Gold Bar, Index, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Monroe, North Bend, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Sultan, and the Tulalip Reservation.

The Snohomish Basin is one of the fastest growing areas in Puget Sound with projected population growth of 59 percent from 2000 to 2030.

The planning area for the watershed under the state Watershed Management Act is Watershed Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 7


The Snohomish River Basin in east central Puget Sound has long been known for its enviable quality of life characterized by attractive job opportunities, fertile agricultural lands and extensive timber resources, diverse outdoor recreation, vast areas of public land, and abundant natural resources extending from Puget Sound to the Cascade crest. The basin’s varied topography ranges from low, rolling terrain next to tidewater to the steep Cascade mountains along the eastern border. The watershed lies in two counties—Snohomish and King—and covers an area of 1,856 square miles with over 1,700 identified rivers and tributaries.

The Snohomish River empties into Puget Sound north of Everett, the region’s third largest city and a major industrial and commercial center which includes the Port of Everett. Some of the best farmlands remaining in Western Washington flank the Snohomish and the lower portions of its two major tributaries, the Skykomish and Snoqualmie Rivers.

The estuary, where the nutrient rich waters of the Snohomish River come in contact with the saltwater of Possession Sound is home to at least 350 different kinds of birds and countless varieties of mammals and plants call this special place home, including blue heron, eagles, osprey, salmon, seals and otter. It benefits people by acting as a natural filter that cleans water before it passes into the Sound and also slows floodwaters.

Myriad streams and creeks in the upper reaches of Puget Sound’s second largest watershed flow through abundant forestlands and wilderness. This includes the popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Major Policy or Actions Needed to Recover Salmon

Cooperation, Coordination, Commitment Needed to Close the Gap on Growth
At 59 percent from 2000 to 2030, projected population growth in the Snohomish watershed is among the highest of any area in Puget Sound. Areas along the mainstem rivers in some locations and along some lowland tributaries are most likely to be affected by growth and development pressures. There is still time for local stakeholders and decision-makers to find creative solutions that balance social and economic needs and salmon recovery in the basin, even as they make difficult trade-offs. The state Growth Management Act’s Critical Areas Regulation (CAR) and Shorelines Management Programs have major overlap with salmon recovery planning. Thus the opportunity exists to coordinate updates to these regulations with current salmon recovery planning efforts. The Snohomish County Council, with two Council members participating in local watershed planning efforts, has the opportunity to take the lead to better integrate recovery planning and the CAR, a state regulation with potentially major implications for private land owners.

A Focus on the Mainstems Is Key for Restoring Rearing Habitat
As with many large rivers in the Puget Sound, urbanization channelized the Snohomish basin’s mainstem rivers resulting in the loss of off-channel habitat such as oxbows. This is important salmon rearing habitat and provides fish shelter from major flood events. Reconnecting access to those channels for fish in the lower river is part of a suite of mainstem actions that include restoring bank edges, riparian forests and creating logjams in strategic locations. Recovery planners can build on successful restoration efforts to date by continuing to work effectively with farmers and other private landowners.

Estuary Habitat Protection and Restoration Helps Salmon Bridge the Fresh and Saltwater Divide
Agricultural and urban development have significantly altered once-productive estuarine habitat. Chinook smolt production has decreased by 68% in blind tidal channel networks. Forty-four miles of dikes isolate the river from the floodplain. Local landowners are defining a role they can play with technical support from Snohomish County, the Port of Everett, City of Everett, Tulalip Tribes, and the state to help address their needs as well as those of salmon. Specific habitat restoration needs include reconnecting the blind tidal channel sloughs and restoring edge habitat complexity along the mainstem and sloughs.


We’re Making Progress—Some Accomplishments

Estuary Restoration
A concentrated effort to protect important estuary lands began in the 1980s and restoration has accelerated since 1999. For example, the Tulalip Tribes owns about 300 acres of tidal marshland that they plan to restore. Since 1998, Snohomish County has purchased about 350 acres with the specific intent to restore them. The City of Everett has already begun construction to open estuary habitat at a nearly 100-acre site. Strong interagency partnerships between Snohomish County, the Tulalip Tribes, the Port of Everett, the City of Everett and others have been an essential part of this effort.

An Effective Citizen Group
The Snohomish Basin Salmon Recovery Forum is a collaborative, consensus-based process comprised of 38 members who represent key interests in the basin. The Forum’s structure has allowed key members like the Tulalip Tribes to participate in a collaborative process without relinquishing their authority. The Forum completed an award-winning draft Salmon Conservation Plan, a comprehensive and collaborative agreement to guide strategic investment in salmon and watershed health. Currently, the Forum is finalizing its chapter toward a recovery plan for the region as a whole. Some highlights:

  • Recommended strategies for working cooperatively with agriculture, forestry, rural residential, and urban areas
  • Clear milestones in the critical areas, particularly the nearshore, estuary, and mainstems
  • Active public involvement effort right now to hear comments on the plan
  • Very strong scientific foundation that included modeling and technical analysis

New Tools Promote Better Decision Making for People and Salmon
Through fish habitat and decision-making models, the Tulalip Tribes, Snohomish and King County scientists and planners and key community stakeholders have advanced their ability to predict how recovery actions will affect fish and people. The Forum has used a structured approach that allows decision makers to understand how recovery actions will affect other community values, such as the local farming economy.

Organizations Involved

  • King County
  • Snohomish County
  • City of Duvall
  • City of Everett
  • City of Gold Bar
  • City of Granite Falls
  • City of Lake Stevens
  • City of Marysville
  • City of Monroe
  • City of North Bend
  • City of Snohomish
  • City of Snoqualmie
  • City of Sultan
  • Town of Index
  • King Conservation District
  • Snohomish Conservation District
  • Tulalip Tribes
  • Tulalip Tribal Member
  • Pilchuck Audubon Society
  • Cascade Land Conservancy
  • The Boeing Company
  • Master Builders Association
  • Snohomish County Agriculture
  • King County Agriculture
  • Coordinated Diking Council
  • Snohomish County Resident
  • King County Resident
  • Recreation Group
  • Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force
  • Snohomish County Sportsmen's Association
  • WDFW "ex officio"
  • Port of Everett
  • City of Seattle
  • Cross Valley Water District
  • East King County RWA
  • Snohomish PUD


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