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Recommendation: 1

Status: Underway

Significantly increase investment in restoration and acquisition of habitat in areas where Chinook stocks most benefit Southern Resident orca.


Action 1

Provide funding to support Salmon Recovery Funding Board projects intended to improve Chinook and forage fish.

Action 2

Accelerate implementation of funded Chinook restoration projects known to provide survival benefits to Southern Residents.

Action 3

For a minimum of 10 years, significantly increase funding for high-priority actions or projects targeted to benefit Chinook.

Action 4

Emphasize large-scale estuary restoration programs and, in the short term, prioritize restoration grants that increase Chinook.

Action 5

To complement forest Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans and Washington State Department of Transportation fish passage improvement efforts, continue to use a strategic approach for using Recreation and Conservation Office-administered programs to remove barriers (for example, culverts and small dams) that provide a benefit to Chinook.

Action 6

Create a new funding source to support habitat protection and restoration programs while also developing a sustainable funding source for implementing all task force recommendations.

Action 7

The Legislature should compensate counties fully for lost tax revenues from land acquired by the State for habitat protection and restoration projects.

Action 8

The Legislature should ensure adequate funding to operate and maintain land acquired by the State for habitat protection and restoration

Action 9

Support a more robust monitoring and adaptive management system to better monitor restoration project compliance and measurable ecological benefits.

Action 10

Support funding for completion of Chinook recovery plan updates for 14 of 16 remaining Puget Sound watersheds.

Implementation Details


  • In 2019, the Governor and Legislature should fully fund the Recreation and Conservation Office’s budget requests for salmon recovery accounts (Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Program, Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Brian Abbott Fish Passage Barrier Removal Board, and the Washington Coast Restoration and Resiliency Initiative) with no changes to existing ranked lists.
  • Also in 2019, the Governor and Legislature should support programs administered by the Department of Ecology and the Department of Fish and Wildlife that directly benefit Chinook salmon, including Floodplains by Design, Puget Sound Nearshore Estuary Restoration Project, the Office of the Chehalis Basin Strategy, and the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.
  • To complement other barrier removal programs, use Recreation and Conservation Office-administered programs to fund the removal of barriers (for example, culverts and small dams) when they benefit Chinook. The Legislature should provide funding for barrier removal projects that already have broad support, such as the Middle Fork Nooksack and Pilchuck Dams. In addition, the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office should coordinate with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board, regional salmon recovery organizations, and partners to develop a strategic approach to removing remaining barriers that would benefit Chinook, including those locally or privately owned, and where community and technical support can be attained. A draft list of barriers shall be developed by March 2019 and provided to the task force, Governor’s Office, and Office of Financial Management as Phase 1 of this recommendation. Phase 2 will include further assessment of those barriers and the steps needed for their removal and identification of any additional barriers by June 2020. This assessment should be iterative and should be revised as new information becomes available. The Legislature should provide funding in the capital budget for removal of barriers identified through this process and have community support.


  • Puget Sound, Coast, and Columbia Basin regions should accelerate restoration work that benefits high-priority Chinook salmon. Regions and state natural resource agencies should exercise fully their technical and policy capacity to accelerate full implementation of habitat restoration projects that are under consideration, that have an established funding source, and that have feasibility studies indicating the project would improve the survival of key salmon stocks important to the Southern Resident orcas. Projects on private lands would be limited to high-priority habitat areas with willing sellers. Additional state funding should be provided for at least 10 years (five biennia) to focus specifically on high-priority actions for the stocks that most benefit Southern Residents. These programs traditionally have allocated about 80 percent of their funding towards projects that benefit Chinook.
  • When lands are acquired by state agencies for salmon and Southern Resident orca recovery, the Legislature should fully fund payment in lieu of taxes to counties to compensate for the loss of revenue from the land. Natural resource managers should be adequately funded to operate and maintain the land acquired. In addition, support for comprehensive and systematic evaluation of fish and habitat response to restoration actions potentially could provide more detailed information about how the restoration helps and aid in prioritizing future restoration actions.
  • Critically important but costly estuary restoration work that can increase Chinook production in the near term should be evaluated and prioritized. Any estuary selected for restoration should be a high-priority Chinook salmon estuary and identified as being important for the Southern Residents. Possible estuaries to focus on are the Chehalis, Dungeness, Elwha, Green-Duwamish, Nisqually, Nooksack, Puyallup, Skagit, Skokomish, Snohomish, Stillaguamish, and the mouth of the Columbia River.

Recent Progress

  • In 2023, the Washington Department of Transportation received $1 billion for fish passage projects and is on track to deliver twenty-four fish barrier projects from the 2021 legislative investment of $275 million, which is more than a 150 percent increase from the previous biennium.
  • In 2023, $277 million was approved for salmon projects in the programs shown in the table below.
  • In 2023, a new riparian grant program is funded and established in the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office.
  • In 2022, the Legislature approved $75 million for salmon recovery projects.
  • Funding was provided to the Puget Sound Partnership to update chapters of the Puget Sound Chinook Recovery Plan.
  • In 2021, the Legislature passed House Bill 1382, which simplifies the environmental permitting process for certain salmon recovery projects. The bill creates a Habitat Recovery Pilot Program for habitat restoration projects that meet specific criteria, creating a consultation and review process for pilot projects. Qualifying projects may be exempt from some permitting processes.
  • Funding was dedicated to providing additional staff to process more Clean Water Act certifications and fish passage project permits, which will aid in the timely completion of restoration projects.
  • The Salmon Recovery Funding Board adopted a targeted investment policy in 2021 enabling it to target $3.7 million for projects that benefit Chinook salmon vital to Southern Residents.
  • In 2022, the board selected Southern Resident killer whales as its targeted investment and funded an additional $4.9 million in projects that directly benefit Chinook salmon.
  • The Legislature gave the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife funding for Payments in Lieu of Taxes, which compensates counties for the loss of local property taxes on lands the department bought to protect critical wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • Increased funding for salmon habitat restoration. Currently, only 20 percent of salmon recovery is being funded. The State is not keeping pace with the need. See the list of salmon recovery projects planned in the state.
Salmon Recovery (Recreation and Conservation Office Budget) 2017-2019 Budget 2019-2021 Budget 2021-2023 Budget 2023-2025 Budget
Salmon Recovery Funding Board - State $19,711,000 $25,000,000 $30,000,000 $20,000,000
Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration $40,000,000 $49,507,000 $52,807,000 $59,200,000
Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program $8,000,000 $10,000,000 $15,708,000 $14,300,000
Family Forest Fish Passage Program $5,000,000 $5,000,000 $5,957,000 $7,800,000
Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board $19,747,000 $26,491,000 $26,795,000 $48,400,000
Washington Coastal Restoration and Resiliency Initiative $12,500,000 $12,086,000 $10,313,000 $10,100,000
Floodplain by Design $35,400,000 $50,400,000 $50,908,000 $67,400,000
Riparian Conservation Grant Programs $50,000,000
Total $140,358,000 $178,484,000 $192,488,000 $277,200,000

The Recreation and Conservation Office’s analysis of 10 years of project data shows that more than 80 percent of projects funded in the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration, Salmon Recovery, and Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program benefit Chinook salmon, the most important prey for Southern Residents.

  • The Conservation Commission received funding to work with landowners on improving riparian buffers on private land. Riparian areas are the important vegetated area alongside streams that are critical to keeping streams from getting too hot for salmon and provide habitat for the food that salmon eat.
  • The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife received funding to complete an analysis of fish barriers in rivers supporting priority Chinook stocks. The report identifies barriers and streams that may have the greatest benefit to Chinook eaten by Southern Residents, listed salmon populations, and fisheries.
  • The Washington State Department of Ecology was authorized to pass through $6 million in federal Coastal Wetland Funds to enhance coastal habitat, with benefits to salmon.
  • The Washington State Department of Ecology received $40 million in 2019, 2021, and 2023 to restore and enhance stream flows to support healthy and sustainable salmon populations.
  • The Washington State Department of Natural Resources received $5.8 million to enhance the Snohomish River watershed by planting trees, planting riverbank buffers, and removing creosote pilings in this high-priority Chinook watershed.
  • The Legislature approved $3.6 million to design modifications to the Hood Canal Bridge that would allow migrating steelhead to pass through more safely and ensure more fish reach the ocean.
  • The Washington Department of Natural Resources along with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are working to restore the shorelines of McNeil Island. Bulkheads, creosote-treated pilings, and large debris have been removed. Future work includes estuary restorations.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.