Blake Smith, enhancement manager for the Puyallup Tribe, inspects a new logjam that is part of a bank protection effort at a future salmon pond.

Blake Smith, enhancement manager for the Puyallup Tribe, inspects a new logjam that is part of a bank protection effort at a future salmon pond.

WILKESON – The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is using fish-friendly methods to help protect property they plan to turn into steelhead acclimation ponds that will help save the local run from extinction.

“Heavy winter heavy floods from a few years ago washed away almost two acres,” said Blake Smith, enhancement manager for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. “We needed to find a way to protect what was left of the site, but also help protect the fish we’re trying to save.” The new facility on Wilkeson Creek has been in the planning stages since the tribe bought the site of a former trout hatchery in the mid-90s.

The tribe will use hundreds of wood pieces to build several dozen logjams along the bank of the creek. Traditional flood protection techniques, such as rip rap, can be harmful to fish. “Dumping boulders along a bank can be cheep and easy flood protection, but it ends up making flooding worse for people downstream because it makes the water move faster,” Smith said.

“Fast moving water also washes away any salmon eggs that might have been laid nearby,” Smith said. “Because rocks remove any habitat features that fish might have used, rip rapped streams are pretty barren of fish.”

Instead, the series of wood structures along the bank will deflect the creek’s flow while also providing juvenile salmon with a place to hide and feed. The logjam will also create a side channel with additional rearing and spawning area for salmon. “When this area was surrounded by mature forest, there were trees regularly being washed into the creek, and floods certainly didn’t have the destructive force they do now,” Smith said.

Steelhead runs throughout the Puyallup River watershed have been dropping at an alarming rate for the past few years. “We’re at the point where we need to safeguard some of the wild steelhead in a broodstock program so we don’t totally loose the genetics of this unique stock,” Smith said.

The Puyallup Tribe is already participating in another broodstock program for White River steelhead, a large tributary to the Puyallup, with the Muckleshoot Tribe and the state of Washington.

“The system of Puyallup tributaries around Wilkeson Creek are probably home to the last strong wild spawning population of steelhead in the watershed,” Smith said. “This makes them very attractive for brood stocking purposes.”

Because species like coho and steelhead spend more than a year in the freshwater, the health of stream habitat has a disproportionate impact on their health. “If we don’t do anything to restore their habitat, steelhead and other fish species won’t ever recover,” Smith said.

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For more information, contact: Blake Smith, enhancement manager, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, (253) 845-9225. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, (360) 528-4304, eoconnell@nwifc.org