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Salmon run spawns in Johnson Creek

POULSBO — It’s a natural commodity shrouded in debate and often seen as a topic of division, but there’s one group that Johnson Creek has kept moving on a singular path.

The salmon.

Jumbled and eager like the starting masses at the New York City Marathon, hundreds of chum and coho salmon have been filling Johnson Creek in their attempts to repopulate their kind. A life cycle that takes anywhere from three to five years to complete, for these fish it is not only a return to their beginnings, but the end of the line. And for nearby residents, it’s proof despite the political ruckus created over the creek and its buffers, it’s still serving as a natural habitat swimmingly.

“People don’t realize what a wonderful, wonderful thing we have here,” said Poulsbo resident Jan Wold, a former member of the National Forest Service who now resides along the Johnson Creek estuary. “I just think that this could be something really cherished. It’s a gem. It’s a jewel.”

The noise from the salmon alone is a distinctive one, an earnest splashing as each creature soldiers on, the females in an attempt to lay their eggs, the males to fertilize them. While many of the salmon never again leave Johnson Creek — their bodies working as fertilizer and nutrients for other area wildlife even after their death — those eggs become a new set of salmon soon to head out to Liberty Bay, and eventually the Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean.

“It’s really kind of a complicated system that they have,” Wold said.

Suquamish Tribe biologist Jonathan Oleyar said the creek most likely contains between 800-900 salmon, and the run will continue through the month, peaking around Thanksgiving.

He said due credit should be given to the fish, as surviving the ocean is a tough job, and making the return to their roots no easy task.

“Their ultimate goal is to get back to the stream where they were born,” he said. “They actually give a lot back to the system.”

Oleyar said the Johnson Creek corridor is one still intact, providing a home to a diverse population of bear, otter, cougar, coyote, bobcat and deer. He said he hopes Poulsbo takes care to preserve the area in a way that salmon, too, can continue to make it home.

“It’s a lot these fish have to go through,” he said. “Give them something to come back to.”

Smart growth is a solution Oleyar called on to save areas such as that along Johnson Creek, pointing out the Poulsbo Place developments as neighborhoods that allow the preservation of “green spaces.” Johnson Creek was alloted 150-foot buffers in the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance changes re-instituted this July, but Oleyar said development, even behind a buffer, can have a negative affect.

“Definitely the hydrology of some of the smaller streams are very affected by development,” he said.

Johnson Creek activist Molly Lee agreed, calling for innovative development.

“I like to think that we can still do things to keep Johnson Creek OK,” she said. “This is such a precious thing we have and we haven’t destroyed it yet.”

Wold said despite the struggle the creek has seen, the salmon run is the perfect display of the area’s natural importance — one that is still preservable.

“The salmon are a good indicator of everything else going on in the creek,” Wold said. “There’s still time.”

As one of the last creeks in an urban area with such low surrounding development, Oleyar said Johnson Creek and its character mean a lot to him personally.

“It’s kind of a special place for me,” he said. “I think we need to appreciate what we have as far as salmon goes... I just hope I see them every year.”

He said most streams connecting with Liberty Bay see fish return in the fall. Poulsbo’s Fish Park and Frederickson’s Wilderness Park off Big Valley Road are good places to spot salmon on their mission.

“They’re so earnest. How can you not come and look at this?” Lee asked. “It’s really pretty special... It’s just wild.”

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