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Skokomish, Forest Service restore South Fork river habitat

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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Since the 1920s, the construction of dams along the Skokomish River has rerouted its flows, changing the shape of the river and diverting its course to Hood Canal.

It's the abandoned and incomplete work of one these dams in the 1950s that has the U.S. Forest Service and the Skokomish Tribe working together now to restore natural flows and vegetation in the upper watershed of South Fork Skokomish River.

"Historically, there has been this reach of the river that had been excessively logged and wood has been yanked out of it, due to potential dam building in the 1950s," said Marc McHenry, a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service. "So, the current condition is pretty degraded fish habitat, a simplified habitat with basically really shallow wide stream channels."

Starting this summer, the Skokomish Tribe and the Forest Service will construct about 30 logjams along one mile of the river and will plant native vegetation and trees in about 12 acres of flood plains to stabilize the riverbank. The Forest Service is providing all of the wood for the project.

"The native riparian vegetation helped maintain bank stability and quality fish habitat," said Alex Gouley, the tribe's natural resource manager. "Following a watershed analysis, we could clearly see how poor the habitat was ... with major decrease in vegetation."

There are three fish species living in the South Fork that are listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act: Puget Sound steelhead, Puget Sound chinook and bull trout.

The Skokomish have already begun reintroducing chinook to the upper part of the watershed, and improving their habitat will only help in the reintroduction efforts.

The key to the project's success is not putting the wood in place itself, the key is getting that riparian vegetation to re-establish itself, Gouley said.

"It's more of a successional thing," he said. "The new wood creates sediment deposition which creates vegetation establishment, and once the vegetation gets established then the stability will come back, and in a couple hundred years, you'll get a mature enough stand of trees on the riverbank."

The project's scope was scaled back from two miles to one mile, due to funding concerns as well as issues with in-land holdings, Gouley said.

In the original plan, portions of the project spanned into pieces of property owned by Tacoma Power, posing a policy obstacle for the Forest Service, since it typically is not allowed to place its wood on private land.

"That was a key issue," Gouley said. "We were hoping for a larger scope."

The tribe's original geomorphic analysis called for 3,000 pieces of wood over 50 structures, so the project as it now stands encompasses about 1/5 of what the tribe had planned, he said.

Still, the tribe, which has been looking into this since 2006, was eager to get any work done on the project, Gouley said.

"The Forest Service has been great partners, and we were just willing and wanting to work with them," he said.

The tribe secured approximately $700,000 in grants for the project from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. The total cost for the project is around $1 million.

"There are no show-stoppers," McHenry said. "We're online."

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Original Publication Date: April 22, 2010

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