The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has completed a two-year restoration project of Little River recently, making it more salmon friendly as part of the tribe’s Elwha River watershed restoration work.
Little River is one of the first streams that salmon and other fish recolonized after swimming past the old Elwha Dam following its removal in 2013. The dam blocked fish passage for nearly 100 years. Since 2013, Puget Sound chinook, steelhead, coho and pink salmon, plus bull trout, have been seen spawning in Little River.
To further support salmon spawning efforts, with $1.5 million in funding from the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the tribe placed more than 200 logs in a 1.2 mile stretch of the tributary using helicopters and excavators, then secured them with about 330 rock collars, each made up of two boulders connected with a high-strength cable.
The logs and boulders provide natural features that salmon need to survive, slowing water velocity and creating pools for salmon for resting, feeding and spawning.
Prior to dam removal, salmon habitat had degraded in the watershed because of historic logging practices, said Mike McHenry, the tribe’s fisheries habitat manager. These logging practices removed large trees and triggered a process called channel incision, McHenry said.
Without the wood, the fast-flowing water scoured fine gravel needed for spawning while leaving behind larger rocks and in some extreme cases, bedrock.
The tribe has been working with various partners including Olympic National Park and supportive private landowners, including Rick Skelly, who passed away during the second year of construction. In Skelly’s memory, the tribe is dedicating the project to him.
“Rick Skelly was so supportive of the restoration work and loved nature and Little River,” McHenry said. “Rick was so excited to see the project implemented and the tribe is saddened that he did not get to see it completed.”
This project would not have been possible without Skelly’s support, as well as the Wagner, Fink, Freed, Gray, Johnson, Worthington and Malcolm families, and Green Crow Timber, McHenry said.
“These private property owners all deserve credit and the tribe thanks them for supporting this important restoration work,” he said.