Ducks Unlimited biologists recently found themselves in a quandary. In the midst of expanding work to restore wetlands in floodplains of major rivers in the Northwest, they ran up against government regulators who called DU’s plans harmful to salmon.
“Regulators were making it almost impossible for us to get permits to restore wetlands, because of perceived conflicts with fish,” said Chuck Lobdell, DU’s conservation manager for the lower Columbia River. “And we thought restoring wetlands was good for the whole environment.”
Lobdell, who has a master’s degree in fisheries biology, said fishery biologists in the region paid scant attention to floodplain wetlands, instead viewing river systems as little more than conduits between spawning grounds and the ocean. But when various stocks of salmon were added to lists of endangered, threatened, and sensitive species in the late 1990s, regulatory officials became concerned with any activity in watersheds that supported salmon, and in particular, they worried that DU’s newly restored wetlands could attract, trap, and strand juvenile salmon.
This puzzled DU’s biologists. After all, DU was restoring wetlands that had previously existed. Salmon had flourished when these wetlands were intact. But today’s restoration is limited to what is possible given the constraints of a highly altered environment. So regulators saw DU’s restored wetlands as a new and possibly threatening environment into which today’s salmon could wander.