In Issaquah, King County Executive Dow Constantine led the seventh-annual Earth Day release of juvenile Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon to their home waters, and encouraged others to take steps toward preserving and enhancing the environment.
"It's fitting that today — Earth Day — we celebrate a successful partnership helping to ensure that kokanee salmon remain part of our environmental legacy," Constantine said. "It's an example of what we can achieve when all levels of government work with nonprofits and residents to prevent the extinction of an iconic species."
Standing alongside Constantine at Issaquah's Confluence Park, representatives of the Kokanee Work Group and students on an Earth Week science field trip from Sammamish, Issaquah and Renton helped release dozens of inch-long kokanee fry into Issaquah Creek.
The fish released this spring are the offspring of adult Lake Sammamish kokanee that were captured from creeks within the watershed during this past fall and winter, and taken to the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery where they were spawned artificially.
"We are fortunate to live in a community that places such importance on the survival of Lake Sammamish kokanee," said Issaquah Mayor Pro Tempore Stacy Goodman. "I am proud that Issaquah is a founding partner in the Kokanee Work Group — a collaboration among government agencies, nonprofits, citizens and other organizations working together for a good cause. Together, we are making a difference to save this unique species from extinction."
This year marks the seventh-annual Earth Week release of native juvenile kokanee into Lake Sammamish from the specially designed supplementation program, which aims to boost kokanee survival and ultimately increase future numbers of adult kokanee spawning in the Lake Sammamish watershed.
The hatchery program is funded primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and implemented with the support of Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and King County. Streamside landowners pitch in by helping find adult fish that return to spawn in the fall and winter.
The hatchery program is intended to serve as a temporary tool for recovery, ensuring that kokanee population numbers are stable or increasing as critical habitat improvements are completed. The work group's goal is by 2021 to restore and re-establish access to enough habitat to ensure the long-term health of the population without a hatchery.
Young kokanee grow in the hatchery for about four months before release back into the stream where their parents were collected. After growing in Lake Sammamish for three to four years, most will return to the same stream as their parents and spawn.
Ongoing habitat restoration work throughout the watershed includes replacing fish-blocking culverts with culverts that allow adult fish to move into upstream spawning areas, and juvenile kokanee salmon to move downstream into Lake Sammamish, where they will grow for several years before returning to the stream of their birth to spawn. Removing barriers blocking access to spawning habitat is critical to the success of the kokanee recovery effort.
Additional habitat restoration work has occurred in a number of areas within the watershed, including planting native trees and shrubs along creeks to help provide shade, stabilize streambanks, and improve the overall ecological health of a waterway.
The Kokanee Work Group members include King County, the USFWS, WDFW, Washington State Parks, the cities of Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue and Redmond, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, Friends of Lake Sammamish State Park, Save Lake Sammamish, Friends of Pine Lake, Trout Unlimited, Mountains to Sound Greenway, community groups and kokanee recovery advocates.