Tribes in the Skagit watershed are helping restore fish passage on private forestland.

The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe and the Skagit River System Cooperative (the natural resources extension of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes) are collaborating with partners from Skagit County and the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group (SFEG) to identify high-priority restoration opportunities and help secure funding for private landowners to get the work done.

Tribes and their partners have been assessing fish-passage barriers in the Skagit River basin for the past three years. Updated information has been collected on many fish passage barriers, including eight undersized fish-passage structures that prevented fish from accessing more than 4.2 miles of habitat on Carpenter Creek and its tributary English Creek, said Sue Madsen, SFEG restoration ecologist.

When those blockages are on private property, SFEG works through a state program called the Family Forest Fish Passage Program that connects the owners with engineers and funding to correct the problem.

In September, the program helped replace an undersized culvert with a bridge over Carpenter Creek, and another culvert replacement is planned for 2020 on a downstream property. Additional neighbors have expressed interest in working with SFEG to improve fish passage, Madsen said.

“When this project is completed, fish will be able to access the entire length of Carpenter and English creeks,” she said.

Tributaries in the lower Skagit watershed provide spawning and rearing habitat for coho salmon, and Endangered Species Act-listed steelhead trout.

“Each project in isolation provides maximum benefit only as far upstream as the next fish barrier, but we have been able to use the information collected from our partnership to facilitate successive projects along Carpenter Creek that, when combined, provide a much greater habitat benefit,” said Rick Hartson, Upper Skagit Tribe habitat biologist.

Fish can sometimes be seen using the restored habitat within weeks of a project’s completion, Madsen said. SFEG coordinates spawning surveys with a team of volunteers, counting salmon and their redds in past, present and potential project sites in the Skagit watershed.

The Family Forest Fish Passage Program is a partnership among the state Department of Natural Resources’ Small Forest Landowner Office, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Recreation and Conservation Office.

Rob Clark, Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, surveys English Creek for signs of spawning coho. Photo: Kari Neumeyer