The Swinomish tribe threatens to sue the federal government to expedite estuary restoration – and salmon conservation – in the Skagit River delta.
Much of the estuary has been drained and tidal gates closed to facilitate agriculture, but such habitat is vital for young salmon.
The tribe says that under a 2010 agreement, the Army Corps of Engineers – following a previous lawsuit – shouldn’t issue dike district building permits for work on the tide gates unless they first restore the estuary’s habitat.
But for the past five years, the Corps has done just that, the tribe says. During this time, at least 660 hectares should have been restored.
Restoration efforts are now behind schedule in the agreement, which envisages the restoration of 2,700 hectares by 2035. At the current pace, it will take a century, tribal scholars say.
The tribe announced to the Army Corps this week that they intend to sue within 60 days, saying the agency has allowed the dike districts to violate the Endangered Species Act. Skagit River Chinook salmon are protected by law.
The Army Corps and NOAA Fisheries said they are reviewing the tribe’s claims.
“We are seriously concerned about the current state of the Skagit River estuary, which is critical to Chinook recovery in Puget Sound,” said Steve Edwards, chairman of the Swinomish Tribe, in a press release. “There are tribe members who cannot feed their families because our salmon are injured and cannot recover without additional habitats in the estuary.”
NOAA Fisheries has identified degraded estuary habitats as a major threat to the Skagit River Chinook, which is a major food source for endangered southern orcas.