We all know that we live in a highly urbanized and heavily impacted watershed. Multiple studies have found the aquatic habitat within the Sammamish River corridor to be severely degraded. That our newest regional park now protects these ninety acres from development has a positive ripple effect in terms of wildlife.
The story of the Sammamish River corridor is very similar to the story of many of our urban streams and urban rivers. We’re dealing with a watershed where more than half of the aquatic habitat has been lost. The in-stream conditions lack diversity, the channels and the substrates have been altered and are no longer suitable for spawning habitat in a lot of the areas. The native plant communities are increasingly rare, water temperatures are elevated along with nutrients and pollutants. Flows have been altered from flooding in the winters and lower water levels during the summers. All of this impacts our fish and wildlife species.
In its Final Report of 2002 King County’s Sammamish River Corridor Action Plan states “conditions in the Sammamish River Corridor are severely degraded and have resulted in a decline in many fish and wildlife populations. Aquatic habitat has been reduced by more than half … A total of seven salmon species are known to be present in the north Lake Washington watershed, and of those, two are listed as threatened (chinook, bull trout), one has been petitioned for listing as endangered (kokanee), three are considered depressed by WDFW (coho [listed as a candidate specied under ESA], steelhead, and sockeye).”
The very rare Lake Sammamish kokanee uses the Lake Sammamish watershed for all of its life cycle. The decline of this species has been attributed in part to altered storm water flows and dissolved oxygen levels.
The acquisition of the former golf course for the purposes of habitat protection and restoration contributes significantly to the Water Resource Inventory Area for Lake Washington, Cedar and Sammamish Rivers (WRIA 8) and Puget Sound salmon and ecosystem recovery objectives. The property includes 4,800 feet of riverbank, representing more than 4 percent of the length of the Sammamish River, which flows for 14 miles from Lake Sammamish to Lake Washington.
Larry Phillips, Chair of WRIA 8 Salmon Recovery Council stated: “Acquisition of the Wayne Golf Course [was] a rare opportunity to protect substantial acreage in a primarily urban area, and protection would provide a significant opportunity to implement the restoration priorities identified in the WRIA 8 Plan on a large scale.” According to the WRIA 8 salmon recovery strategy, “protecting and restoring forest cover, riparian, buffers, wetlands, and creek mouths” is a Tier 1 action along the Sammamish River, which can only help improve water quality for salmonid species.
This wetlands map identifies the stream corridor and shoreline areas which make this a compelling salmonid restoration priority. Converting the course to public land would allow restoration activities.
Mammals present today in the Sammamish River Corridor include those species that have adapted to human development, such as deer, beavers, mountain beavers, nutrias, raccoons, opossums, skunks, river otters, coyotes, brown rabbits (eastern cottontail), shrews, mice and voles.
Beavers are more likely to be seen in the shallower part of the river near the Park at Bothell Landing, but the other animals can be viewed near the Wayne property. The increased development of the Waynita Drive area (more than 250 lots in the last few years) has reduced the habitat for wildlife. Deer can be frequently seen in the area. The new regional park and Blyth Park, in combination with the Burke Gilman and Sammamish River trails, offer a respite from the urbanization of Bothell. It is incumbent upon us to preserve this precious resource to assure that wildlife and humans can coexist in this ecosystem.
The health and viability of salmon in the Sammamish River system ultimately contributes to the viability of Puget Sound’s rapidly dwindling Orca population. These southern resident killer whales are also listed as endangered.
King County has designated several species as species of local importance that may appear including red-tailed hawk, osprey, great blue heron, band-tailed pigeon, harlequin duck, northern goshawk, merlin, peregrine falcon, Vaux’s swift, pileated woodpecker, olive-sided flycatcher and purple martin.
Winter and spring are prime times for bird watching on the Sammamish. Canada geese and mallard ducks are regular inhabitants. In winter, cormorants, mergansers, and widgeons can be spotted. A pair of bald eagles raises offspring every year in a tree on NE Riverbend Drive and feeds from the area known formerly as the Wayne back nine. Herons feed in the river all year-round. These animals are directly affected by water quality and the amount of food available.
Commitment of improving the water quality and riparian zones along the Sammamish River Corridor could inspire and encourage other cities on the river to follow suit. We have a wonderful opportunity to restore the ecology of the area and establish Bothell as a regional leader in stewardship of the Sammamish River.