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On the Ground Surveys that Protect Washington's Wild Fish

Wild Fish Conservancy water type fieldcrews have assessed fish presence and habitat conditions on thousands of stream reaches throughout western Washington

Water Typing 2016State and local governments in Washington are charged with protecting streams from adverse impacts associated with adjacent land-use activities.  Many are falling well short of protecting our resources for a surprisingly simple reason: they are relying on inaccurate maps.  

In Washington, government agencies depend on a process called water typing to identify and classify streams, lakes, and wetlands. This basic inventory is the most fundamental step in conserving the health of streams, rivers, and ultimately, the larger waters which they feed, like Puget Sound.  

Wild Fish Conservancy has documented widespread error throughout western Washington water typing maps.  Many streams are mis-classified, mis-mapped, or are not on the regulatory maps at all.  Hundreds of miles of productive aquatic habitats are misidentified and subsequently may be subjected to inappropriate land practices.   

Under its Habitat Lost & Found program, Wild Fish Conservancy has since 1994 been physically surveying streams throughout Washington to correct their misclassification and qualify them for the protection warranted under existing laws. Since then, using the state-sanctioned watertype survey protocol, we have corrected the watertype classification of thousands of stream reaches statewide.  The results of most WFC water type assessments are made available as an interactive map on our website (see:  www.wildfishconservancy.org) to facilitate the use of the data by state and local governments, and the general public.  

In addition to ensuring that the best available science is used to protect fish habitats under existing laws, these assessments fill important data gaps regarding fish passage barriers and fish species composition and distribution – information needed to responsibly identify, prioritize, and implement effective and science-based restoration projects in the area.  During these assessments we also share information with landowners and identify habitat restoration and protection opportunities within the study watersheds.

Many streams face threats from growing development pressure. Until watersheds are accurately identified and protected, cumulative effects from the development of these watersheds will continue to contribute to the compromised health downstream. And until systematic water type inventories are performed, regulatory maps updated, and critical areas adequately protected, cumulative impacts will continue to compromise efforts to recover fish populations and the watersheds they rely on.

In 2016 Wild Fish Conservancy will be continuing water type assessments in Kitsap, Thurston, King, Snohomish, and Mason Counties.

*Article image: Chris Linder

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