Conservation effort for orcas begins on land

The Quileute Tribe and the Clallam Conservation District joined together last month for a restoration project during Orca Recovery Week.

Staff with the tribe’s natural resources department teamed up with community volunteers and the conservation district staff to plant trees on tribal land along the Quillayute River.

On a sunny, dry day, more than a dozen people fanned out and spent hours planting cedar and Sitka spruce near the river. They also inspected a previous planting and, when necessary, replaced plant protectors to guard growing trees against rodents.

“This is the second time we partnered to do a project for Orca Recovery Week,” said Quileute water quality biologist Nicole Rasmussen. “It’s very cool. You get engaged landowners there, and it’s a chance to engage with the community.”

The effort this year built on an ongoing restoration project on a 58-acre plot of land fronting the river. Purchased as a site for an addiction-recovery treatment house, the tribe enrolled the property in the conservation district’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which funded more than 30,000 trees and shrubs. The plants will provide much-needed shade for salmon, and offer nutrients, bank stability and the future addition of wood.

Fallen trees will eventually benefit salmon, including creating pools for refuge and attracting macroinvertebrates to eat, said Quileute habitat restoration biologist Caroline Walls. The salmon then go on to serve as food for southern resident orcas.

“Trees and wood are related to salmon, and salmon are related to orca because that’s the primary food source of southern resident killer whales,” Walls said.

Above: Quileute habitat restoration biologist Caroline Walls plants a tree as part of an Orca Recovery Week event in partnership with the Clallam Conservation District. Story and photo: Trevor Pyle