Nisqually Tribe Restores Yelm Creek Salmon Habitat

YELM (June 25, 2004) – Almost ten years after a flood ravaged salmon habitat on Yelm Creek the Nisqually Tribe and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group are repairing some of the damage.

“This entire area was underwater in 1996,” said Teresa Moon, project manager for the SPSSEG. “The flood changed a lot across the watershed, for good and for bad.” The tribe and the enhancement group are digging out a pond that was filled with sediment during the flood and opening salmon access to the upper creek by modifying a fish-blocking logjam in a steep canyon.

“The Nisqually River has been flooding for thousands of years, and salmon evolved right along side all of those floods,” said Florian Leischner, salmon recovery biologist with the tribe. “This particular flood had a few negative effects on Yelm Creek, but overall, flooding is good for salmon.”

Yelm Creek already supports a healthy run of chum salmon, but the tribe and enhancement group hope that other species, such as coho, will benefit from the project. “When the flood came, it washed out where the salmon used to go into the pond,” said Harry Peterson, whose farm the creek runs through. “Yelm Creek always had a lot of space for fish to spawn, and the pond was good for the young salmon to come into.”

Nisqually River coho runs have been decreasing in recent years. “For Nisqually coho to come back in strong numbers again, they need good habitat so juvenile fish will have someplace to live and feed,” said Moon. Because coho spend an extra winter in freshwater – longer than most other salmon – they depend on off-channel habitat such as ponds more so than other fish. After the pond is dug out tree stumps and logs will be added to provide natural habitat features.

Before the tribe and enhancement group start restoring the filled in and overgrown pond, they will conduct a plant salvage with the help of volunteers. Plants taken from the site will be replanted around the pond’s edge after it is rebuilt. “Over the past eight years a lot of valuable plants have grown here, and we want to salvage and replant,” said Moon.

The tribe and the enhancement group are making a slight modification to a logjam that blocks salmon access to the upper 10 miles of the creek. “A few years ago we had a huge run of chum that was stacked up in here, they couldn’t get up into the spawning area,” said Peterson.

“This logjam, instead of creating habitat, has created a problem,” said Leischner. Typically, logjams create habitat by slowing down water and creating deep pools where young and adult salmon can rest. But, the logjam on Yelm Creek has totally cut off salmon from their habitat.

Leischner theorizes that originally a series of logjams existed in the steep canyon before the flood, creating terraces that could be easily traversed by salmon. “When the flood came through, only one logjam was left, that is acting more like a dam,” he said.

“Protecting and restoring quality salmon habitat is key to recovering salmon in the Nisqually watershed,” said Cedar Bouta, executive director of SPSSEG. Landowner participation has been vital to the success of this project. “Salmon restoration can’t happen without the participation of people who are the stewards of the habitat.”


For more information, contact: Florian Leischner, salmon restoration biologist, Nisqually Tribe,, [email protected]. Teresa Moon, project manager, SPSSEG,, [email protected]. Emmett O’Connell, South Sound information officer, NWIFC,, [email protected]