RACEHORSE CREEK (Dec. 6, 2002) — Thanks to a cooperative project between the Lummi Nation and the state Department of Natural Resources, coho salmon in a tributary of the Nooksack River are enjoying access to habitat formerly blocked by an impassable culvert.
A survey of the site on Dec. 3 found more than two dozen spawning coho – most of them native, non-hatchery fish – spawning above the formerly blocking culvert. The unnamed tributary to the north fork of the Nooksack River is near Racehorse Creek. Several hundred yards of habitat were opened up by the culvert replacement.
“Habitat is the key to recovering our wild salmon populations,” said Merle Jefferson, director of Lummi Natural Resources. “Fixing blocking culverts like this one is a very efficient and effective means of improving fish habitat.”
Salmon require access to quality spawning habitat in order to reproduce, but failing or improperly installed culverts often prevent fish from accessing pristine areas of rivers and tributaries. Lummi Nation has identified a series of problem culverts in the area.
That identification is the first step in the repair process. After selecting this culvert as one in dire need of replacement, Lummi Nation worked with DNR on getting repairs done. Lummi used funds from a Centennial Clean Water grant to fund the program, and contracted with an independent native contractor to do the repair work on the DNR road.
“This project is an example of tribal government working with another government to help save the salmon that are crucial to us all,” said Jefferson. “Lummi is committed to working together with other jurisdictions on salmon recovery.”
Though replacing this culvert will help Nooksack River coho, it is far from the only problem culvert out there. “Unfortunately, there are numerous other culverts that block salmon from potentially productive habitat,” said Jefferson. “We try to prioritize by fixing the worst ones first.”
This culvert reached the top of the list because it prevented any anadromous (sea-run) fish from passing it. While there were resident populations of cutthroat trout living above the culvert, no coho could get by it on their journey home to spawn.
While surveying the site to verify that coho were using the newly-opened habitat, Lummi Nation biologist Gregg Dunphy also took DNA samples of some fish found above the culvert.
“Not only will this project improve habitat and help the Nooksack River produce more fish, it also gives us an opportunity to broaden our understanding of native salmon stocks,” Dunphy said.
For more information, contact: Jeff Shaw, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360.424.8226; Merle Jefferson, Lummi Nation, 360.384.2225; Gregg Dunphy, Lummi Nation, 360.384.2318.