Those of us who live in the Skagit valley or who fish the Skagit and its major tributary the Sauk are very familiar with these issues.
The article failed to mention that Skagit County abandoned the riparian buffer zones after reducing them from 200 feet to 75 feet because the farmers took the county to court on the buffers and the county lost. Therefore, the County Commissioners decided that since they lost the court challenge on the riparian buffers it was a waste of county money to appeal the decision of the court. This was based upon the county's experience during the past 8 years with appealing court decisions on other consevation matters, which the state court of appeals either refused to hear or ruled the lower court's decision was proper. This means that at this point in time, there are no riparian buffers on any stream or river in Skagit County.
And for the county to remove the dikes and tide gates on Fir Island to restore the Skagit Delta, the county would have to pay the farmers millions of dollars for taking their land (remember the US Constitution says that the government cannot take land for its own use without compensating the landowner fair value for the land). This is money the county simply does not have. Despite Skagit County being roughly 65 miles from either Seattle or Vancouver, BC, the county's population is only 123,000 people and the largest city (Mount Vernon) has a population of only 25,000 people. Rural counties like Skagit do not have a lot of money nor a huge tax base; therfore, the farmers need not worry about their land being flooded by removal of the dikes or tide gates.
Since I was quoted in the NWF article, I feel compelled to add a bit of information. The Tribes have tried unsuccessfully to work with Skagit County for ten years to get protection for salmon and steelhead habitat throughout the Skagit River watershed. Unfortunately, the farm community owns the County commissioners, so no real change ever takes place. However, money is not really the issue here. The Feds and State have assured us that money will be made available if the farmers will agree to either sell or lease their land for salmon restoration. They will also pay for on the ground restoration efforts. No one in the farm community has stepped up, so we remain at odds. The main purpose of this post, however, is to ask that people that love and fish the Skagit get involved. I see lots of postings on lots of websites from people that fish on the Skagit. I never see these folks at public hearings, in letters to the editor, or in other places that might influence local politics. As long as those that fish the Skagit remain silent, we will continue to see a decline in the quality of fishing. Once enough people let the County commissioners know that they insist that the Skagit be protected
they will have to make different decisions if they want to stay in office. Right now, all they hear from is the farm community.
If anyone would like more information, feel free to email me and I can provide additional detail.
To say the Skagit County Commissioners are in the farmer's pockets is an understatement! Especially since two of the three County Commissioners are farmers and the third has an insurance business that caters to farm insurance. I have found that 2 of the commissioners will at least politely allow me to speak to them about the Skagit Delta (the third one simply shuts down the conversation almost immediately when the topic is brought up); however, these two commissioners then proceed to tell me that it is not reasonable to have "farmers take the brunt of the restoration efforts".
Keep up the good fight to try and get the commissioners ot see the light. I'm not sure if the commissioners would listen to sportsfishers though since they seem to have already made up their minds that the farmers must come first.
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