Fish map adopted over opposition

Amid public concern, the Island County Commissioners approved a resolution Monday that designates a map depicting Island County basins in which fish populations exist.

The official document is to be used as the county sets priorities for habitat enhancement and updates its critical areas regulations.

The map was designed to show where anadromous fish — species that move back and forth between fresh water and salt water — and resident salmonids — fish that live and die solely in fresh water for lack of access to salt water — have been identified in the county.

A public hearing last week generated controversy, as some people felt the map needed to include potential areas for salmon restoration. Jeff Tate, Island County Planning and Community Development assistant director, said the resolution was drafted to provide a link between the Salmon Recovery Plan and the Critical Areas Ordinance.

Last week’s public hearing was continued during a regular commissioners’ meeting Monday. Although the public input portion had been closed, the board opted to reopen public comment.

Tate disseminated to the commissioners and audience a new version of the original map that more clearly identified municipalities, federal lands and delineated the areas where the anadromous and resident salmonids have been found. In addition, a new section was included in the “findings of fact and legislative intent” that emphasized the resolution focuses exclusively on existing freshwater habitats.

“The basins identified on the map focus on locations where there is a freshwater feature that is known to be used by anadromous or resident salmonids,” the document read. “The basins identified on the map are not intended to highlight nearshore areas that are used by salmonids.”

Steve Erickson of the Whidbey Island Environmental Network said commenting on the new information was difficult under the short timeline Monday.

“I hate commenting on the fly,” he said.

Erickson submitted a letter to the commissioners, citing the resolution’s “vagueness” and calling its application “inevitably arbitrary.”

“Frankly, it is not at all clear what the purpose of this new requirement is, unless it is to provide a rationale for county refusal to allow recovery projects to move forward when their outcome will require increased regulatory protection of watershed and aquatic function in those basins,” the letter stated.

Angie Homola said one map is not enough. She said the planning department plucked one requirement out of a long list.

“We’re doing that, I think, so we can diminish protection,” she said, adding that the county needs a more comprehensive map.

Several other residents expressed concerns over the resolution. Marianne Edain of WEAN said maps tend to develop lives of their own and, without a disclaimer, would not properly reflect the reality on the ground.

Tate said the map does include a disclaimer that says field conditions prevail.

“Ultimately this map will be revisited on occasion,” he said.

Commissioner John Dean recommended changing the wording in one section of the “findings of fact” to specify that the county encourages future public and private partnerships to restore or create anadromous fish connections in situations when landowners are supportive.

The commissioners agreed that in areas with willing property owners, the county will be eager to restore habitat.

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