More than 1,500 salmon were seen spawning in Coho Creek on the Tulalip Tribes’ reservation in Washington state last fall. Pretty good considering 10 years ago, the creek was nothing but a drainage ditch in the Quilceda Creek watershed.
The Tulalips created spawning habitat out of that ditch right next door to the nearby and growing Quil Ceda Village, a business park developed by the tribe.
Like many tribes in western Washington, the Tulalip Tribes have worked hard to create businesses that provide jobs and income for their members and for our neighbors. The Quil Ceda business park is expanding, but the Tulalips plan to build only on one-third of the undeveloped 1,500 acres there. The rest is going to be preserved or restored as fish and wildlife habitat.
Outside Indian country, that kind of development can come at a high cost to the environment.
We tribes, on the other hand, make sure to keep things in balance. We have to preserve our natural resources and provide an economic future for our children. When we develop businesses on tribal land, we take salmon into account. We can have both salmon and a healthy economy. It doesn’t have to be a choice between the two.
Our salmon are running out of places to spawn because people are using up the remaining habitat. Fish need cool, gravelly places to build nests. The Tulalip Tribes saw this need in 2000 after they replaced a fish-blocking culvert and found chum salmon trying—and failing—to spawn in the sandy ditch.
That sandy ditch became Coho Creek after the tribes brought in tons of spawning gravel and created 2,500 feet of stream channel. They removed more fish-blocking culverts, planted native vegetation and last year, more salmon than ever were seen spawning there. Counted were more than 50 coho and 1,500 chum salmon.
We know these salmon are spawning successfully. Last spring, the Tulalips saw several thousand chum fry and coho smolts swimming from Coho Creek out to sea.
In these times of lost and damaged habitat, it is still rare to see brand new habitat being created. There’s no question that the need is great. Salmon began making a home in the new habitat of Coho Creek almost as soon as it was created. And there’s room for more.
The tribe isn’t done with Coho Creek yet. Another half-mile of the ditch is set for restoration, along with the addition of wetlands to help naturally treat water runoff from the business park. Besides salmon, other fish as well as frogs, birds and other wildlife—including humans—will benefit from the tribes’ work.
We know more and more people are coming into western Washington. Almost a million people are expected in the next 20 years just here in the Puget Sound region. We have to be ready for them. We can take a page from the Tulalip Tribes playbook to show how we can have both jobs and salmon.
Billy Frank, Jr., is Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.