New salmon habitat for the lower Skokomish River

For the thousands of chinook salmon that return to the Skokomish River every year, the new habitat at River Mile 5 will be a welcome sight.

Fish will find pools and gravel bars created by strategically placed logs and rootwads—all to increase habitat complexity and improve the area for fish to rest, feed, hide and spawn.

This is the first phase of a multi-phase restoration project to improve salmon habitat between river miles 5 and 6.5, focusing around the Highway 101 bridge, said Joseph Pavel, the Skokomish Tribe’s natural resources director. Project partners include Mason County and the Mason Conservation District.

A bundle of logs is fitted into a deflector jam on the Skokomish River. Tiffany Royal

“We felt that this was a prime opportunity to implement this style of restoration project and have it be highly effective and have a substantial beneficial outcome that could enhance survivability of fish, both juvenile and adult,” he said. “It’ll provide unique habitat features and ecological functions that are well served for the life history of salmon in the Skokomish River.”

Historically, the river used to produce the largest runs of salmon and steelhead in Hood Canal, but degraded habitat from logging upstream and nearby land issues changed the river’s ecological functions over time, leading to declining populations, Pavel said.

However, coho, fall chinook, pink, fall chum and sockeye salmon, winter and summer steelhead, rainbow trout, bull trout and coastal cutthroat all have been documented using the river.

Putting wood back into the river and creating side channels that restore connectivity between the mainstem and off-channel habitats will help further support those fish populations, said Alex Papiez, the tribe’s restoration biologist.

Eight structures were installed within River Mile 5 this summer, including one large, engineered logjam at the head of a gravel bar. The logjam will encourage the deposition of sediment and gravel downstream, and form pools along the face and side of the structure, narrowing and deepening the river channel.

Downstream, seven smaller engineered logjams were installed along the banks as deflectors, to further stabilize the bank and slow erosion, allowing for riparian vegetation to grow, while also providing shade and cover for salmon.

In addition, a new side channel was created between the river and Purdy Creek, restoring a connection between the mainstem and off-channel habitats. Revegetation will include planting native riparian species and removing reed canary grass.

A school of chinook salmon head upstream near the installation of a new logjam on the Skokomish River. Story: Tiffany Royal; Photo: Alex Papiez, Skokomish Tribe