Strategy: Improve Conditions for Healthy Salmon

Since time immemorial, salmon have been the lifeblood of this region, whether as a vital food source, cultural icon or economic driver. Today though, many of our most important salmon species are critically endangered and we risk losing them for good if we don’t act to restore riparian conditions. Chinook salmon are also the primary food source of another critically endangered Pacific Northwest icon, Southern Resident Orca Whales. Salmon are an important indicator of the health of biological conditions for aquatic life throughout Puget Sound. By working to restore them, we’ll ensure that future generations get to experience the same richness and diversity of life that Puget Sound has always provided the people that call this place home.

This is a challenge much larger than any one organization, but in concert with dozens of local partners the key actions we’ve mapped out in this strategy will help us get deeper into our local impact and meaningfully advance toward our long-term goal: “by 2040, Pierce County has thriving ecosystems that support native habitat for healthy populations of salmon, orca and other wildlife, native plants and pollinators.”

To focus our limited resources and staff time, our first key action is to “Conduct an analysis to prioritize stream reaches for salmon recovery efforts and implement.” This action isn’t intended to recreate the wheel, as our local Salmon Recovery Lead Entities have developed restoration strategies, but rather to take the data from those strategies, layer it with information specific to the areas and people we work in and with, and help strategically target our efforts. We can’t do everything, everywhere, so we need to wisely target our use of limited resources.

This prioritization process will drive the next two key actions forward by directing where we deploy our resources. “Increase capacity to deliver riparian restoration Technical Assistance and implementation of practices to non-farm riparian landowners” helps us leverage our existing on-Farm technical assistance and reach more landowners in these targeted areas. This increase in technical assistance will allow us to “Work with landowners to implement salmon-specific best management practices (BMPs) and create a project development pipeline” of both small projects and large floodplain reconnection projects. Combined, these actions are aimed at increasing the scale, impact and pace of our salmon habitat restoration work.

In our on-Farm work, we plan to continue to work with landowners to implement BMPs that improve soil health and productivity, water quality and riparian habitat. However, our partnership with 20+ organizations in the Floodplains for the Future initiative has pointed toward the need to “Develop a salmon barrier inventory and removal initiative” that focuses on barriers that block upstream salmon migration, specifically on farms. These barriers often also cause drainage issues for farmers, preventing them from being able to plant their fields early in the spring. We see this key action as a win-win for both salmon and farmers, while tying into broader efforts by Pierce County and the State Department of Transportation to remove barriers on public roads.

Although each of these efforts will increase our impact, we also recognize that there are significant cultural reasons our region has not made progress on salmon recovery efforts. Chinook salmon have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1999 and despite 20+ years of statewide work to restore habitat, salmon are not recovering. To truly achieve our long-term goals, it will require more than just restoring habitat, it will require changing the way each of us see ourselves in connection to salmon and our local ecosystems. In alignment with our equity goals, we will work to shift this cultural relationship with a “planning and engagement strategy motivated by a shift in the salmon recovery narrative to include food sovereignty and cultural relevance,” specifically focusing on developing closer relationships with our local tribal communities. We have a lot to learn from tribal partners’ Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and embedding those lessons into our strategies for action, and sharing that knowledge more broadly, we can shift the broader cultural relationship with our local ecosystem. Combined with our more traditional habitat recovery work, this will put us on a stronger path towards recovery.

Advancing life-giving relationships between humans and nature is the greatest challenge of our time. This strategy helps Pierce Conservation District work toward this balance by sustaining functioning habitats, improving the quality of fresh and salt waters and improving conditions for healthy salmon runs, making Pierce County a better place to live, work and play.

Key Measures:

  • Return on investment in additional salmon recovery partnerships, projects and educational opportunities
  • Cultural relevance of our engagement and communications around salmon recovery



Key Action

Five-Year Target(s)



Conduct an analysis to prioritize stream reaches for salmon recovery efforts and implement.

  • Complete a GIS prioritization project for the Habitat team, with an emphasis on salmon recovery.

Q1 2021 - Q3 2021


Conduct outreach process with Salmon Recovery Lead Entities, Tribal Partners, and other key partners to inform prioritization


Q2 2021 - Q3 2021


Increase capacity to deliver riparian restoration Technical Assistance and implementation of practices to non-farm riparian landowners

  • Deliver new non-farm Riparian Restoration Program
  • 4 - 6 small (5-10 acres) riparian restoration projects annually
  • X number of stream miles restored

Q2 2021 - Q4 2021


Develop a landowner outreach and assistance program modeled after Shore Friendly/Farm Team to restore and improve high priority riparian areas.

  • Identify and develop financial assistance mechanisms.
  • Develop cost share policy.
  • Develop scope of this effort; prioritize areas for outreach and engagement.

Q1 2025 - Q4 2025


Incorporate invasive weed control into restoration projects and BMP recommendations; explore partner and funding opportunities for system-wide knotweed control in high priority watersheds.


Q4 2023


Work with landowners to implement salmon-specific BMPs and create a project development pipeline

  • 4 major projects in development (i.e. the various stages of feasibility/design/permitting/funding)



Complete a floodplain and instream salmon recovery project on South Prairie Creek

  • Restore 40 acres of floodplain

Q4 2025


Planning and engagement strategy motivated by a shift in the salmon recovery narrative to include food sovereignty and cultural relevance.

  • Secure funding to commence process.
  • Convene focus groups.
  • Deliverable = road map plan with next steps.
  • 1-2 collaborative events/projects with tribal fisheries groups.

Q1 2021 - Q2 2023


Engage tribal communities in focus groups to assess Traditional Ecological Knowledge and strategies for action.





Develop a salmon barrier inventory and removal initiative

  • X # of projects in development (i.e. the various stages of feasibility/design/permitting/funding)
  • X # of barriers removed



Develop a variable width buffer pilot program based on effective programs in King and Whatcom Counties

  • X # stream miles restored (to be adaptively managed when FbD 4 barrier inventory is complete - late 2021)