PYSHT (Dec. 19, 2005) — In the 1950s, state fisheries crews bulldozed Olympic Peninsula rivers clear of vital salmon habitat by removing fallen trees and logjams in the mistaken belief it would improve passage. Repairing that legacy of fish habitat damage on the Pysht River near Joyce is the aim of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
“We have found there was a state work group called the Stream Clearance Unit that yarded everything out of the streams,” said Mike McHenry, fisheries habitat manager for the tribe. Additionally, up until the 1980s, tree buffers were not left along streams when logging occurred, further starving streams for wood needed for salmon habitat.
In the case of the Pysht, a 1939 fire and subsequent salvage logging added to the watershed’s woes. To return wood to the river for fish, the tribe recently began a new phase of habitat restoration in the South Fork of the Pysht. The project is the latest of more than a decade of work by the tribe in the watershed.
With the aid of a Chinook helicopter, about 130 logs weighing more than 1.2 million pounds were scattered throughout the confluence of the South Fork and Salmonberry Creek in November.
“The idea is to put back the wood that these rivers have lost, providing the raw material necessary for creating a healthy habitat for fish,” said McHenry. “Because these sites are pretty inaccessible, the most cost-effective and least damaging way to go about adding much-needed wood is placing them with a helicopter. It’s like logging in reverse.”
Putting timber back into the river systems will provide shelter for juvenile fish and slow the streams, creating pools and riffles essential for salmon habitat. “We’re seeing immediate results. The jams are reducing the river’s energy and creating pools,” said McHenry. Wood also results in accumulations of gravel, a necessary component for salmon spawning.
Merrill & Ring, a forestry and land management company, donated the wood, valued in excess of $50,000, for the project. The river and creek support coho and chum salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout. “Merrill & Ring is the primary landowner in the drainage and they have been a great partner in these projects,” said McHenry. “Their level of commitment to salmon recovery is unparalleled on the Olympic Peninsula.”
“The Pysht has a number of problems, most as a result of historic practices, but it’s far from hopeless,” said McHenry. “It still has some very productive coho habitat and we’ve concentrated our initial efforts on shoring up some of the tributary habitat. When this work is completed, we want to move into mainstem and estuary habitat restoration with the goals of recovering all native stocks in the future.”
The project was funded by a $650,000 Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant as one part of the tribe’s large-scale project on the South Fork of the Pysht that will continue through 2007. Restoration work is slated for an additional seven miles of river.
For More Information, Contact: Mike McHenry, fisheries habitat manager, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, (360) 457-4012, ext. 14; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (360) 374-5501