FORKS (August 19, 2004) — The Hoh Indian Tribe’s relationship with the 55-mile long, glacier-fed Hoh River goes back centuries. It is the thread of life from which the salmon comes. Salmon sustains the tribe. Both depend on a healthy Hoh River.
That is why the Hoh Tribe is taking an active part in the $7.1 million Highway 101/Hoh River construction project. The Washington Department of Transportation (DOT) is heading the project that is being funded by federal highway funds. The colossal work is creating the largest known man-made logjams to coax the river away from the highway in a way that protects the road and enhances fish habitat.
The stretch of highway 15 miles south of Forks has been eroded several times in the past decade and millions of dollars have been spent to protect it. Even as the current project was being planned in 2003, more than 2 feet of rain fell in October, causing DOT to dump 1,000 truckloads of huge boulders (rip rap) in the river to protect the road.
“In that sense, this is the lesser of two evils,” said Rod Thysell, natural resources director for the Hoh Tribe. “If they didn’t do this project, it would mean thousands of more truckloads of rip rap to protect the road. From a fish habitat perspective, that’s just not an option.”
Rip rap speeds the river’s flow, eliminating pools important to fish. In addition, rip rap prevents a river from creating logjams that are important elements of fish habitat. Over time, miles of rip rap create a straight river channel devoid of the natural bends, eddies and holes which help control flooding and fish need to survive and thrive.
Large, stable logjams, however, provide deep pools that fish need for cover and to rest. Over the past 50 years, extensive logging on 30 miles of the Hoh River valley have dumped tons of sediment into the river that accelerates rapid, destructive side-to-side movement by the river, especially during floods.
To stabilize the river’s channel, four of 10 engineered logjams will rise 25 feet above the river and be anchored an additional 15 feet below the surface. Nearly 500 trees, some with their large root wads intact, will be integrated in all of the logjams, as well as large boulders. The tops of the logjams will be planted with young trees to jump-start natural growth.
The river, now diverted by a temporary dam, is flowing through a previous channel re-created by construction. The plan is for the river to use both channels when the project finishes Oct. 1.
The project was designed by Tim Abbe of Herrera Environmental Consultants, Inc. Abbe is an internationally known engineered logjams expert. He has designed several smaller projects on Olympic Peninsula rivers.
As part of the project design, a fish management plan was created to anticipate harmful effects to fish during construction and try to mitigate them. “We’ve been able to reduce some of the impacts to fish that have come up as the project has proceeded,” said Steve Allison, habitat biologist for the Hoh Tribe. Tribal biologists and fish technicians have helped improve fish protection measures along the way. Tribal personnel, along with volunteers from DOT, Pacific Salmon Coalition and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, moved fish from the channel that has been temporarily dewatered to allow construction of the engineered jams. Most of the thousands of rescued fish were juvenile coho, steelhead, and chinook. They were released below the project.
The project’s affect on adult fish is murkier. Tribal biologists want to make sure that adult spring and summer chinook are moving through the project area.
Tribal biologists are also nervous about whether the project will be completed before heavy fall rains begin. “The project is using the best available science, and hopefully, these short-term losses of fish habitat will be mitigated by the gains in habitat in the long run,” said Thysell. “But there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ associated with a project like this. The river is full of surprises.”
“It all looks good on paper. But the Hoh River hasn’t read the paper,” said Bob Howell, longtime Forks resident and Timber/Fish/Wildlife technician for the Hoh Tribe.
For more information, contact: Rod Thysell, natural resources director, Hoh Tribe; Steve Allison, habitat biologist, Hoh Tribe, (360) 374-6090; Tim Abbe, Herrera Environmental Consultants, (206) 441-9080