A small river with a huge impact; Stillaguamish Restoration and Recovery

A relatively small river with a huge impact, the Stillaguamish is at the leading edge of salmon declines and habitat conservation concerns in Washington state and across the West Coast.

Endangered Species Act-listed wild Chinook and steelhead runs, a century of habitat loss and degradation, developing communities and changing landscapes all combine in an imperiled ecosystem that is a top priority for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Native American tribes, local governments, agriculture, anglers, conservationists, and many other stakeholders.

Yet there is hope. Today, collaboration is growing to restore this dynamic watershed and its fish runs while supporting local communities, tribes, farms, and fish and wildlife enthusiasts.

Originating on the western slopes of the Cascades near the Mountain Loop Highway in eastern Snohomish County and flowing into Port Susan and Puget Sound near the city of Stanwood, the Stillaguamish River — including the North and South forks — is small compared to many other Washington rivers. Yet due to seriously endangered runs of wild Chinook and other fish species, impacts on Stillaguamish salmon play a major role in fisheries management throughout the Puget Sound Region and beyond.

Habitat restoration is also a priority for WDFW, the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, and many other partners within the watershed. Projects such as restoration of the Stillaguamish estuary at the state’s Leque Island Unit of Skagit Wildlife Area and the tribe’s zis z ba property are returning lands diked and developed by early settlers into functioning intertidal marsh to support juvenile Chinook and other species from waterfowl to bull trout.

Aerial view of Leque Island taken in July 2022. Two years after restoration, new vegetation on site makes it appear vibrantly green.

Stillaguamish Integrated Conservation and Rebuilding (SICoR) Project

The number of natural-origin Chinook salmon returning to the Stillaguamish watershed has been declining since the 1980s and has been lower than the critical threshold for species sustainability established by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2018.

In response, WDFW has dedicated an integrated, focused effort to contribute to the conservation and recovery of Chinook salmon within the Stillaguamish ecosystem, with the creation of the Stillaguamish Integrated Conservation and Rebuilding (SICoR — pronounced “sigh-core”) Project.

This cross-program project is a high priority for the Department and for WDFW’s North Puget Sound Region (Region 4).

The North Fork Stillaguamish River near the town of Oso.

SICoR Objectives

Per the WDFW SICoR Charter, through an integrated team committed to working together to advance habitat restoration and salmon recovery, SICoR intends to provide clear and consistent understanding of:

  • Our vision for the Stillaguamish Watershed;
  • How habitat, hydropower, harvest, hatcheries, and predators within the ecosystem are affecting Stillaguamish River salmon and steelhead;
  • How management actions are contributing to conservation and recovery, and what additional actions are necessary to achieve the expected contribution of each of the above listed sectors.
WDFW fisheries biologists survey for steelhead and salmon in Deer Creek, an important tributary of the North Fork Stillaguamish River.

WDFW is mandated to “preserve, protect, and perpetuate” the fish and wildlife resources of Washington. In response to the decline of Chinook salmon, the Department has dedicated an internal team of experts with an aim to advance salmonid recovery within the watershed, so that the Department can continue to advance fish and wildlife and ecosystem recovery and provide sustainable recreational and commercial fishing opportunities.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to building and maintaining a strong co-management relationship with the Stillaguamish Tribe, The Tulalip Tribes, and other co-managers, as well as understanding how management actions are contributing to conservation and recovery, and what actions are necessary to achieve salmon recovery in the Stillaguamish Watershed.

Learn more in our new video, Into the Stillaguamish, and on our Stillaguamish Restoration and Recovery webpage at wdfw.wa.gov/stillaguamish.

WDFW technicians conduct salmon spawning surveys on the Stillaguamish River.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.