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Salmon Recovery Plan
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Meet the Salmon

The Stillaguamish is home to two populations of listed chinook in the North Fork and South Fork. The watershed also supports Stillaguamish and Deer Creek coho; North and South Fork pinks and fall chum; South Fork, Deer Creek and Canyon Creek summer steelhead; Baker Sockeye and Stillaguamish bull trout.

Bull Trout
Salmon images courtesy of King County. Steelhead image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.

Salmon and the Stillaguamish River



For more information about salmon recovery planning in this watershed, click here.

Click here to read this watershed's feedback summary.


Key Facts

Land use in the portion of the watershed inhabited by salmon is 61 % forestry, 22% rural residential, 15 % agricultural and 2 % urban.

Spanning northern Snohomish and southern Skagit counties, major cities within the watershed include Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls and Stanwood.

Major public landholdings are managed by the U.S. Forest Service Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Snohomish County.

The planning area for the watershed under the state Watershed Management Act is Watershed Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 5.


The Stillaguamish Watershed drains about 700 square miles of Snohomish and Skagit Counties. The mainstem Stillaguamish River is formed by the North and South Forks, which descend from the foothills of the Cascades to a confluence at Arlington and flow westerly into Port Susan and South Skagit Bay.

Staples of the early Western Washington economy, forestry and farming are still major players in the Stillaguamish watershed, where steep, but lush forest slopes and a broad soil-rich delta provide ideal growing conditions. A unique characteristic of the Stillaguamish basin is its low level of commercial development along the I-5 corridor. It is one of the few, largely undeveloped rural areas adjacent to major urban centers in Puget Sound. Residents in the basin feel a strong sense of community and pride in their area. Its rural nature provides a significant opportunity to protect key salmon habitat and restore or enhance properly functioning conditions.

The Stillaguamish watershed is home to an early collaborative effort to address watershed health. Local stakeholders, including Snohomish County, the Tulalip and Stillaguamish Tribes, farmers, forest land owners, citizens and local agency representatives committed in 1990 to take actions to improve water quality. Recently, the Stillaguamish Implementation Review Committee (SIRC) has since turned its attention to salmon habitat protection and recovery with a focus on chinook salmon. The Stillaguamish supports two of Puget Sound’s twenty-two threatened populations of chinook salmon.

Major Policy or Actions Needed to Recover Salmon

Protect and Restore Estuary, Nearshore and Floodplain Habitat
A major priority in the basin is protecting and restoring estuary, nearshore and floodplain habitat. The watershed is poised to make significant progress on this priority in the next 5 to10 years. Farmers have already restored access to some tidal channels. For two years, the Stillaguamish Flood Control District, in conjunction with the Stillaguamish Tribe, has been diligently experimenting with new, lighter tide gates and refining how the gates can work for both fish and farmers. The District has constructed over eighty of these improved gates to date.

The District also partnered with the Tribe to restore riparian function and instream water quality along 8 miles of the Old Stillaguamish Channel. Incentives are needed for farmers and other land owners to restore access to side channels in the estuary and along the mainstem of the river. A comprehensive effort is needed to both provide flood storage and floodplain connectivity for habitat.

Implement New Forest Practices
Recent changes to the Washington State forest practice rules as a result of the Forests and Fish agreement are encouraging. The Agreement lays out ways to balance forest harvest, forest road building and forest practice activities on steep slopes and riparian areas with the need to consider the effects on salmon habitat. The SIRC has identified additional issues to discuss with forest landowners in the watershed including: limits on cumulative areas of clear cutting within certain timeframes, and the amount of immature forest in the basin at any one time. New forest practices will need to be funded, implemented and monitored if the changes are to be effective.

Enforce Existing Laws
Voluntary habitat restoration will not be effective without adequate enforcement of local, state and federal land use regulations. Lack of enforcement staff and funding contributes to current poor habitat conditions. Existing zoning, critical areas and other development regulations should be enforced to:

  • Protect riparian areas and wetlands
  • Prevent resource extraction or development in streams and wetlands
  • Prevent increases in sediment transport and increased stream temperatures
  • Prevent increase in stormwater flow frequency and transport


We’re Making Progress—Some Accomplishments

The Stillaguamish Flood Control District led a project involving 26 local farmers and landowners who worked together with the Stillaguamish Tribe to install a reverse tide gate on the Old Stillaguamish Channel, enhancing water quality and habitat for salmon in the low flow summer months. Property owners also agreed to add buffers along the slough to improve water quality.

Riparian Restoration
The SIRC and Snohomish Conservation District sponsored an analysis of the Economic Implications of Riparian Restoration on Selected Stillaguamish Farms. This work funded partly by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Agriculture developed an economic tool that Stillaguamish farmers can use to evaluate the economic implications of installing riparian buffers on their farms. A farm budget model was used to simulate real riparian management decisions for farmers by accounting for real farm cost and revenue decision factors.

The Stillaguamish Tribe’s Banksavers Project planted and maintained miles of riparian lands over the past three years. A strong coalition of agencies and groups are working together to address the invasive species problems associated with restoring riparian function. And the Fisheries Enhancement Group and the Tribe have succeeded in encouraging landowners to voluntarily plant buffers on their lands.

Habitat Projects
Since 1999, the Stillaguamish Lead Entity has secured over $5 million for 21 local salmon habitat projects through the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. These state and federal funds were in turn matched by dollars from many local organizations. Examples of habitat projects include: Engineered logjams to create pools for cover, providing access to off-channel and slough habitat, and acquiring estuary.

Water Quality
Actions to improve water quality set forth in the 1990 Watershed Action Plan are 90 percent complete. Every dairy in the basin has an established plan and formation of a stormwater utility is underway in the City of Arlington. A comprehensive view exists of conditions throughout the watershed because of increased inter-agency coordination and data sharing.

Sedimentation Control
The Stillaguamish Tribe is developing a Landslide Hazard Zonation Layer project to reduce the potential for human-caused landslides, which account for 75 percent of the 1,100 documented landslides in the watershed. The SIRC is also working to reduce the inputs of two major landslides--the Steelhead haven slide on the North fork and the Gold Basin slide on the South fork.

Organizations Involved

The Stillaguamish Implementation Review Committee (SIRC) is a broad-based watershed citizen committee formed in 1990 to address non-point pollution and has been developing the Chinook recovery plan for over six years. Membership includes:

  • City of Arlington
  • City of Stanwood
  • Clean Water District Board
  • Federation of Fly Fishers
  • Mainstem Stillaguamish Citizen
  • Pilchuck Audubon Society
  • Snohomish Conservation District
  • Snohomish County
  • Snohomish County Noxious Weed Board
  • South Fork Stillaguamish Citizen
  • Stillaguamish Flood Control District
  • Stillaguamish Grange
  • Stillaguamish Tribe
  • Stillaguamish –Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Forces
  • Twin City Foods
  • Tulalip Tribes
  • US Forest Service
  • Washington Dairy Federation
  • WA Department of Ecology
  • WA Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • WA Department of Natural Resources
  • Washington Farm Forestry Association
  • WSU Cooperative Extension

The SIRC regularly has a large number of individual landowners and stakeholders who are not formal members, but regularly attend and participate in the decision making.


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