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Saturday, September 29, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pre-emptive action to aid salmon

Seattle Times staff reporter

Monroe farmer Kurt Biderbost acquired a free, 60-ton insurance policy for his property this week.

For decades, narrow culverts beneath a dirt road on Biderbost's small farm have hindered young chinook salmon trying to swim through the Riley Slough system. But now, thanks to the Snohomish Conservation District and the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, the culverts are gone, replaced by two concrete bridges that provide more room for fish to navigate.

Biderbost is one of several farmers who are making pre-emptive strikes on the salmon front, hoping their voluntary good deeds might be rewarded in the future.

Throughout the region, farmers are worried about upcoming state recommendations for salmon-protection projects on agricultural lands. Projects to increase the population of salmon on farmlands are often greeted with concern, not open arms.

"We're all scared to death. What are they going to come up with? Can you imagine 150-foot buffers along all the streams and ditches?" said Biderbost, 55, who grows vegetables and berries on his 9-acre farm off Highway 203.

The state's Agriculture, Fish and Water group has worked since December 1999 to craft farm-practice recommendations that would allow farms to remain economically viable while also protecting chinook salmon and bull trout, both listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Composed of federal, state and local officials, as well as agricultural and tribal representatives, the group has struggled to find consensus. Gov. Gary Locke recently gave it a six-month deadline to wrap up work, and counties probably will enact laws reflecting the group's recommendations, said Philip Morley, who represents Snohomish County government.

Biderbost said he recently attended a horticultural conference where experts spoke about the future rules. "They said it might help you when (regulators) come around if you can say, 'I'm doing stuff to save the salmon,' " he said.

So if the state does someday require tough measures, such as large buffers that limit land use near the banks of salmon streams, Biderbost might be able to negotiate smaller buffers by showing how his two new bridges, made from recycled slabs of Highway 2, have improved fish survival.

The new bridges were built with federal and state grant money pooled by the Conservation District and Adopt-A-Stream. Further projects are planned in Riley Slough and throughout the lower Sammamish River and Snohomish River watersheds.

"This was a good deal for me," Biderbost said. "Hopefully it will help everybody out."

Diane Brooks can be reached at 206-464-2567 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com.

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