By Meghan McLaughlin
Dr. Jeffrey Jensen of the University of Washington Bothell’s Division of Biological Sciences led Bothell citizens in two salmon-watching training sessions last week.
From a table in Pfingst Animal Acres Park in Lake Forest Park, Jensen taught about 15 community members per session the basics of being a salmon watcher.
“If people don’t get a chance to get out to the streams to see what’s there, they’re just not going to care so much about taking care of it,” Jensen said. “They won’t know there’s something there to protect. It’s very easy to lose things if you don’t know you have them.”
Volunteers sign up to spend at least 30 minutes a week observing a stream and recording what kind of fish they see and how many fish they see if any. The viewing takes place from early September to sometime in November.
The origin of the Bothell Salmon Watcher Program dates back as far as Jensen can remember. Jensen grew up in Kirkland on the outskirts of Bothell, and as a child, he loved exploring the nearby streams with a fishing rod in hand.
“So what I’m doing in my, let’s call it, advanced age is very similar to what I did when I was about six or seven or eight,” Jensen said, “and that’s spending as much time as I can out looking on streams for fish.”
Jensen graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in fisheries and zoology and studied evolutionary biology as a graduate student at Harvard University. He often returned to the Pacific Northwest in the summer to attend Friday Harbor labs.
He didn’t move back permanently until 2012 to work at the University of Washington Bothell after a stint as a faculty member at the University of Maryland. The Bothell campus has a salmon stream that runs through campus with various species including coho, Chinook and kokanee.
When Jensen heard of a kokanee population in Lake Sammamish in 2015, he began to wonder if kokanee were in Bothell. There was an existing salmon watching program run by the county that lost funding around the same time, and Jensen started thinking about bringing it back.
The program, sponsored by Trout Unlimited, was started back up by Jensen just last year in 2020. Since then, the program has expanded to in-person training sessions and Jensen has increased the resources he’s been able to provide volunteers. Volunteers get buttons to wear for observations as well as data sheets and maps.
“I really want to have some kind of personal interaction just because in addition to wanting to connect people with fish,” Jensen said, “it’s nice if we can connect people with each other.”
According to Jensen, volunteers are helping the community in a variety of ways. When fish are documented in a stream, management agencies and citizens pay more attention to their environment.
To get involved, interested volunteers can check out Jensen’s blog or contact him at [email protected]
“There are lots of people who care about fish,” Jensen said. “When they see somebody out there doing work on it that makes them happy, that makes them hopeful.”