Pierce Conservation District (the District) is a natural resource agency working to protect and conserve the natural resources of Pierce County. Located in Pierce County, Washington, a major population center in Central Puget Sound, we have been working on salmon recovery, soil conservation, water quality improvement and other natural resource issues for over 70 years. The District has a goal of creating barrier-free watersheds that have the conditions to sustain wild salmon by 2040. Our riparian corridors are essential habitats for both rearing and spawning salmon. Restoring them is essential to meeting this goal. Several salmon species in Pierce County are federally listed as endangered or threatened including Chinook, Chum, Coho, Bull Trout and Steelhead Trout. They are endangered because of the loss of habitat to development and urbanization, the lack of quality habitat due to invasive species and the reduction in water quality due to human activities. Our work focuses on restoring key riparian corridors by removing invasive species and planting trees and shrubs to sustain both fish, wildlife, and recreational opportunities for people. Healthy riparian corridors are free from fish blockages such as failed culverts (or no culvert at all), 50 to 200 feet of healthy vegetation on each side of the river to cool the temperature in the stream, reduce pollutants running off in to the water and creating complex habitat for fish, bugs and other wildlife to use as their spaces to live.
Each year, Pierce Conservation District restores approximately 100 acres of riparian habitat and plants about 20,000 trees and shrubs. Funding primarily is generated by fees on properties, local, state and federal grants and restoration contracts and private philanthropy. The scale of the problem and need to restore degraded riparian habitat far outstrips the available funding. Funds from Carbon+ Credits™ will be another important source to support the ongoing maintenance and establishment of restoration sites. Riparian sites take three to five years of active maintenance before “establishment” – the trees growing to a more mature height to shade out invasive weeds – and while we can often find resources to plant trees one-time, the ongoing resources to see a site through establishment are very difficult to identify. Thousands of acres of riparian corridors in Pierce County need restoration with 4,783 acres identified in public and other qualifying (commercial use and rights of way in riparian corridors) ownership. This public ownership is the focus of our current work with this initiative.
Our work in this highly urbanizing county has the benefit of improving not only habitat for critically endangered fish and wildlife, but also essential places for people. Healthy, functioning open spaces and riparian habitats have numerous benefits including:
- Naturally filtering pollutants from upland activities before running in to the stream
- Shading the river system to keep the water cool for fish
- Cleaning our air
- Storing greenhouse gas pollution
- Places of recreation for kids and families
- Reduce the heat island effect in Pierce Counties urban areas from global temperature rises due to climate change and other compounding factors
- Subsequent health benefits to people such as quality open spaces important for physical, emotional and mental health, stress reduction, and blood pressure management
For more information please contact Ryan Mello, Executive Director at RyanM@PierceCD.org.