In an effort to protect rare salmon habitat, Pilchuck Audubon Society and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility today filed a challenge in federal district court to a development project along the banks of the Snohomish River in Everett, Washington. The 41st Street Overcrossing Project is the first step in a larger development scheme that will harm threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon by filling small streams and wetlands and destroying estuary habitat vital for salmon survival.
The groups challenged a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) known as a biological opinion — a document that analyzes the impacts of developments on threatened and endangered species — in this case, salmon. Biological opinions are supposed to guide development in ways that won’t harm the fish. The flawed NMFS biological opinion looks at only one piece of a larger development scheme; fails to consider the Project’s sub-lethal impacts on fish; fails to assess and protect against the harmful impacts of increased stormwater runoff; fails to require stream and wetland buffers; and fails to assess the impacts of increased traffic in the area.
“If we want salmon in Puget Sound, we must carefully plan and guide development to protect our estuaries and rivers,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. “NMFS did not use the best science, did not consider all the impacts, and simply did not do its job.”
The Snohomish River watershed provides vital rearing, spawning, and migration habitat for Puget Sound chinook salmon. The Snohomish River is the second largest drainage in Puget Sound and salmon depend on its estuary and upstream habitat for survival. Although the development area once contained a timber mill and other industry, it contains over 70 wetlands, beaver dams, and Bigelow Creek, critical habitat for salmon.
“Everett has a chance to save what it has — to develop wisely with our native fish in mind,” said Susan Adams, SmartGrowth Campaign Director of Pilchuck Audubon Society. “Paving over streambanks, filling wetlands, and increasing sprawl and traffic congestion is not the way to go.”
“The Snohomish River estuary has been the subject of numerous field studies over the past decade and is regarded by many biologists as critical for salmon survival,” said Lea Mitchell, Washington State Director of PEER. “If science-based salmon recovery is going to happen, it needs to happen in urban estuaries as well — even if it is politically inconvenient.”
“Since the listing of Puget Sound salmon in 1999, there has been a lot of happy talk about adapting urban growth to the needs of the fish,” said Boyles. “However, on-the-ground it looks like business as usual.”