Salmon-Safe Certified: Stewarding Our Waters
by Amelia Bahr
This article was originally published in July 2018
Some of my best memories are surrounded by water: family vacations to the ocean, exploring little streams to see what I may find hidden, the sounds and smells of a rainstorm that cooled hot summer nights in New Jersey, to name a few. Water shapes our landscapes. We are comprised of water and depend on it for life. It is powerful but calming. It also is mysterious. What is happening below the surface of water? What stories does it have to tell?
Unfortunately, the stories that water has told over the years are sometimes hard to accept. Clean water is being degraded. Oceans are warming and acidifying. Stocks of fresh water are drying up. As this happens, the plants, animals and people of our world are impacted.
Instead of feeling defeated, it inspired me to use my love of water to drive my professional career. This passion eventually led me here, to Seattle, where I work every day to protect our water at the local nonprofit, Stewardship Partners.
The priority of clean water flows throughout all of Stewardship Partners’ programs. We create change on the lands that surround bodies of water, inspiring communities and industries to adopt best practices and restore critical habitat for native fish and wildlife.
We are not doing this alone; we harness the power of partnerships in our programs. One of these programs is Salmon-Safe, which works with farmers to implement best management practices on their land for the sake of clean water.
Safer for salmon
Native salmon always have been integral to the ecology, economy and culture of the Pacific Northwest. However, due to development, dams, flood control, habitat fragmentation and land use practices, many native salmon species are in severe danger.
The major salmon streams in the Puget Sound basin flow through the most productive agricultural valleys, and that means conservation efforts to protect salmon and improve watershed health must engage farmers as part of overall sustainable farming efforts. Farmers, however, face severe difficulties due to the decline of farming infrastructure, competition from consolidated agribusiness, increasing regulatory control, flooding, and urban growth pressures forcing the sale of prime farmland. These struggles often make it difficult and unappealing for farmers to participate in conservation even when they are ideologically inclined to. For these reasons, incentive-based programs that promote both farming and conservation are necessary.
The Oregon-based Pacific Rivers Council founded Salmon-Safe in 1997 with a regional eco-label to recognize businesses and products that go above and beyond to protect waterways and salmon populations. In 2004 Stewardship Partners signed on to lead farm certification here in Washington state, and to date, we have added more than 100 Washington state farms and vineyards to the program — ensuring the restoration and maintenance of watershed health across tens of thousands of agricultural acres.
Salmon-Safe advances the conservation efforts of private landowners by providing market-based incentives to establish healthy watershed farming practices. It promotes sustainable agriculture, increases marketing opportunities, and develops collaborative partnerships between farmers, organizations and agencies involved in salmon recovery.
The Salmon-Safe farm certification program focuses on practices in six primary areas: riparian area management, water use management, erosion and sediment control, integrated pest management and water quality protection, animal management, and biodiversity conservation.
The standards were developed over a two-year period with biologists, agronomists and farmers and have been tested in the field since the late 1990s at more than 700 farms in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and British Columbia. These standards most recently were updated in 2017. While the primary focus of Salmon-Safe’s certification program is salmonid species and their habitat requirements, compliance with Salmon-Safe certification standards is intended to promote watershed-level conservation and protection of biological diversity.
As an organization built upon the strength of partnerships, Stewardship Partners builds on existing relationships with businesses, organizations and communities throughout this region to maximize support for Salmon-Safe farms. Through the certification process, we recognize opportunities for restoration on these properties.
Once these opportunities are highlighted, we connect farmers with local organizations and programs, including our Snoqualmie Stewardship program, that support restoration activities farmers can implement. A success story is the work done with Oxbow Organic Farm and Education Center.
Since getting certified in 2004, Oxbow Farm has worked with Stewardship Partners and other local organizations to establish a healthy wetland on its property, as well as a flourishing buffer along the Snoqualmie River at the edge of the property. These restoration efforts through Salmon-Safe certification have resulted in healthier waterways, as well as improved and increased salmon habitat, ultimately providing conditions needed for salmon populations to grow and succeed in the future.
Once a farm is enrolled in the Salmon-Safe program, Stewardship Partners assists them with brand marketing — again leveraging existing and new partnerships with retailers and consumers. Through print, social media, website promotion and blog posts, we educate consumers on the Salmon-Safe brand and the certified farms, encouraging more informed and sustainable purchasing habits. Additionally, we provide each farmer with his or her own marketing materials (farm signs, stickers, one-pagers and logos) to help tell their story and why they are a stewardship partner.
Ways we can partner
So, you may be asking, how can I get involved in water conservation and protection?
One great way is by utilizing your power as a consumer to buy Salmon-Safe certified products. You can find certified farmers at local farmers markets and grocers, such as PCC!
A few certified brands you’ll recognize include Draper Valley’s Ranger chicken, eggs from Wilcox Family Farms, and produce from Organically Grown Company’s Ladybug brand.
When you are in your stores or at the farmers markets, look for the Salmon-Safe logo or ask the farmer if they’re certified. By purchasing certified products, you can be confident the food is grown sustainably and making minimal impacts on our local waterways. You’re also supporting local businesses and farming methods that are healthier for the people growing our food.
Beyond being salmon-conscious, Stewardship Partners offers many other programs and tools to help you be a better water steward. Through our Snoqualmie Stewardship program, you can join a volunteer event on a farm in the Snoqualmie Valley, partaking in hands-on riparian habitat restoration.
The business you work for also can support long-term restoration efforts through our Adopt-a-Buffer program, sponsoring a section of critical salmon habitat along the Snoqualmie River.
At home, you can adopt green infrastructure, such as rain gardens and cisterns, to combat the negative effects that polluted stormwater has on water and our communities.
Learn more about Stewardship Partners’ programs and ways you can become a better steward at stewardshippartners.org.
Amelia Bahr is the Salmon-Safe Rural Program Manager for Stewardship Partners.