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Summer Salmon Swim Again

On Friday, August 6, Spokane Tribal Fisheries released 51 adult Chinook salmon into the Little Spokane River at the Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve and Wildlife Area. This return of native Chinook to the Little Spokane is the first time in 111 years since the construction/obstruction of Little Falls Dam on the Spokane Indian Reservation. That salmon swim in these waters is of deep historical and cultural significance to the Spokane Tribe of Indians. Thanks to a partnership among the Spokane Tribe, Inland Northwest Land Conservancy, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Waikiki Springs area is protected because of its ideal habitat for historically native but long displaced fish like the salmon.

Spokane tribal elder Pat Moses and Spokane tribal descendent Jake Wynecoop release one of the 51 salmon into the cool waters of the Little Spokane River.

Tribal leaders Monica Tonasket and Pat Moses shared the deep meaning this release held for the Tribe and offered a blessing for the spirits of the fish and indigenous ancestors who once relied on salmon for their livelihood.

Isaac Tonasket sang a traditional song and then participants gathered to form a line as fisheries staff netted fish from the truck that brought them from Wells Dam Fish Hatchery to the site. Tribal members, community leaders, environmental advocates, and children helped to release the fish, weighing anywhere from 7-18 pounds, into the cool waters of the Little Spokane.

The Little Spokane River is ideal habitat for salmon because of the Waikiki Springs hillside, emptying 42-degree aquifer water into the river year-round. Coupled with ample shade along the riverbanks, this keeps the water temperature moderate even during the heat of the summer, allowing fish like salmon to thrive. Because of this area’s cultural and habitat significance, State Representative Marcus Riccelli, with support from the Fairwood community and Senator Andy Billig, secured $1.5 million in state funding, allowing Inland Northwest Conservancy to purchase a 95-acre preserve adjacent to 104 acres already owned and managed by WDFW.

Spokane Tribal Councilwoman, Monica Tonasket, sharing the Tribe’s dedication to the re-introduction of the salmon into their traditional home.

This release will serve as an opportunity to educate the community about Tribal Fisheries’ efforts to reintroduce salmon into the blocked zone of the Columbia River system and allow biologists to study fish behavior as these salmon navigate what was once home waters for them.

This 200-acre area, traditional land of the Spokane Indians and gathering grounds for tribes from all over the Inland Northwest, is open to public enjoyment. Guests to the area are encouraged not to harass the salmon, whose radio trackers will allow Fisheries’ staff to learn about their movement and behavior in this environment. While not an official step in the Spokane Tribal Fisheries’ reintroduction plan, efforts to bring anadromous fish back into the blocked zone, this release will allow for education about the historical and cultural significance of native salmon. It will also help inform future reintroduction efforts as scientists begin to understand how the fish move through the Little Spokane River and its tributaries. For more information about the Spokane Tribe’s efforts on behalf of local salmon, visit their website.

It is heartening to realize that during this unusual year the FLSRV’s mission to preserve and protect this beautiful riverine valley continues unabated. 2022 here we come!

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