Bulkhead removal restores soft shorelines on Swinomish Reservation

The Swinomish Tribe is working to restore habitat for salmon’s key food source.

Shoreline armoring, such as bulkheads and riprap, shuts off the supply of sand and gravel to the beach, leaving behind poor habitat for sand lance and surf smelt, the forage fish that salmon eat.

“While the tribe has strict rules regulating new structures of this kind, much of the impact comes from old bulkheads put in years ago,” said Scott Andrews, environmental compliance director for the Swinomish Department of Environmental Protection. “Removing such structures, especially when the land above the tribal tidelands is private fee lands, can be difficult. Agreements must be worked out and money found to pay for the removal.”

Fee lands on a reservation have been sold to an owner who holds title to and control of the property.

After two years of planning and permitting, in December the tribe removed an 80-foot-long section of concrete on the west shore of the reservation that was partly on fee uplands owned by the Norman family and partly on tribal tidelands. The concrete was jack-hammered into sections and then removed by crane and barge by Culbertson Marine.

“Already the area where the bulkhead stood is open for prey species to spawn,” Andrews said. “Sediments eroding from the bluff above – previously long blocked – are contributing to the substrate needed for spawning.”

In all of Skagit County, more than half of the soft shorelines already are armored with bulkheads or levees. About one-third of the 30 miles of shoreline on the reservation is armored.

“We know that habitat is the key to salmon recovery,” said Lorraine Loomis, Swinomish fisheries manager and NWIFC chair. “That’s why we focus so much of our effort on restoring and protecting it. We must do everything we can to protect our remaining habitat as we work to restore even more.”