State helps family foresters reopen 800 miles of stream to fish passage

culvert replacement
The state’s Family Forest Fish Passage Program funded this Spokane County landowner’s replacement (left) of an undersized culvert (right) that had blocked fish passage in Little Deer Creek. Photo: DNR/RCO

For a relatively small investment, a Washington state program has enabled hundreds of small forestland owners to reopen hundreds of miles of previously blocked stream habitat to salmon and other fish (as this video explains). About $5 million was allocated to the program for the 2015-17 state budget biennium. Since its inception in 2003, the legislatively funded Family Forest Fish Passage Program has reconnected 804 miles of fish habitat and eliminated 353 worn out or improperly installed road culverts and other fish barriers on forest streams.

The numbers are important because 3.2 million acres of Washington’s forests—about half of the private forestland in the state—are owned by small forest landowners. Their income contributes to Washington state’s annual $16 billion forestry economy and helps sustain many rural communities. At the same time, these family forests provide cold, clean water to thousands of miles of fish-bearing streams. However, crossing those streams, in many cases, are private forest roads with aging, under-sized culverts or other structures that block migrating fish that use those streams.

With the state’s 1999 Forests and Fish rules, new regulations required all forest landowners to remove fish barriers on streams associated with their forest road crossings. To a small forest landowner, the cost can be substantial and potentially influence their decisions about converting their forestland to another use. Recognizing these potential impacts, the 2003 Washington State Legislature created the Family Forest Fish Passage Program to help substantially reduce the regulatory and monetary burdens on small family forest landowners while restoring habitat for fish.

In addition to the 353 completed projects there are 793 projects waiting their turn for funding assistance.

See a map of recent projects and more information about Family Forest Fish Passage Program.