Nisqually Tribe Testing The Water At Mashel River

EATONVILLE (August 7, 2003) – The Nisqually Indian Tribe and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group are gathering information this summer so they can gauge the success of future habitat enhancement on the lower Mashel River. “Gathering baseline data and monitoring the river before and after restoration is the best way to judge how much we restore lost salmon habitat,” said Sayre Hodgson, Salmon Restoration Program Biologist with the Nisqually Tribe.

Tribal biologists have snorkeled the last two miles of the Mashel, before it flows into the Nisqually River. “We’ve found lots of juvenile cutthroat trout and steelhead, both of which like to hang out in riffles,” said Hodgson. Riffles are fast flowing, shallow areas of a stream, and because of a lack of wood in the Mashel, it contains a lot of riffles. “Juvenile coho and chinook, on the other hand, like to hang out in deeper pools, which are created by the scouring action of large wood. We’re hoping to see more coho and chinook when we snorkel this stretch of river after the restoration project.”

During the restoration project, which begins late next summer, the tribe will put large logs in the river and plant conifers along the riverbank. “We want to re-create the conditions of the past that once supported healthy salmon runs,” said Florian Leischner, Salmon Restoration Biologist for the tribe. “One of the most significant problems on the Mashel is the lack of large conifers along the bank.”

Hardwood deciduous trees such as alders, which are the first to grow back after logging, dominate the banks at the mouth of the Mashel. Conifers last much longer when they fall in the water, giving future logjams much more stability. “We’re hoping conifers will be growing along the streambed and will someday fall into the river and create new habitat,” said Leischner.

The Mashel River, which enters the Nisqually River just a few miles below Alder Dam, is the most important tributary to the Nisqually in terms of restoring wild chinook salmon, said Jeanette Dorner, Salmon Recovery Coordinator for the tribe. “It’s extremely important for chinook to not to be spawning only in the Nisqually River itself, but also in these big tributaries,” said Dorner. “These rivers provide the evolutionary backbone for these salmon. If something were to happen in the mainstem, there would still be salmon living in the Mashel.”

“Repairing habitat is key to restoring salmon runs in the Nisqually watershed,” said Dorner. The tribe has drastically reduced its harvest on the river, and limited its catches to salmon produced in two tribal hatcheries. But, that only goes so far, she said. “Further curtailing harvest on hatchery stocks won’t help much in benefiting wild salmon. We need to concentrate our efforts on repairing what is left of salmon habitat.”


For more information, contact: Sayre Hodgson, Nisqually Indian Tribe, Salmon Restoration Program Biologist, (360) 438-8687. Florian Leischner, Nisqually Indian Tribe, Salmon Restoration Biologist, (360) 438-8687. Emmett O’Connell, NWIFC, Information Officer, (360) 438-1181, [email protected]

Photos available: Photos tribal and enhancement group staff conducting habitat surveys. Contact Emmett O’Connell at the above number or email address.

Nisqually River Chinook Fast Facts

  • Chinook are the largest salmon.
  • Scientific name: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha.
  • Common names: King salmon, tyee salmon, Columbia River salmon, black salmon, chub salmon, hook bill salmon, winter salmon and blackmouth.
  • Puget Sound chinook are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered
    Species Act.
  • Chinook salmon may spend 1 to 6 or more years in the ocean before returning to their natal streams to spawn, though the average is 3 to 4 years.
  • Spawning usually occurs in deep, fast water with cobble-size gravel. Average nest, or “redd,” sizes can range between 43 and 162 square feet buried approximately 7 to 8 inches in the gravel. An average redd can produce between 3,000 and 7,000 eggs.
  • Young chinook like to rear in side channels where they can find areas where water runs slow and cool. As they grow, the young fish gradually move into deeper, swifter water. Once they have put on enough weight and size, chinook “smolts” migrate to the ocean.