Saving Salmon on the Key Peninsula


Sara Thompson, KP News

The Taylor Bay Community applied for a permit from Pierce County when it sought to protect the boat ramp on the community beach. Following recommended guidelines, the plan used natural armoring, including carefully placed logs anchored with stainless steel cable and gravel to help preserve habitat. Photo: Don Tjossem, KP News

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on salmon and the Key Peninsula. Read Part 1 here.

With 65 miles of shoreline and many small creeks and watersheds, the Key Peninsula is critical to the health and continued survival of chinook, coho and chum salmon.

Some salmon spawn in local creeks and Minter Creek Hatchery fish are released directly to Puget Sound, but many of the salmon that grow up along KP shores are from the Nisqually or Puyallup rivers, carried by currents and tides. Over a period that lasts weeks to months, the young salmon go through smoltification, making the transition from fresh to saltwater.

According to Kathleen Peters, natural resources coordinator with the Kitsap County Department of Community Development and member of the West Sound Watersheds Council, freshwater and saltwater have different densities, resulting in small “lenses” of freshwater forming near shore where creeks and rivers enter the Sound. Young salmon take advantage of these lenses as they adjust to saltwater. They also ease the transition by periodically making their way up those same small creeks. The young salmon spend up to a year foraging and growing along the nearshore until they are ready to head for the Pacific Ocean.

According to Scott Steltzner, research biologist for the Squaxin Tribe Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, the Key Peninsula is in relatively good shape compared to other areas, and that makes restoration especially cost effective. He works on the Puget Sound Nearshore Project to better understand the ecological problems facing the Sound and to outline the most effective strategies for restoration. Maintaining good habitat or restoring habitat that needs mild improvement is much more efficient than trying to restore extensive damage.

Over the past decade, there have been a number of salmon protection projects on the Key Peninsula. All are the result of collaboration and coordination. The West Sound Watersheds Council is the lead entity for KP salmon recovery, serving as the hub to develop strategies and partnering with more than 30 organizations to implement projects. The state Legislature and federal government fund leading entities through the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office.

Salmon recovery projects in this area included a culvert replacement on the west fork of Rocky Creek (2005 to 2007: $52,000), a barrier replacement that opened approximately 5 miles of upstream spawning (2006 to 2012: $399,000) and replacement of the East Fork Rocky Creek Bridge (1999 to 2005: $433,000).

The Minter Creek Passage project included removal and upgrade of three culverts to connect isolated habitat and increase the range and distribution of salmon (2002 to 2012: $795,000). The East Case Inlet project replaced culverts to allow fish passage (1999 to 2005: $118,000).

Along the shoreline, there was restoration work and acquisition of land to protect existing habitat. At Penrose State Park, the bulkhead was redesigned and replaced (2012 to 2014: $448,000). The shoreline at Maple Hollow Park was restored by removing creosote steps and replanting native species (2010 to 2012: $50,000). A bulkhead on low bank was removed at Filucy Bay (2013 to 2015: $59,000).

Acquisitions of shoreline on Taylor Bay by Key Pen Parks in 2009, Devil’s Head by Pierce County and Forterra in 2011, and 21 acres on Filucy Bay by the Great Peninsula Conservancy in March 2016 all helped assure that critical estuary and shoreline is available for young salmon.

The Great Peninsula Conservancy will be purchasing 38 acres of undeveloped, high-quality wildlife habitat, including a spring, along the east fork of Rocky Creek by the end of January 2019.

Last September, the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group and project partners Department of Natural Resources, the Squaxin Tribe, Washington State Parks and the YMCA completed designs for restoration of Whiteman Cove.

Whiteman Cove is an embayment—an estuary that was originally framed by a long barrier spit with a large outlet channel to the north. A barrier of logs with tide gates now blocks fish passage and affects tide flow and sediment passage. According to the design, “Removal of a few stressors at Whiteman Cove would provide salmonid access to a 29-acre pocket estuary with 1-1/2 miles of shoreline and 1 mile of freshwater spawning and rearing habitat.”

The growing human population of the peninsula region also has an impact on salmon habitat. According to a report from the state Department of Ecology, “increasing demands for water from ongoing population growth, diminishing surface water supplies, declining groundwater levels in some areas and the impacts of climate change have put Washington’s water supplies at risk. The Kitsap Watershed (including Key Peninsula) increasingly lacks water when and where it is needed, particularly during the summer months."


What can you do to protect salmon?



1. Volunteer in the community to do projects that help salmon such as planting native plants along streams or removing invasive plants. Contact West Sound Watersheds Council Coordinator Kathleen Peters at 360-337-467 or

2. Limit your water use and leave more for salmon.

• Use as little water as possible for washing, cleaning, flushing, showering, etc.

• Water gardens and lawns in early morning and evening when more water is absorbed and less wasted.

• Use native plants in landscaping, which require less water.

• Use a mulching lawnmower. Set to 2-3 inches in height to get deeper, healthier grass roots that will retain moisture.

3. Limit electric consumption. Electricity is produced at dams, which can block salmon migration. Limiting your electrical use decreases the demand for dam-generated electricity. Buy energy-efficient electrical appliances.

4. Limit pesticide use. Fertilizers reduce good fish habitat by encouraging the growth of plants in water that then deplete oxygen for fish.

• Avoid use of weed killers. Pull weeds by hand.

• Store chemicals in original containers that are sealed and covered and in a place where there is less chance of leaking into the soil or storm drains.

• Landscape with pest-resistant plants so you won’t need bug and weed killers.

• Never pour leftover chemicals down drains.

• Use slow-release, natural fertilizers.

5. Watch for chemicals used in cleaning solutions. Phosphates used in many cleaning supplies encourage plant growth in water; the plants, in turn, consume oxygen that fish need.

• Use only low-phosphate detergents for cleaning your house.

• Pump septic tank every two to three years. Inspect annually. Avoid flushing nonbiodegradable items and.

• Never dump waste in storm drains, especially oils, paints or antifreeze, because they drain directly into rivers and lakes and can kill fish.

• Sweep driveways and sidewalks with a broom, not the hose. Washing sidewalks and driveways sends car pollutants into storm drains and then into rivers and ground water.

• Wash car on lawn, so water won’t drain to street or storm drains. Or go to a commercial car wash where wastewater is recycled.

6. Take care when living near water.

• Scoop up all pet poop and flush down toilet. Pet waste is a major source of water pollution.

• Plant native plants along streams. The plants shade the water for salmon.

• Use natural ground cover or porous materials such as gravel or bark instead of asphalt and concrete for paths and driveways.

• Try to keep shorelines as natural as possible.

• Ensure roof runoff soaks into the ground. Avoid piping to ravines or streams, as it causes erosion.

From the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office: [/box]