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Grant will help improve Kitsap stream maps

A Silverdale developer was skeptical, so he went to the Suquamish Tribe last fall, wondering about a creek that supposedly meandered through his yard, blocking him from building more on his property.

Kathy Peters, West Sound Watersheds Lead Entity coordinator, joined the tribe to investigate the creek and was surprised at what they found.

The stream did not exist, though another stream was located across the street.

"I am one of those people who wants to believe maps," said Peters, referring the state Department Natural of Resources maps detailing stream locations. "It's really random because something has to happen. People don't just go around looking for streams."

The Wild Fish Conservancy, based in Duvall, received $120,000 last month from the state Salmon Recovery Board to ensure the streams in Kitsap County are classified correctly, specifically the accuracy of the stream's locations and whether they are fish-bearing.

Unlike the case of the phantom Silverdale creek, many streams have not been properly mapped. As a result, they have not received the appropriate buffers to meet environmental standards.

The state's maps regarding streams are based on aerial views and predictions first created in the 1970s by the state Department of Natural Resources. Jaime Glasgow, director of science and research for the conservancy, said they are relied on by government across the state for growth and development decisions.

Though these maps were most recently updated in 2005, he said their accuracy is questionable.

Glasgow, project director for the Kitsap project, said modern technology enables scientists to take photos with higher digital resolution, far more accurate when predicting the accuracy of stream flows.

He also cited the lack of field research done by scientists to study smaller streams, which Peters said is a significant issue in Kitsap, which contains 975 miles of streams but few larger waterways.

In a similar ongoing project in Thurston and Mason counties, the conservancy has studied 61,000 acres in 167 streams. Of the 160 miles of stream they've found, 27 were previously unmapped. The conservancy, previously named Washington Trout until three years ago, was created in 1989 and has multiple locations around the Puget Sound.

Micah Wait, director of conservation for the conservancy, said many of the streams were misclassified as to whether they are fish-bearing because of misunderstandings about where fish can spawn.

For example, many streams that form during fall rain storms were dismissed because they only exist for four or five months, even though they are prime fish spawning grounds.

"Fish habitats are more ubiquitous than what people think," Wait said.

The conservancy will work with the West Sound Watersheds Lead Entity, a group of local leaders and scientists. The Legislature created many such groups across the state in 1998 to oversee salmon restoration projects.

Peters said a meeting is scheduled for Jan. 20 between Lead Entity leaders and representatives to determine which areas should be researched in Kitsap. Based on previous calculations regarding the cost of the research, the grant is expected to pay to research about 60 miles of streams in the county.

Glasgow said the conservancy will first undergo a public information campaign so they can identify developers who will allow them to research on their properties.

Though streams near the Puget Sound in the more rural northern and southern parts of the county are the most likely parts of the county to be researched, Peters said problems with maps are evident everywhere.

"We can save everyone a lot of time and money and help cities and counties make accurate choices on land by streams," Glasgow said. "There will be fewer surprises."

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