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Four Incredible Species at the Center of Pacific Northwest Biodiversity

Conservation
Mar 26 2021
Stretching from Bristol Bay to the Oregon coast and throughout the inland rivers and tributaries, the Pacific Northwest is home to an array of unique wildlife

The biodiversity of this region is an intricate web, and at the center of this web are some iconic species who are not only culturally and economically significant, but whose health is critical to the fate of biodiversity in the northwest.  

 

Southern Resident Killer Whales

Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) are listed as endangered both federally and in Washington state. Currently, only 75 SRKWs remain. They face a variety of threats, from loss of food source due to the alteration of freshwater habitats for healthy salmon populations, rising sea level in nearshore habitats required by salmon, marine and freshwater temperature and acidification increases. Probably the most iconic species in the northwest, the destruction of Southern Resident killer whales in the waters of the Puget Sound would be a terrible loss for our region.
 

 

Chinook Salmon

At the center of biodiversity in the Pacific northwest swims the Chinook salmon. All Chinook salmon populations are listed as threatened or endangered federally. They are a keystone species in the Pacific Northwest, their health is connected to a multitude of other species. Chinook salmon populations are sensitive to increased warming in their spawning areas, affecting their mortality rates and their chance of survival after spawning. They are increasingly disconnected from their traditional spawning grounds by dams and other man-made barriers.
 

 

Pacific Lamprey

The Pacific lamprey is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and lamprey are prioritized as a species that require recovery before their populations are even more imperiled. They are impacted by increasing water temperatures and constricted migration due to man-made obstacles such as dams and roads. Lamprey aren’t the most photogenic of species, but they play an integral role not only in the region’s biodiversity, but because of their cultural significance to a number of tribes in the northwest.
 

 

Bull Trout

Bull trout are listed as threatened federally, and is considered a SGCN in Washington state and are a priority species under WDFW’s Priority Habitat and Species Program. Like Chinook salmon, bull trout are becoming increasingly sensitive to warming waters, and they rely on salmon eggs as food source, so are impacted by overall salmon decline caused by man-made obstacles in rivers and streams. Like almost all wildlife in our region, the fate of the bull trout is tied to the fate of salmon in the northwest.   

These are just four species that help make the Pacific Northwest a region of incredible biodiversity. 

They face a range of pressures, but thanks to our dedicated partners, they have support. From the advocacy by Alaskans to protect Bristol Bay to the removal of old and obsolete dams in rivers across Washington and Oregon, we are supporting the necessary steps to preserve wildlife and protect economies, cultures, and the environment.

Researchers are taking to our home waters to understand the threats these wildlife face, and technologists are building tools to improve how quickly we can learn, and more importantly, how quickly we can turn what we’ve learned into actions to protect and preserve these species for future generations.  

Illustrations by Lara Schmidt and Miles Harris