EATONVILLE — For a second year, the Nisqually Indian Tribe is building logjams in the Mashel River that will provide habitat for fish and help protect property from bank erosion. Riverside property sustained heavy damage during a historic flood two years ago.
“When there isn’t enough wood in a river, both people and salmon are in danger because the water flows too quickly during floods,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Tribe. “Bank hardening with rip-rap increased the river’s speed, while past poor logging practices have reduced the ground’s ability to soak up rain water and release it slowly. The logjams will both protect the banks while also slowing the flow of floodwaters.”
“Strong salmon runs are vital to the Nisqually Tribe, we take environmental stewardship seriously,” said Cynthia Iyall, chair of the Nisqually Tribe. “We also want our neighbors to be safe, and we’re happy we can make both things happen.”
Last year the Tribe completed a series of logjams along the town of Eatonville’s Millpond Park that restored habitat while preventing the river from washing out that historic site. This year, the Tribe is expanding the project to Richard Collins’ downstream property. Two winters ago, Collins lost a 400 by 60 foot piece property to a flood.
“We used to have tremendous fish runs in here, but we haven’t seen them in years,” Collins said. “Anything that helps bring the fish back is important.”
Collins has lived on the river for many years. Over the years some of the nearby floodplain was developed and the river was narrowed, Collins explained Now, the river moves too fast during floods, washes out his property and threatens his home.
“The logjams that we’re building will divert flow away from the at-risk property and into a side channel,” Troutt said. Next summer, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) will further protect the eroding bank using a technique called “bank roughening,” essentially replacing traditional rip-rap with log structures.
Logjams are important river features for salmon at all life stages because they create good habitat in which fish can feed and rest. “Over the years logging near the stream channel took away most of the material that eventually would have formed logjams,” Troutt said.
An earlier tribal project on the Mashel replaced a large rock berm protecting Eatonville’s Smallwood Park with a series of large logjams. “We’ve seen direct evidence that the logjams we’ve built in the last few years not only blunt the impacts of floods, but also boost juvenile salmon populations,” Troutt said. “Since we built those logjams at Smallwood, two significant floods have battered them and they’ve survived.”
At the same time, surveys have found a booming juvenile coho population around the jams. “Our biologists found more than 2,500 coho living in the same part of the Mashel, up from around 900 before the logjams,” Troutt said. “These fish are finding the river a much better place to be now.” In addition to coho salmon, the logjams are also expected to benefit Puget Sound chinook and steelhead, both of which are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“Lack of high quality habitat is the major factor in declining salmon populations in tributaries to the the Nisqually River,” Troutt said. “This project shows that you can restore and protect habitat while protecting people as well.”
“Strong communities can balance protecting personal property and environmental protection,” Iyall said. “This is an innovative technique that makes both happen.”
For more information, contact: David Troutt, natural resources director, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687. Florian Leischner, restoration biologist, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, firstname.lastname@example.org.