Cheri Scalf wins Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award

Posted 10/9/19

Cheri Scalf was presented the 2019 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center on Oct. 3, in honor of the nearly three decades she’s spent working on the restoration of salmon runs on the Olympic Peninsula.

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Cheri Scalf wins Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award

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Cheri Scalf was presented the 2019 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center on Oct. 3, in honor of the nearly three decades she’s spent working on the restoration of salmon runs on the Olympic Peninsula.

The Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award, now in its 15th year, recognizes significant contributions in the protection and stewardship of the natural environment of the North Olympic Peninsula, and is named after Eleanor Stopps, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, after founding the Admiralty Audubon Chapter, helping establish the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1982, and serving as an active member of the Pacific Northwest conservation community from the 1960s through the 1990s.

“Cheri is often considered the godmother of the salmon by her friends, family and volunteers,” said North Olympic Salmon Coalition Stewardship Coordinator Sarah Doyle, who received the award in 2018. “She has led a volunteer salmon monitoring project over the last 27 years that has played a critical role in informing fisheries managers of the status of our local salmon populations, and has also provided an avenue for community members to be a part of salmon recovery efforts on the Olympic Peninsula.”

Scalf not only played a key role in the incubation and rearing of juvenile endangered Hood Canal summer chum salmon, while volunteering with Wild Olympic Salmon from 1992-99, but her work on the early restoration of summer chum on Chimacum Creek aided in raising their returns from “virtually zero” to a population of more than 1,500 wild salmon, after she and other volunteers spent “countless late nights monitoring thousands of eggs,” in Doyle’s words.

“Like a tree, I’ve been witness to what’s been happening in the watershed for most of my life,” said Scalf, an early transplant to Discovery Bay when her family moved to the valley from Port Townsend in 1966, when she was in the middle of second grade. “I saw the boom of sport salmon fishing on the Olympic Peninsula up close.”

At that time, the sawmill was still running, an estuary had been buried in “sawdust” and Protection Island was slated for development.

“Eleanor Stopps hadn’t arrived yet,” said Scalf, who went from knowing nothing about salmon or their life cycles, to realizing that the ecosystem which the S’Klallam tribes had helped keep in balance for thousands of years was being upended by modern development.

Scalf credited Wild Olympic Salmon’s Tracking the Dragon game in the early 1990s for fostering watershed awareness and community focus among her and her family, and cited an article in The Leader about a project on Salmon Creek with further spurring her on.

Scalf concentrated on the early survival of salmon eggs and fry, until habitat changes could take hold, with boosting the salmon population to self-sustaining levels.

“My background as a nurse makes me think of the concept of CPR,” Scalf said. “Keep the patient, in this case the fish, alive in the moment, but change the surrounding lifestyle, in this case the habitat, to help the fish remain alive in the future.”

Scalf reported that the crews working to boost the summer chum salmon runs have themselves been growing in number since she joined them.

“Once Salmon Creek rallied, Salmon Creek summer chum eggs were introduced to Chimacum Creek, to restore that run,” Scalf said. “The Snow Creek coho got a boost. In 1999, we repeated the intervention with Jimmycomelately Creek summer chum in Blyn.”

Scalf acknowledged that her family grew a bit weary of her volunteering after seven years, but the state Department of Fish and Wildlife allowed her to continue her work by hiring her as a project leader, coordinating crews of other volunteers, whom she thanked repeatedly.

“For some of us, it has been 27 years, and nine life cycles of summer chum have returned home,” Scalf said. “Hood Canal summer chum may be on the cusp of being taken off the endangered species list. We have a strong coho run on Snow Creek, and we have a brand new bridge,” she added, referring to the bridge built over West Uncas Road in 2018.

Doyle described Scalf as a strong voice for the construction of a bridge over West Uncas Road, during the 10-year span it took for the culvert to be removed and the bridge to be built, which also saw Scalf recruiting volunteers and hauling sandbags to help salmon get through the culvert, to healthy spawning habitat upstream.

Scalf also engaged stakeholders, agencies and political leaders, so that adult summer chum can now swim under the bridge to spawning grounds.

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