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Western WA Fire Out But Fears Linger For Spawning Salmon

Oct. 10, 2012 | KUOW
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Ashley Ahearn

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  • Biologists worry that ash from the recent fire in Mason County will wash into nearby creeks, suffocating salmon and smothering their eggs. credit: Emmett O'Connell, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Biologists worry that ash from the recent fire in Mason County will wash into nearby creeks, suffocating salmon and smothering their eggs. | credit: Emmett O'Connell, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission | rollover image for more

A fire that burned roughly 250 acres last week in Western Washington has been extinguished. Now biologists are concerned about the potential impacts on local salmon runs.


View Johns Creek in a larger map

Johns Creek flows into Puget Sound near Shelton, Wash. It’s about 9 miles long and is home to one of the strongest runs of chum salmon in the southern part of the Sound.

And right now, it’s full of fish and surrounded by hills of ash from the recent fire.

“The fire burned all the way down to the water,” says John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “It’s in a steep ravine and you look up the hillside and all you see is all this ash, this blanket of ash. It looks like a snowstorm actually.”

IMG_2404
Ash from a recent fire.

There’s rain expected this weekend. That could be bad news for the tens of thousands of summer run chum salmon that are spawning in the creek right now.

Konovsky worries that the ash will irritate their gills and smother the eggs.

Johns Creek also empties out onto some of the most valuable shellfish beds in Puget Sound.

This September was the third-driest on record and there was no measureable rain in August; perfect fire conditions, even in a part of the state that has not traditionally been prone to fire.

“It’s not something I’ve ever dealt with before,” Konovsky said. “If this is a harbinger of the future it’s not good.”

IMG_2476
Spawned-out chum salmon.

Konovsky said the tribe will be monitoring the situation and may put down straw to block the ash from sensitive parts of the creek.

More than 60,000 acres have burned in Washington this year.

© 2012 KUOW
johns creek mason county ash fire salmon runs shelton chum salmon
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