Kindergarteners Burfoot Park Field Trip, Puget Sound Sea Life, Scuba Divers too!


Burfoot 9 Griffin kindergarten student examines a sea star.

It’s that time of year when classrooms take a day to go on an end of the year field trip, somewhere fun, but somewhere educational.  On Tuesday May 24th, Griffin School and Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA) kindergarten classes planned a trip to Burfoot Park along Budd Inlet, where they were greeted by Squaxin Island Tribe Natural Resources staff  in scuba gear and two wading pools full of sea life.    “It’s always fun to do this for the students.  To see the excitement in these young learners faces when we come to shore in all our scuba gear is priceless,” says Joseph Peters, Natural Resources Policy Representative for Squaxin Island Tribe.

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This is the second year that Griffin School kindergarten classes have coordinated with Squaxin Island Tribe Natural Resources to have a “touch tank” of sea life for the class to learn about.  It was great that we could extend this to be a full day event so ORLA could participate in all the fun.   The hope is that we can make an impression on these young students about the importance of the Puget Sound and the life it contains.

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Joe Peters and Scott Steltzner of Squaxin Island Tribe Natural Resources answer questions about Puget Sound sea life.

“Watching them interact with the sea stars, crabs, moon snails, and other sea creatures is amazing.  We like to keep our eye on those kindergarteners that stay around the touch tank the longest.  Those kids are our future marine biologist or scientists”, boast Peters.  There are plans to do this again next year with Griffin and ORLA. Squaxin Island Tribe Natural Resources does a number of educational outreach activities throughout the year.  Over three days in late April the Tribe and Shelton School District conducted the First Grade Field Experience.  First graders from Evergreen, Mountain View, and Bordeaux Elementary visited Arcadia Point where Squaxin Island Tribe set up three exploration stations and traditional story telling station.  Explorations stations included touch tank, watershed demonstration, and scavenger hunt.

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Candace Penn, Joe Peters, & Scott Steltzner of Squaxin Island Tribe Natural Resources discuss Puget Sound sea life with Kindergarteners.

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Even more bad news coming for South Puget Sound salmon returns


This year’s forecasts for coho coming back to the deep South Sound show the lasting impact of poor marine survival caused by the recent Pacific Blob, a large area of warm ocean water. For example, this coming year, only 1,800 coho that originated from the Squaxin Island Tribal net pens program are expected to return.

Usually over 25,000 Squaxin net pen coho return yearly from 1.8 million released. Historically, the net pen program’s survival has been as high as 3 percent in recent decades, but has dipped down to 1.1 percent the last few years. This year, the fish produced by the program will likely only have a 0.117 percent survival rate.

And, this is because of the lasting impacts of poor marine survival caused by the blob, even though it likely died this last fall.

Coho returning this year still spent enough time in the ocean that their survival was hurt by the blob’s warm water conditions.

NOAA fisheries recently pointed out how the area of warm water in the north Pacific Ocean turned everything upside down in terms of the ocean food chain:

“When young salmon come out to sea and the water is warm, they need more food to keep their metabolic rate up, yet there is less available food and they have to work harder,” said Elizabeth Daly, an Oregon State senior faculty research assistant with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a joint program of OSU and NOAA.

“Our long-term data set contradicts the long-held assumption that salmon eat less during warm-water regimes,” Daly added. “They actually eat more. But they still don’t fare as well. When the water is warm, salmon are smaller and thinner.”

During the last two years, an unusually large, warm body of water has settled into the ocean off the Pacific Northwest that scientists have dubbed “The Blob,” which is forecast to be followed this winter by a fairly strong El Niño event. Though recent spring Chinook salmon runs have been strong due to cooler ocean conditions in 2012-13, the impact of this long stretch of warm water on juvenile fish may bode poorly for future runs.

“So far this year, we’ve seen a lot of juvenile salmon with empty stomachs,” Daly said. “The pressure to find food is going to be great. Of those fish that did have food in their stomachs, there was an unusual amount of juvenile rockfish and no signs of Pacific sand lance or krill.

“Not only does this warm water make it more difficult for the salmon to find food, it increases the risk of their own predation as they spend more time eating and less time avoiding predators,” she added.

The blob being replaced by a strong El Niño still means bad news for salmon survival.

El Niño is generally a warming of the Pacific Ocean that will likely last at least through this spring.

Last year’s returns of pink and coho salmon showed the devastating impacts bad marine survival can have on fisheries. Squaxin tribal fishers spent several frustrating weeks last fall landing fewer coho that were undersized as well.

Many of the fish we caught were about half the size of the fish we usually see. This was hard on our fishermen because for the same effort, their landings had much less value.

The Squaxin Tribe practices a protective fishing regime, focusing its efforts away from bays and harbors where wild coho congregate, fishing instead where plentiful hatchery-origin fish hang out.

Poor marine survival threatens the return of hatchery fish too, and will continue to hurt the tribe’s fishing-based economy and local sport fisheries. The Squaxin net pens program releases 1.8 million coho each year. When these fish returning as adults, they contribute to both sports fisheries through out Puget sound as well as tribal fisheries.

This decline in coho is devastating for both tribal and state-managed fisheries.

Collier Boat Ramp and Jetty Restoration

The Squaxin Island Tribe, working with our partner the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, recently completed a project to remove a boat ramp and large concrete structure that had  been used as a boat basin.

Both of these structures blocked the natural movement of sediment down the beach. Why is this important? This beach materiel is used by sand lance and surf smelt to lay their eggs. These, and other fish, are called Forage Fish because they provide a critically important food base for salmon and other creatures in Puget Sound. Blocking natural sediment movement causes the beach to cut down decreasing the available space for forage fish to spawn.


Before: Boat ramp with marine railway.  The concrete blocks sediment from moving as shown by the elevation difference on either side.


Before: Boat basin that had been used as a “dry dock” by the previous owner. This structure blocked sediment from moving down the beach.

The energy generated from waves breaking along the beach at an angle moves sand and sediment along the shoreline. We call areas where this happens over long stretches of beach Drift Cells as the sediment tends to drift or move in one direction. Structures located on the beach can block this sediment movement causing the beach to pile up on one side and down cut on the other.

In the early 2000’s the Tribe initiated a project to identify and rate beach sediment sources within Totten Inlet. The drift cell along the project area was found to be one of the longest in all of South Sound. This drift cell was rated as having a good sediment supply, called feeder bluffs as they feed sediment to the drift cells, and was found to be in generally good shape. Three structures were identified that blocked sediment movement down the beach. The first of these, the Arcadia Point boat launch, was fixed in 2011 when a solid concrete ramp was replaced with one that had channels that allow sediment to flow through.


Arcadia Point Boat Launch. Sediment channels are placed between concrete planks allowing sediment to flow through from left to right.

The other two structures were the Collier boat ramp and jetty. Sediment can now move unimpeded on this over five mile long drift cell.


After: The boat basin has been removed. Sediment can now flow down the beach unimpeded.

You can watch a YouTube video showing the construction project here:

A Walk Down Squaxin Islands Climate Change Road

Some of you might be wondering what we as a tribe are doing about climate change? How is Climate Change effecting our first foods like shellfish, salmon, and harvestable plants? As the Climate Change Ecologist Trainee for the Tribe these are things I think about quite often. I have collected various graphs, charts,and images that I hope will resonate with you about what climate change is and how first nations are being affected. You will see two Links below, The first is a short video about indigenous people and climate change. I have also attached a presentation that I presented to our tribal council and I felt as though I left them wanting more information about Climate Change here in the Pacific Northwest. I hope you as well are left wanting more information, I would be happy to email anyone more links and media that illustrate issues related to climate change or just sit down and talk about Climate Change. Stay tuned for my next exciting post about Ocean Acidification!



Each dock counts towards hurting salmon

OAQN7p copyHow much progress are we really making in restoring Puget Sound?

On one hand, community partners get together with us here at the tribe and at local governments to push forward a few habitat restoration projects a year. At the very most.

But, on the other end, dozens and dozens of shoreline development projects seem to sail through the local permitting process. Each of these projects is small on its own (a new bulkhead there, a dock here), so no one is bound to complain.

But, these tiny projects all put together are having a massive impact on Puget Sound, and its ability to produce salmon.

Nearshore habitat provides a critical nursery for juvenile salmon as they prepare to make their seaward migration, and also serves as migration corridors for returning adult salmon.

Here’s the short course on how these tiny developments can add up:

One way things like bulkheads and docks damage the environment is by disconnecting land and marine ecosystems. This disconnection prevents things like logs and bugs from entering and moving along the water, which ultimately alters the food chain and eliminates important habitat.

Another impact from shoreline modification is that it affects currents, which change where and how much sand is deposited. This in turn harms habitat of forage fish and invertebrates that are an important source of food for young and returning adult salmon.

But, I see dozens of these projects go through, with no mind paid to what the total impact of all the projects ever permitted is having.

Every letter we receive from Pierce County about yet another bulkhead or dock somewhere in Puget Sound includes language like this:

What does that mean in everyday language?

The County insists that this dock (or bulkhead on its own) isn’t a problem. But, they’re not going to actually look at its individual impact. Also they are not going to look at cumulative impacts to find out if this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or, in this case, Puget Sound’s back.

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And, what does that look like on the ground?

Here’s a visualization of Horsehead Bay (you can see a larger version here), which in its natural state would be great rearing habitat for juvenile salmon. But, when you add a few dozen docks, the value to salmon plummets.

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Youth Fresh Water Mussel Surveys


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This picture was taken by Natanya Epstein while at a training in Portland, Oregon hosted by the Xerces Society. The training was for Fresh water mussels protocols and proper survey techniques.


SIT staff attended this Fresh Water Mussel survey training to prepare for future programs with tribal youth. The pictures above are from a training at Crystal Springs Creek in Portland, OR. Below are pictures from a our tribal youth pilot program at Mill Creek in Shelton, WA. The below pictures are from a pilot youth mussel survey program we started this summer to hopefully get money to fund next year for a tribal youth internship program. If we are awarded the funding we would be able to take tribal youth out to this kind of research again.


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The Squaxin Island Tribal youth are having a great time in these pictures, having fun while also collecting vital data. Our group of youth ranging in ages from 13-20 surveyed Mill Creek in Shelton, WA to identify the presence and/or absence of fresh water mussels as well as stream habitat surveys. They are collecting data on a species that there is very little know about and at the same time introducing tribal youth to the wonderful world of science. The Fresh water mussels species we see most often is the Western Pearshell or Margaritifera falcata Fresh Water Mussel pictured below.



Western Pearlshell or Margaritifera falcata Fresh Water Mussel

Mussels and Climate Change:

Fresh Water Mussels of the Pacific Northwest Guide Book:

Pg.17  [Western freshwater ecosystems have suffered increased levels of alteration and exploitation since settlers first arrived more than 150 years ago. Mussels have been eliminated from portions of rivers and even entire watersheds through the combined effects of habitat loss, pollution, blockage of anadromous fish, and introduced species. The factors that seem to have had the greatest effect on western freshwater mussels include water availability, dams, introduced species, loss of host fish species, and the chronic effects of urbanization, agriculture, and logging on habitat quality. Global climate change will exacerbate the effects of many of these stressors on western ecosystems (see

There is a critical need for greater research into freshwater mussel biology, distribution, status, and threats. This information is vital for effective conservation of western mussels. Specifically, there is a need to better understand the distribution, habitat, host fish species, life history, population structure, recruitment, and population trends of all western freshwater mussel species. More information is needed to understand the taxonomy of what is currently called the western Anodonta, and whether these animals can be identified by shell morphology. In addition, there is a need to understand how western freshwater mussels are affected by threats to water quality, habitat fragmentation, hydrologic alteration, global climate change, altered water levels, and loss or reduction of host fish. Increasing public and government awareness of the importance of freshwater mussels will contribute to effective conservation of these species in the West.]


Related Studies:

  1. Overlooked Gems: The benefits of Fresh Water Mussels By Al Smith and Sarina Jepsen.

An article from Wings magazine

A few lines from the study:

{Archeological records show that Native Americans have harvested mussels for at least ten thousand years. Their soft bodies were eaten, and their hard shells were used as spoons and hoes, crushed as temper to strengthen clay when firing pottery, and made into jewelry. The pearls created by some species of freshwater mussels were often strung into necklaces or used decoratively, inlaid as eyes into animal designs. Native Americans were not the only ones who were attracted to these gems. During the second half of the nineteenth century, pearl hunting became a big business, sparked in 1857 by the discovery in New Jersey of a pearl that sold for $2,500 —in excess of $50,000 today! The ensuing clamor for pearls was so intense that entire streams were stripped of their mussels.

To this day, the harvesting of mussels threatens some populations in the southeastern United States. Freshwater mussels remain in demand by the pearl industry, though not for their own pearls but for their shells. Pieces of the thick mussel shells are cut and placed inside marine oysters as seeds to stimulate the formation of oyster pearls. As important as this market has been, however, the greatest mussel-based industry was the manufacture of “pearl” buttons. Johann Boepple pioneered the craft, opening his first factory in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1891. Stamped out of mussel shells, the best buttons came from thick-shelled species such as the yellow sandshell (Lampsilis teres) and pistolgrip (Tritogonia verrucosa). At the time, there appeared to be an endless supply of these shiny, durable shells, and Boepple’s success inspired others to join the industry. According to the University of Tennessee’s Frank H. McClung Museum, by 1912 there were nearly two hundred button factories in the United States. Mussels remained at the heart of the industry until the 1940s, when they were replaced by plastics.}

  1. The Threat of Climate Change to Freshwater Pearl Mussels Populations

{Changes in climate are occurring around the world and the effects on ecosystems will vary, depending on the extent and nature of these changes. In northern Europe, experts predict that annual rainfall will increase significantly, along with dramatic storm events and flooding in the next 50–100 years. Scotland is a stronghold of the endangered freshwater pearl mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera (L.), and a number of populations may be threatened. For example, large floods have been shown to adversely affect mussels, and although these stochastic events were historically rare, they may now be occurring more often as a result of climate change. Populations may also be affected by a number of other factors, including predicted changes in temperature, sea level, habitat availability, host fish stocks and human activity. In this paper, we explain how climate change may impact M. margaritifera and discuss the general implications for the conservation management of this species.}


Other Related Projects:

Western Freshwater Mussel Database: The Xerces Society and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have compiled a database of western freshwater mussel records for the following species and clades: Anodonta californiensis/nuttalliana, A. oregonensis/kennerlyi, Gonidea angulata, and Margaritifera falcata.  (Margaritifera falcata: is species we commonly see in our creeks, Mill Skookum and Goldsborough)

Go Inslee!!!



Sand Lance and Surf Smelt (Forage Fish) Eggs


Governor Inslee signs Forage Fish Bill (SB5166)!

This bill directs WDFW to conduct extensive forage fish spawning surveys throughout Puget Sound over the next two years and will provide significant benefit for improving habitat protections.

Proposed by Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, the bill requires the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and state Department of Natural Resources to team up on an ambitious survey of forage fish spawning areas and a mid-water trawl survey at various depths throughout the sound. The survey results will help Fish and Wildlife develop conservation strategies for small fish populations that appear to be declining.

“The population of forage fish is really important to the recovery of Puget Sound,” Rolfes said. “But we really don’t now how precarious their population is right now.”

The spawning survey will be carried out along shorelines with the assistance of volunteers and military veterans employed by the Washington Conservation Corps.



By Senators Rolfes, Ranker, and Hasegawa

Read first time 01/15/15. Referred to Committee on Natural Resources & Parks.

AN ACT Relating to the management of forage fish resources; amending RCW 77.32.010; and creating new sections. (See new sections below)

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 2.  The departments of natural resources and fish and wildlife must collaborate to conduct a survey of the location of surf smelt and sand lance spawning grounds throughout Puget Sound, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To the extent available, the departments of natural resources and fish and wildlife must conduct the surveys using crews of the veterans conservation corps created under RCW 43.60A.150. Results from this survey must be used by the departments of natural resources and fish and wildlife to expand knowledge of spawning habitat areas. The survey results must be made accessible to the public.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 3.  The department of fish and wildlife must conduct a mid-water trawl survey at various depths throughout Puget Sound to evaluate the prevalence of adults of all species of forage fish. The department must integrate the results of the survey into existing Puget Sound ecosystem assessments to assist the department of fish and wildlife in the management and conservation of forage fish species and the species that prey upon them.

The department of fish and wildlife must complete the survey by June 30, 2017.

For more information please visit:


Intertidal Forage Fish Training with WDFW, Its an Egg Hunt!


Phillip Dionne pictured in blue holding the plastic bag

We were lucky enough to have Phillip Dionne from WDFW join us at the Natural Resource Department. He gave a presentation about forage fish and there critical habitat along the shores of Puget Sound. Forage fish lay their eggs in the sand-gravel beach zone as well as the outer tide flats. A substantial amount of forage fish spawning habitat has been lost or destroyed by the high impact of shoreline usage and development in Puget Sound. As you can see below the shoreline is armored and because of the location forage fish spawn it makes them vulnerable to shoreline development and other human actions.


Example of shoreline armoring and example of forage fish spawning habitat survey

The need for public education about forage fish and their ecological role is constant to maintain a well-informed community. Many people are unaware of just how many species utilize the shoreline; forage fish being a few of them. The term “forage fish” can be broadly applied to many species that are, in many cases, related through ecology and not phylogeny. Pacific herring Clupea pallasii, Northern anchovy Engraulis mordax, Pacific sardine Sardinops sagax, Surf Hypomesus pretiosus, Longfin Spirinchus thaleichthys, Pacific sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, and Rock sole Pleuronectes bilineatus are just a few species that use the shorelines. For a map of spawning activity please visit, beach spawning/


Natural Resource Crew watches as Phillip Dionne demonstrates, “The Vortex Method”

IMG_2180 IMG_2177 Phillip Dionne (WDFW) giving a demonstration on laboratory procedures for recovering forage fish eggs

What the Heck is a Fresh Water Mussel?


Photo Courtesy of Marbet, Erika

Photo Courtesy of Marbet, Erica

The average individual could walk through a creek without even noticing these small gems. In fact most people are completely unaware of their existence. Freshwater bivalves are a kind of freshwater molluscs. They are bivalves which live in freshwater, as opposed to saltwater. The majority of species of bivalve molluscs live in the sea, but a number of different families live in freshwater. Fresh water mussels can thrive in many different habitats small ditches, lakes, canals, rivers and creeks. While walking Mill creek with our summer youth program employees we found hundreds of fresh water mussels. The species we found is the Western Pearlshell (shown in all pictures). The Xerces Society is dedicated to developing a variety of publications that educate people on how to identify and conserve fresh water mussels, as well as manage their habitat. “The Society uses advocacy, education, and applied research to defend invertebrates”. For more information about fresh water mussels of the pacific northwest visit,

photo courtesy of O'Connell, Emmett

photo courtesy of O’Connell, Emmett

photo courtesy of O'Connell, Emmett

photo courtesy of O’Connell, Emmett

photo courtesy of O'Connell, Emmett

Pictured is Rana Brown Shellfish Biologist photo courtesy of O’Connell, Emmett