Leadership of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s North Puget Sound Region discussed during an online open house Thursday what it has planned for 2022, and took questions from community members.

Questions included everything from monitoring salmon returns to managing the impact sea lions have on the fish.

“This is a great opportunity for us to connect on the local level,” Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind said.

North Puget Sound is one of Fish and Wildlife’s six management regions in the state. It includes Skagit, Whatcom, San Juan, Island, Snohomish and King counties.

North Puget Sound Regional Director Brendan Brokes outlined for the about 100 attending the open house Fish and Wildlife’s request for millions of dollars from the state Legislature in 2022, the timeline for setting salmon fishing seasons, and the ongoing efforts to protect and restore the endangered Southern Resident orca population.

At 74 whales, the orca population is foundering. Its primary food source — chinook salmon — and other salmon species in Puget Sound are also at unhealthy levels.

“We’ve got a long way to go on salmon recovery,” Brokes said.

In response to the question “Do you have hope we will have healthy wild salmon populations one day?” Brokes said the department and its staff are working toward that goal.

“Yes, absolutely ... We certainly have hope and are trying everything we can to get to that point someday,” he said.

While herring, elk, mountain goats and cormorants each got a mention during the open house, salmon were the biggest topic. The wild populations of the fish, from chinook to chum, remain a fraction of what they once were.

In the words of a 2021 biennial State of the Sound report the state’s Puget Sound Partnership released this week: “The Puget Sound is not doing well.”

Nearly half of the ecosystem health indicators the partnership tracks — from water quality to wildlife recovery — are getting worse or not improving. Only about one-10th are showing clear improvement, according to the report.

Salmon, as a central part of the region’s ecosystem and food chain between forage fish and orca whales, are a focus of that report.

“Notably ... some of our most iconic species — including Southern Resident orcas and chinook salmon — are far from recovery targets with trajectories heading in the wrong direction,” Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council Chair Jay Manning wrote in the report.

Climate change is putting added strain on those species and their habitats.

“Many indicators related to marine and freshwater quantity and quality are also worsening, and the impacts of climate change will further hasten downward trends,” Manning wrote.

The report states that hundreds of millions of dollars are needed for projects that could help reverse the trends. That’s in addition to the funding Fish and Wildlife staff said they need to conduct research, support species recovery, and manage fishing and hunting opportunities.

During the event Thursday, Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, offered his support for Fish and Wildlife’s priorities and funding requests.

Because not all of the questions could be answered within the hour allotted for the open house, staff encouraged the public to submit questions by email to TeamMillCreek@dfw.wa.gov.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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