Course:FRST370/Qwuloolt Estuary: Co-management efforts to restore the Snohomish River Floodplain in Washington State, U.S.A

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This case study examines the Qwuloolt Estuary within the Snohomish River Floodplain in Marysville, Washington, U.S. It uses a variety of scholarship to explore co-management between the Tulalip Tribe and numerous institutions across various levels of government to restore ancestral waterways and salmon populations. The Treaty of Point Elliott (1855) and legal decisions such as the Boldt decision and the Culverts case adjudicate tribal authority over managing these landscapes in connection to the Tulalip Tribe's inherent rights to fish, hunt and gather throughout their traditional territories. Support from numerous stakeholders is indicative of a growing movement to not only focus on mitigation but also long-term ecological restoration of the Snohomish River floodplain.


History of Qwuloolt

Since time Immemorial, Coast Salish Peoples have lived in and around the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) using their ancestral highways (waterways) as a means to trade, communicate, and thrive on the wealth of resources of the Pacific Northwest region.The Qwuloolt estuary is located in the Snohomish River Watershed, south of sɬəp̓qs[1] (Marysville, WA). Qwuloolt is a Lushootseed word meaning 'salt marsh'.[2] Historically, "The area of Qwuloolt was a valued place for fishing and fish camps, hunting of birds and mammals, gathering of native plants for basketry, culinary and medicinal uses."[3]

Historical Timeline

Since Time Immemorial: "Traditional belief holds that the Creator placed Native Peoples on Earth; in return for their taking care of Earth and its resources, the Creator would provide all that they would need to thrive, for generations to come."[4]

1792: Snohomish Tribes meet explorer Captain George Vancouver[5].

1820: Fur trade routes are established throughout the Puget Sound region[5].

1842: Settlers begin moving into the Puget Sound region; the U.S Government starts to sell land and open areas for homesteads without having title to the land[5].

1855: On January 22nd, Governor Isaac Stevens concludes the Treaty of Point Elliott at Mukilteo and the Tulalip Reservation is established[5]. Non-native settlement brought the first steamboat to the estuary[3].

1857: Father E.C. Chirouse (French Roman Catholic) establishes a school for boys on the Tulalip Reservation[5].

1859: Treaty ratified by the U.S. Congress and the Tribes that agreed to the treaty begin to settle in and around Tulalip Bay[5].

1860: An agency is established at Tulalip Reservation under the Washington Superintendence and an agent is assigned[5].

1861: Timber harvesting in the Snohomish River valley, the expropriation of native land and the suppression of native culture all begin[3].

1863: Father Chirouse opens a new school on the Tulalip Reservation[5].

1875: The canning process improves and a large commercial fishery begins to develop[5].

1884: The allotment of Tulalip Reservation begins[5].

1900: The U.S. Government gets possession of school buildings and begins conducting its own school[5].

1901: The position of Tulalip Indian agent is abolished and replaced by a school superintendent, Dr. Charles M. Buchanan[5].

1902: A large majority of the forest within the Snohomish River floodplain is logged, followed by the draining of thousands of acres of marsh, the clearing of river and streams banks, the ditching of floodplain streams, and the construction of levees and dikes for the establishment of farms[3]. The Tulalip Indian Boarding School is built on Tulalip Reservation[5].

1912: The first Tulalip Treaty Days celebration is held through the efforts of William Shelton to preserve songs and dances[5].

1915: A Tulalip member is jailed for hunting on contested reservation land; Dr. Buchanan writes to the Washington State Legislature persuading the recognition of Indians' treaty rights[5].

1916: The destruction of fish habitat begins through logging, dredging, agriculture, industry and the creation of dams, sewage systems and housing development[5].

1924: The Indian Citizenship Act is passed by Congress. Native Americans become citizens and can now vote[5].

1933: Steelhead becomes a sport fish[5].

1930: Fish ladder begin to be installed on dams to aid fish passage[5].

1934: The Indian Reorganization Act is passed by Congress; tribes are able to organize in local self-government and elect leaders[5].

1935: The Tulalip Tribe write a constitution and vote to approve it[5].

1936: The secretary of the Interior approves the Tulalip Constitution; the Tulalip Tribe elects their first Board of Directors[5].

1960-1970s: In an effort to defend their treaty rights, tribal fishers along the Puget Sound begin to stage protests called "fish-ins"[4].

1964: The "fish-ins" receive so much attention that the fishing rights cause is taken up by celebrities such as Marlon Brando, who is arrested alongside others while illegally fishing from a canoe on the Puyallup River[6].

1964-1979: Tulalip Landfill on the northwest edge of Ebey's Island

"The Tulalip landfill destroyed more than 145 acres of estuary habitat in the Snohomish River Delta, and leachate from the landfill is thought to have impacted habitat, water quality, and the invertebrates, fish, and birds that live and feed in the area.acre landfill was operated on Tulalip Reservation land by Seattle Disposal Co"[7].

1968: Puyallup Tribes v. Washington Department of Game (U.S. Supreme Court) allows the state to regulate tribal fishing for conservation purposes[5].

1970: September 9th - police use tear gas and clubs to arrest 60 protestors, including juveniles, who had set up an encampment that summer along the Puyallup River, south of Seattle[6].

1973: Washington Department of Game v. Puyallup (U.S. Supreme Court) gives tribal fishers the right to fish steelhead[5]. Billy Frank Jr. and other Native community members fish the Nisqually River in an act of civil disobedience; dozens of tribal members are arrested[8].

1974: Boldt Decision[9] Reaffirms federally recognized Coast Salish tribe's right to fish in their 'usual and accustomed' places.

1979: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the 1974 Boldt Decision. The Tulalip Tribe revives the First Salmon Ceremony which continues to be held annually[5].

1985: The Pacific Salmon Treaty is signed between the United States and Canada. The Puget Sound Salmon Management Plan is adopted by the Washington Department of Fisheries and the Indian Tribes within the Puget Sound region[5].

1994: Tulalip and a number of national and local partners teamed up to begin the second largest estuary restoration in the Puget Sound[2]

2000: Tulalip, along with a group of trustees (NOAA, USFW, NRCS and the Washington State Department of Ecology) began purchasing 400 acres of historic estuary between Ebey Slough and Sunnyside Blvd [2].

2001: The PNW Tribes, joined by the United States, asked the U.S. District Court to find that Washington State had a treaty-based duty to preserve fish runs and habitat at off-reservation fishing sites that were usual and accustomed places and to compel the State to repair or replace culverts that impede salmon migration[10]

2013: The District Court issued a permanent injunction requiring the State to significantly increase its efforts to remove and replace the State-owned culverts that have the greatest adverse impact on the fish habitat by 2030[10].

The Qwuloolt Restoration Project

"The Qwuloolt Estuary is located within the Snohomish River floodplain, approximately three miles upstream from its outlet to Puget Sound and within Marysville city limits. Historically, the area was tidal marsh and forest scrub-shrub habitat, interlaced by tidal channels, mudflats and streams. [...] For over a hundred years, the area had been cut off from the natural influences of the Snohomish River and Salish Sea tides by levees, drained by ditches instead of stream channels, and characterized by a monoculture of invasive reed canary grass instead of native shrubs and grasses. Through the cooperation of its many partners, this project has returned the historic and natural influences of the river and tides to the Qwuloolt."[11]

The Tulalip Tribe and its partners have collaborated to develop a plan for the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project. The major feature of this restoration plan has been the reconnection of the channel and floodplain processes through the breach of the Ebey Slough north levee[12]. This plan has also addressed objectives to restore natural hydrological processes, streams and floodplain forms, maximize habitat functions for salmon and other fish, facilitate the re-establishment of native vegetation as well as the dieback of invasive vegetation, and increase salmon populations, among others. Additionally, this project works to restore the public's and Tulalip people's connection to the Qwuloolt Estuary, and benefit the lives of all through the enhancement of water quality[13] and other ecosystem services.

The Qwuloolt Estuary website provides an in-depth description of the restoration plan and implementation.

Aspects of the Restoration Project[2]

  • Physical stream restoration: This complex part of the project reroutes 1.5 miles of Jones and Allens creek channels. Through the use of historical and field analysis as well as aerial photographs, creek beds are moved near to historic locations.
  • Native plants: The project aims to replace invasive non-native species of trees and vegetation with historic, native species, including: various grasses, sedges, bulrush, cattails, willows, rose, Sitka spruce, pine, fir, crab apple and alder. VIDEO of Tulalip Tribe planting native species in the estuary.
  • Building in stormwater protection: By creating a 6 1/2 acres water runoff storage basin, stormwater runoff from nearby suburban developments can be appropriately managed; additionally this prevents erosion and filters out pollutants so they don't flow into the estuary.
  • Construction of a setback levee: Construction of a 4000 foot long setback levee on the Western edge of Qwuloolt Estuary protects adjacent private and commercial property from water overflow after the breaching of the existing levee.
  • Breaching of the existing levee: Located on the Southern edge of the estuary, breaching the existing levee allows for the mix of saline and freshwater within the 400 acre marsh. VIDEO of the breach.

Restoration Plan Progression[14]

Scoping (1994-2006)

Property Acquisition (1994-2013)

Property Easements (2008-2015)

Design & Permitting (2008-2012)

Interior Habitat Work (2008-2015)

Stormwater Pond Construction and Stormwater Retrofitting (2013-2015)

Setback and Levee Construction (2013-2015)

  • Army Corp of Engineers and the Tulalip Tribe hired Seaalaska of Auburn WA. for a two phase construction contract. Phase 1 was to construct a "4,000-foot setback levee to protect Brashler Industrial Park, the Marysville Wastewater Treatment Plant and residents surrounding the area"[15]

Breach (2015)

  • Seaalaska then completed Phase 2 of the contract by "lowering 1,400 feet of the Ebey Slough dike and then excavating a 270-foot breach in it to allow tidal inundation"[15]
  • Here is a Time-Lapse of the Ebey Slough Levee Breach

Tidegate Sealing (2015)

  • According to the Global Resilience Institute, "Tide gates exist to drain tidelands for agriculture and other purposes and consist of a large pipe with a hinged door that opens outwards towards the estuary. Thousands of tide gates exist all across the United States and poor management of these valves can lead to damaging events, including flooding and fire".[16]
  • In 2013, the Qwuloolt project faced similar difficulties because, "the tide gate and levee drain the fresh water from the land and prevent any water from flowing back into the estuary. With the completion this winter of the setback levee on the western side, the southern levee, which runs along the northern edge of Ebey Slough, will be breached and the tide gate removed allowing the saline and fresh water to mix".[17] Tidegate sealing on the Qwuloolt restoration site ensured that the site behaves according to the natural hydrology of the landscape.

Tenure arrangements

The Qwuloolt Restoration Project area is an estuary located within the Snohomish watershed just south of Marysville. The Tulalip Tribe along with a group of trustees (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Washington State Department of Ecology) have purchased the project area, 400 acres of historic estuary[2]. The City of Marysville owns or has interest in the properties on all sides of the project, including the existing levee on the right bank of Ebey Slough. however, the Tulalip Tribe (project sponsor) has acquired all undeveloped property behind the levees within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 100-year floodplain[18]. Additionally, the Tulalip Tribe allowed the NRCS to purchase a permanent conservation easement through the Wetland Reserve Program[19].

The nature of the tenure held by the Tulalip Tribe appears to be a combination of private property and a permanent restoration co-management agreement.

Administrative arrangements

The Tulalip Tribe has management authority as owners of the land; however, the restoration management process is largely collaborative in nature. The group of trustees work collaboratively to allocate funding, collect data, conduct research, delegate responsibilities, etc. One example is when the Tulalip Tribe partnered with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program (DARRP). This brought together the Tulalip Tribe, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to address the toxic waste leaching into the Snohomish Estuary from the defunct Tulalip Landfill.

Since tribal, federal, state, and local entities are all joined in co-management of this area, they share data and research; however, they report to their respective organizations. The Tulalip Tribe reports news updates to the public through Tulalip News, an online expanded news feed of the Tulalip syəcəb newspaper. This reporting system is maintained in an effort "to connect tribal members and the Tulalip community to news, information and entertainment that improves their lives....[and] provides a forum for conversation between our citizens and leadership."[20]

Affected Stakeholders

Tulalip Tribe

The Tulalip Tribes are the successors in interest to the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and other allied tribes and bands signatory to the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. The 22 000 acre Tulalip Indian Reservation is located north of Everett and the Snohomish River and west of Marysville, WA. When the Tulalip Tribe organized under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in 1934, they decided to adopt the name "Tulalip Tribe" from the Salish word describing the main bay of the Reservation. They are recognized by the American Federal Government as a sovereign Indian Tribe operating under a Tribal Constitution approved by the Secretary of Interior, allowing them to self-govern as a "nation within a nation". The reservation is governed by a board of seven directors chosen by Tribal members for three year terms of service[21].

Coho Salmon: Keystone Species to the Pacific Northwest Coast

Salmon are an important part of Tulalip Tribe's culture and identity. Historically, American Indian Tribes in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) have depended on salmon as the basis of their culture and livelihood [22]. The annual First Salmon Ceremony is one way in which PNW Tribes, such as the Tulalip Tribe show respect to salmon as sustenance. By honoring and welcoming the first caught salmon of the season, the salmon's spirit returns to its people, the "Salmon People" and tells them it has been honoured so that more salmon will return. This ceremony shows reciprocity and appreciation to the cycle of life and all that the salmon provide[22].

Apart from salmon, the allied bands of the Tulalip Tribe recognize the sustenance provided by other aquatic life as well as the natural resources found in the surrounding uplands, wetlands and forests. They acknowledge the continued work of their people as being respectful stewards of the land and water[3]. Through the incorporation of culturally-integral Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), place-based knowledge and respect in relationship to ecosystem management, the Tulalip Tribe views the Qwuloolt Project as an opportunity for communities to connect with the Snohomish Estuary through traditional ways of stewardship and sustenance[23].

City of Marysville

The City of Marysville is located "approximately three miles upstream from its outlet to Puget Sound and within Marysville city limits."[4] Similar to New Orleans, the construction of levees and dikes actually degraded the natural floodplain that protects the land from catastrophic flooding.[24] Only 17% of the historic Snohomish estuary was left after the logging and farming industry built dikes to dry out the land. [25] The Qwuloolt project will restore 2% of the historic estuary.[26] This means that Marysville citizens who make a living as fisherman and farmers that depend on the land and water for sustenance are affected by changes being made to the hydrology of the area. Albeit, the restoration of Qwuloolt is predicted to better the health of the ecosystem and not anticipated to have adverse effects on either of these communities.

However, the majority of the Marysville population are interested stakeholders because while there are commercial sites within the Federal Emergency Management Agency 100-year floodplain, there are no residential properties. According to the Army Corp of Engineers,

The City of Everett lies at the South end of the delta, and the Tulalip reservation flanks the north end. The City of Marysville owns or has an interest in properties on all sides of the project, including the existing levee on the right bank of Ebey Slough. City commercial properties are located in the FEMA 100-year floodplain behind an existing levee just east of the Marysville wastewater treatment plant. However no residential properties are in the FEMA floodplain in this part of the valley. The Tulalip Tribe (project sponsor) has acquired all undeveloped property behind the levees within the FEMA 100-year floodplain (13 foot contour elevation).[18]

Interested Outside Stakeholders

"Restoration of the Qwuloolt, including all activities associated with stream and estuarine restoration, has cost $20.5 million to date. This project is made possible through the cooperation and financial support of Tulalip’s many partners including funds from tribal, local, county, state, and federal sources as well as private individuals and organizations."[27]

US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

The Army Corps of Engineers oversees the construction of dams, canals and flood protection of the United States as a federal agency under the Department of Defense. Their mission is to "deliver vital public and military engineering services; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters"[28]. However, historically this agency has exacerbated the risk of natural disaster. One example of this is when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. The city experienced catastrophic flooding due to "fatal engineering flaws in the city’s flood protection system"[24]. As well, construction of dams under their supervision has contributed to the displacement of Indigenous communities as dams reroute waterways around tribal reservations. This was the case with the construction of the Dalles Dam which effectively choked the Columbia river downstream, resulting in Wy-am, Celilo falls to run dry. Wy-am was a fishing site for over a half-dozen Indigenous tribes and the lack of water robbed the area of the once plentiful resources[29].

The Army Corp of Engineers became involved with the Qwuloolt restoration in 2000 through the Puget Sound and Adjacent Waters Restoration Program authorized under Section 544 of the Water Resource Development Act. According to the Army Corp, "The program focuses on implementing critical projects for the preservation, protection and restoration of critical ecosystem processes, habitats, and functions within the Puget Sound basin. Priority projects are selected by consulting with regional stakeholders including non-profit organizations, tribes, the state and federal agencies" [15] .

Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (WA RCO)

The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office is a state agency meant to provide "statewide leadership and funding to protect and improve the best of Washington’s natural and outdoor recreation resources, now and for future generations"[30].WA RCO contributed to funding the Tulalip Tribes restoration of Qwuloolt through both the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account[27]. These grants are part of the ongoing restoration of salmon populations. From 2005 to 2017, millions of dollars have gone to habitat restoration meant to help struggling salmon populations. Of that, $32,215,681 came from WA state, $21,297,278 came from the federal government (USA), and $51,630,086 from ???. The Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account are a part of the $32,215,681 of state funding[31].

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NOAA is a federal agency housed in the U.S. Department of Commerce. The agency's mission is "to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources." NOAA provided funds to the Tulalip tribe for the Qwuloolt restoration from Natural Resources Damage Assessment, Open Rivers Initiative, Community-Based Habitat Restoration Program, and Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund.[27]

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment also known as, "NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program (DARRP) works with teams composed of state, tribal, and federal agencies, often in cooperation with industry."[7] This is in an effort to restore approximately 360 acres "to an intertidal salt marsh habitat within the Snohomish River Estuary. Restoration techniques include breaching existing dikes to restore tidal influence; installing a tide gate for water management along Allen Creek; and planting trees and shrubs for a buffer between surrounding habitats."[32]

Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE)

The Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) is a state department tasked with protecting, preserving, and enhancing the environment for current and future generations. They work towards building innovative partnerships in an effort to balance sustainability with economic growth.[33] The WDOE worked in conjunction with the Tulalip Tribe, NOAA, US Fish and Wildlife Service as a part of DARRP. [7]

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW)

The US Fish & Wildlife Service is a bureau within the US Department of the Interior. Its mission is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.[34] This bureau supported the restoration of Qwuloolt as a part of DARRP as providing grant money through the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant.[27] According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, "four separate Service Coastal Wetland Grants were awarded to the [Qwuloolt] project to assist with land acquisition and restoration."[4]

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

The National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture that "works with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners across the country to help them boost agricultural productivity and protect our natural resources through conservation."[35]

The Tulalip Tribe allowed the NRCS to purchase a permanent conservation easement through the Wetland Reserve Program in which "the NRCS and partnering agencies and organizations then restore the natural hydrology by breaching old levees, removing old culverts and tide gates. In most cases additional vegetative plantings are also established to hasten the recovery".[19] The "NRCS has committed over $802,000 in financial assistance to the estuary restoration and hundreds of hours of technical assistance from NRCS biologists, foresters, engineers, technicians, and contracting and program specialists."[36]

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is a state department tasked with "preserving, protecting, and perpetuating the state’s fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities." Its' headquarters are in Olympia with regional offices and wildlife areas dedicated to fishing, hunting, recreation, etc.[37] The Department awarded $433,000 to the Tulalip Tribe for land acquisition and restoration of the Qwuloolt marsh under the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program. The program was created,

"In 2006, the state Legislature, with the broad support of governmental, tribal, non-profit and private representatives from the region, created the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program (ESRP) to advance nearshore restoration and to support salmon recovery. The program is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), in partnership with the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO). It provides grant funding and technical assistance for restoration and protection projects within the nearshore of Puget Sound."[38]

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation was created by the US Congress in 1984 and has since become the nation's largest private conservation grant-maker. They work with public and private sectors to protect and restore the US fish, wildlife, plants and habitats.[39] The NFWF provided support through the Puget Sound Marine Conservation Program.[27]

Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency's mission is "to protect human health and the environment". They develop and enforce environmental regulations, give grants, study environmental issues, sponsor partnerships, teach about the environment and publish information in an effort to ensure that:

  • Americans have clean air, land and water;
  • National efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information;
  • Federal laws protecting human health and the environment are administered and enforced fairly, effectively and as Congress intended;
  • Environmental stewardship is integral to U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
  • All parts of society--communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments--have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
  • Contaminated lands and toxic sites are cleaned up by potentially responsible parties and revitalized; and
  • Chemicals in the marketplace are reviewed for safety.[40]

According to the EPA, "Congress enacted Section 319(h) (§319) of the Clean Water Act in 1987, establishing a national program to control nonpoint sources of water pollution. Through §319, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides states, territories and tribes with guidance and grant funding to implement their nonpoint source (NPS) programs."[41] The Qwuloolt restoration project was able to receive nonpoint source funding likely due to the leaching of the defunct Tulalip Landfill that was capped in 2000.[42]

Puget Sound Partnership

The Puget Sound Partnership is "a state agency leading the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound." Their goals outlined by the WA state legislature are to achieve the following:

  1. A Healthy Human Population
  2. Vibrant Quality of Life
  3. Thriving Species and Food Web
  4. Protect and Restore Habitat
  5. Abundant Water Quantity
  6. Healthy Water Quality[43]

Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Program was created in 2007 to protect and restore habitat in the Puget Sound. The program funded $1,550,000 to the Qwuloolt restoration. [44]


Co-management of the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project: An Overall Success

In regards to the aims and intentions of the Tulalip Tribe and their partners, we view this co-managed restoration project as an overall success. While other Snohomish River Watershed estuary restoration projects exist, including Ebey Slough at 14 acres, 400 acres of Union Slough/Smith Island and 60 acres of Spencer Island, it is the Qwuloolt Estuary that stands out, with strong collaboration between the Tulalip Tribe, local, county, state and federal agencies, as well as private individuals and organizations. Through these partnerships, the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project has achieved ecological targets, such as stream and topographic restorations, the successful breach of the existing levee and native vegetation planting, while effective collaborative monitoring continues. One downfall may be identified by the long timeline - in order to reach salmon recovery goals, more rapid change needs to occur[45], especially considering the impacts that climate change will continue to increasingly impose on recovery efforts.

The Fish Wars and The Boldt Decision

By the 1960s, fisheries were declining, impacted by habitat loss, and tribes were only catching 2-5% of the total amount of salmon being harvested - native fishers had been almost completely shut out of their historic fishing by commercial and sport salmon fishers as well as the enforcement of State fishing laws and regulations [22][10].

In acts of defiance and civil disobedience, Native community members, such as Billy Frank Jr. (Nisqually) and even celebrities such as actor Marlon Brando, began staging "fish-ins" by catching salmon without state permits[46], resulting in numerous arrests and prosecutions. Although, fishing was legal according to the treaties signed with the U.S., it was illegal according to Washington State law, as the State had criminalized off-reservation fishing[8]. Additionally, the State had prohibited the use of nets and traps which are traditional Native methods of harvesting fish from rivers and streams. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, these "fish-ins", as well as associated protest marches, were used to dramatize racial discrimination, pride in native heritage and culture, and to assert treaty rights. The diverse tribes of Puget Sound, which are traditionally tied to natural resources, were further unified through the shared identity created by the "right to fish"[46].

PNW tribes decided they needed to go to court to fight for their fishing rights, first to obtain access to their usual and accustomed fishing grounds, and second to contest the increasingly restrictive State fishing regulations. 14 federally recognized tribes in the State of Washington demanded a share of harvest, the inclusion of hatchery fish in the salmon harvest and that their treaty rights protected the fish from habitat destruction. This case, which resulted in the 1974 Boldt Decision, determined that state fishing regulations discriminated against tribal fishers and where not applicable to them and that the treaty phrase "in common" meant that tribal fishers were entitled to catch 50% of the harvestable salmon returning to their usual and accustomed fishing grounds, clarifying the meaning of "fair apportionment" and the "right to take fish" [22][10]. This decision also acknowledged the role of 20 treaty Indian tribes in Western Washington State as co-managers of the salmon resource[10].

The case was a significant win for the tribes of Washington, but issues relating to tribal salmon fishing rights and the protection of salmon habitat were far from over.

The Culverts Case

With increased development and growth, Washington's networks of roads continued to expand. At junctions with waterways, large corrugated metal pipes called culverts were installed and maintained under state roads and highways to divert water. However, culverts were not designed nor built to allow fish passage upstream to access spawning grounds and habitat necessary for the reproductive cycle of salmon, contributing directly to the reduction of populations[10].

In 2001, the PNW Tribes along with the United States pursued a case, asking that the U.S District Court find the State of Washington responsible to meet a treaty-based duty to preserve fish runs and habitat at off-reservation fishing sites of 'usual and accustomed places', as well as to repair or replace culverts impeding salmon migration. They stated, by the state's own estimate, that the removal of obstacles presented by blocked culverts would result in an increase of 200,000 fish. District Court Judge Martinez ruled in favour of the PWN Tribes, indicating that they had provided sufficient evidence of a diminishment of salmon and that the State's actions were a direct cause of such, leading to the violation of treaty rights[10].

In 2013, the District Court issued a permanent injunction calling for the State to substantially increase its effort to remove, repair or replace State-owned culverts. The treaty rights to fish of PNW Tribes were determined to also include protection of fish habitat from human-caused degradation, such as that created by culverts blocking the free passage of fish upstream to spawning grounds and other important habitats. This injunction was upheld by the Ninth Circuit, ruling that the State of Washington was indeed obligated under the Stevens Treaties (including the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott) to ensure that enough fish are available for PNW Tribes to make a "moderate living"[10].

In 2017, the State of Washington filed a petition for review of the Ninth Circuit decision with the Supreme Court. They addressed three issues: "whether the treaties guarantee the tribes a “moderate living” from salmon harvests", "whether the federal government is barred from bringing the suit because the federal government approved the design and implementation of the culverts for decades", and "whether the District Court’s injunction violates principles of federalism because there was no judicial finding of a clear connection between culvert replacement and tribal fishing"[10]. There was a particular interest in defining a clear test for determining treaty violations and quantifying the measurement of habitat degradation. However, attorneys for the United States and the PNW Tribes asserted that the test should be whether the culverts caused a "substantial decline" in salmon runs[10].

On June 22, 2018, the Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit's decision in Washington v. United States in a 4-4 decision[10].

The Importance of Estuaries and Salmon

An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of brackish water - a mix of seawater and freshwater that combine through the estuary's connection to the open ocean and the inflow of one or more rivers or streams[2]. In Puget Sound, about half of the historic estuary land remains. The Snohomish River watershed produces between 25-50% of the Coho salmon in Puget Sound, however this specific watershed only retains 17% of its historic estuarine land. Estuaries are important ecosystems, providing biotic refuge and habitat, storing flood waters and protecting inland areas by acting as a natural buffer between marine and terrestrial environments. The plants, microorganisms and soils of estuaries filter water, remove pollutants and act as long-term carbon sequestration and storage[47][2]. Estuaries provide ecosystem services, that we as humans benefit from - clean air and water, commercial, industrial and agricultural use, recreational activities such as hiking, kayaking, boating, fishing or bird watching[47]. Additionally, estuaries are crucial for the early marine life history stages of juvenile salmon. The residency of juvenile salmon in estuaries provides staging areas and transition zones where they can grow and physiologically adapt to salt water environments, substantially improving their chances of surviving to reproduce. Estuaries provide juvenile salmon with ideal habitats for feeding and rapid growth, and with low predation pressures[48].

Salmon are a keystone species to the Pacific Northwest Coast. Through their migration up rivers and tributaries to spawning grounds and their anadromous reproductive process, salmon provide allochthonous marine-derived nutrient input into freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. The enormous amount of salmon nutrients (carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen) is distributed upstream as far as suitable habitat is accessible. Most are deposited close to the stream but are spread more widely over the landscape by the activities of terrestrial consumers and water movements[49]. Predators, such as bears, take advantage of migrating salmon runs and largely depend on this source of food to build winter stores of fat in preparation for hibernation. After catching and consuming their fill, discarded carcasses are left on river banks and in the surrounding riparian forests. Bears move 58 to 90% of all salmon biomass to land, up to hundreds of metres from river/stream channels and further distribute nutrients and minerals through their urine and feces[49]. Over a matter of a few weeks, salmon carcasses decompose into the soil, feeding other organisms as well as overstorey and understorey vegetation with remaining minerals and nutrients. Salmon also contain macro-elements, minerals such as potassium and calcium that are found in large quantities, which play an additional role in the nutritional quality of salmon for consumers. The decomposing bodies of dead, spawned salmon left in the river move with the water, feeding stream organisms and even returning downstream back to the ocean[49].

Habitat Restoration on a Fractured Landscape

In freshwater, salmon have three fundamental habitat requirements: a functional, navigable waterway; a functional spawning area; and a functional rearing area. A functional waterway is defined by being free of lethal amounts of pollutants, with relatively cool water and unimpeded by artificial barriers, such as culverts[22]. Access to spawning areas is essential for salmon survival. The building of roads and installation of culverts across streams is the most prevalent way in which human activity blocks salmon from reaching their spawning grounds. Culverts are commonly used considering they are cheaper and easier to install compared to the more effective alternative, bridges[22]. Additionally, the barrier to salmon movement upstream by culverts is detrimental to the dispersal of marine-derived nutrients and minerals that are important for terrestrial and freshwater ecosystem productivity.

The importance of landscape-scale restoration efforts is clear for future salmon recovery. Habitat restoration is the beginning of the recovery process. However, there are limitations to restoration, including private land ownership and municipal boundaries which make the implementation of efforts difficult. Public lands, although easier to implement landscape-level restoration efforts on, tend to generally be in better condition and need less restoration efforts compared to those in private or urban areas. In order to implement effective landscape-scale restoration efforts, privately owned land and land in urban areas need to be part of the equation[22].

In order to begin recovery efforts, it is important to identify the quality, quantity and distribution of habitat needed by a species. For salmon, ideal habitat quality requires a decrease in pre spawning and incubation temperatures, a reduction in peak flows (linked to climate change and land use changes) and a reduction in fine sediment content. Habitat quantity and distribution require improvements to increase juvenile and adult capacity by multiplying rearing areas in channel, off-channel, and importantly, estuarine habitat types[50]. As shown in Figure 6, there are complex direct and indirect links between land use actions, landscape processes and salmon habitat conditions, further indicating the impacts of human activities on salmon populations. Accordingly, due to the wide range of biological and physical interactions, Snohomish Basin conservation managers face the challenging decision of what actions should be pursued in order to achieve effective salmon recovery[50].


Racialization of the Landscape

As Nicholas Menzies notes, "In partitioning the landscape between forest and other land uses, states divided the rural population into categories of legal and illegal residents, usually conforming to ethnic and cultural stereotypes of (legally) settled agrarian people and (illegal) squatters—mobile nomadic forest dwellers persisting in their customary way of life."[51] In the Salish Sea, the racialization of the landscape sparked the Fish-Ins of the 1960s and 1970s. Divisions between Indigenous fisherman and non-Indigenous commercial and sports fisherman created mounting tension over the management of resources. Before the war between these two groups played out, resource management of the land and waterways was largely controlled by top down decision making at the state and federal level. Diking and the construction of levees for agriculture have created the landscape seen today with an estuary 17% of what it used to be.[25]

The infamous Fish Wars of the 1960s created an important narrative around Native American civil and fishing rights as well as the perception and opinion of tribal rights to the public. This movement led to the 1974 Boldt Decision and ultimately the Culverts Case starting in 2001. While the Boldt Decision represents one of most significant treaty law cases in the U.S., as Billy Frank Jr. stated “50 percent of zero fish is still zero fish”, it is inconsequential if there aren't enough fish to catch in the first place[52].

Navigating Tribal Rights & Relations

Today, the co-management of salmon and salmon habitat between PNW Tribes, government and various other institutions, such as NOAA, NRCS and WDOE, is considerable in terms of making appropriate decisions in order to improve salmon habitat and protect future salmon populations. The Tulalip Tribe's ability to lead the co-management of the Qwuloolt estuary demonstrates that a great deal has changed since the Fish Ins of the 1950s and 1960s. Since the Fish Wars, the Boldt Decision, and the Culverts case, the voice of Indigenous people no longer falls on deaf ears when it comes to protecting salmon and their habitat. This is largely thanks to Indigenous fishing rights activists like Billy Frank Jr., tribal nations, and the many tribal environmental fishing organizations like the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC).

Federal, state, and local governments retain their power gazetted in laws and constitutions. As well, they retain their power through the considerable funding they can allocate to their community. However, the Tulalip Tribe has certainly become a pivotal stakeholder through their fight in the courts and on the water. With the Tribe's treaty right to fish reaffirmed in the Boldt decision and the connection between habitat and tribal fishing expressly acknowledged in the Culverts case, the Tulalip Tribe has the agency to fight for their community and the fish that sustain them.


In the case study of the Little Prairie Community Forest (LPCF), there existed distinct cultural values that guided management practices. In the case of LPCF, the cultural values shared by Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations outlined their priorities for forest management. Additionally, the community had to navigate the racialized landscape of the community forest. According to one member, "a lot of people think that First Nations people are going to assimilate and not continue their way of life ... our culture has to be maintained, for the health of our people".[53] The Tulalip Tribe as well as Coast Salish peoples across the Puget Sound have experienced similar issues (Fish Wars, Discrimination, etc.) that result from a racialized landscape. Our recommendation is that the co-management team hold events and community gatherings centered on spreading cultural awareness and building relationships based on reciprocity and respect. Educating the community at large about Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as well as the Tribe's cultural values would better inform the public about the restoration work being done at Qwuloolt and the cultural significance of the site.

Another recommendation is for the co-management team to be mindful of demarcating conservation areas. In the case study of Misali Island, in Zanzibar, Tanzania, "fishers interviewed on the island claimed that members of the village conservation committees were not fishers themselves and had mistakenly agreed to a conservation plan that included the demarcation of a core protection zone of 1.4 square kilometers with unnecessarily stringent restrictions on use and that the fishers believed was in the wrong location to conserve breeding stocks of fish and octopus anyway."[54] Our recommendation is to hold meetings, focus groups, or community discussions with fisherman and shellfish harvesters concerning any plans for restricting access or demarcating boundaries around the restoration site. Discussions with these individuals could provide insight into the behavior of fugitive resources (fish and other mobile marine life) at any given time as well as provide explanations for unexpected data. For example, readings of elevated pollution could be explained by a fisherman who witnessed a boater dumping chemicals. As well, researchers finding areas of concentrated pollutants can notify fisherman to stay away from these areas.


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