LAKE QUINAULT-Nearly one year after completion, the pilot project for the Quinault Indian Nation’s (QIN) restoration of the upper Quinault River is protecting critical sockeye spawning habitat and re-establishing river channel stability.
Thirteen engineered log jams (ELJs) installed last summer in the river above Lake Quinault subtly deflected high river flows away from Alder Creek side channel, one of the few remaining areas used by sockeye, or blueback, salmon for spawning. Sockeye are culturally and economically vital to the QIN.
Land use practices in the Upper Quinault River valley removed most of the mature forests and large wood from the river and its floodplain, destabilizing the river. Side channel salmon habitat has been disappearing from the Upper Quinault as the river channel moves rapidly across its floodplain. There once was more than 55 miles of sockeye spawning side channel habitat along the river; now there are fewer than 5 miles.
“The river has responded to the engineered logjams in the way we expected,” said Bill Armstrong, salmon resources scientist for the Quinault Indian Nation. – it is a very exciting time.”
Protecting salmon habitat wasn’t the only successful outcome of the pilot project. Just as important was successfully demonstrating the upper Quinault River restoration approach and the ability of the QIN to get the job done. “Because of the success of the pilot project, we have secured significant support from the local Quinault valley community and other stakeholders for future projects in the watershed, setting the stage for a collaborative restoration effort,” said Armstrong.
QIN is also returning the forest to 12 miles of barren floodplain in the upper Quinault River watershed in one of the most ambitious river restoration plans in the lower 48 states. More than 1,000 species of sitka spruce, Douglas fir, red alder and black cottonwood poles were planted at the site this spring. Care was taken to ensure roots were put deep enough to receive water even in the summer months.
“We used a backhoe to dig holes as deep as 10 feet for most of the cottonwood poles to make sure the roots were in contact with water in August and September,” said Jim Plampin, silviculturist for the QIN.
Each tree received a plastic collar to discourage beavers from harming the trees. “We’ll plant more trees at this project site in the future and continue to monitor the area” said Armstrong. “Monitoring is a big part of restoration – so we’ll know what’s working and what isn’t. Only then can we modify our designs and methods if necessary to ensure successful restoration of the river into the future.”
The second phase of the project involves more than 100 engineered log jams to be built over two years in a section of river below the first project site. Engineers are now designing those projects. Work would begin this summer if funding is secured. The 50-year project is being conducted in cooperation with many federal, state and county agencies and local landowners.