Oxbow Project Will Give Salmon Much Needed Rest

ALDERTON (September 3, 2004) – Just like tourists pulling over for coffee, young salmon need places to pull out of the main flow of a river to rest and feed.

“In a natural river system, juvenile salmon use slow water areas just off the main river channel to feed and grow before they leave for the open ocean,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. “Restoring these areas is one of the most significant things we can do to recover salmon in the Puyallup River.”

This summer the tribe and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group are reconnecting one of these rest areas – the 96th Street Oxbow – to the river’s main channel by widening a culvert and digging an almost 200-foot long channel. The oxbow, once part of the river’s main channel, will act a refuge for young salmon. “Oxbows, side channels and other off-channel areas are filled with aquatic insects that are an important food for young salmon,” said Lance Winecka, project manager for the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group.

“Rivers naturally create these off-channel areas when they overflow their banks, carving new channels,” said Winecka. “Places like the 96th Street Oxbow are important places for the survival of juvenile salmon.” The project will especially benefit coho and chinook salmon, and cutthroat and steelhead trout, all of which live in freshwater for a extended period as juveniles. Puyallup River chinook are part of a wider stock listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“If we were to do only one thing to save salmon in the Puyallup River, it would be doing these kinds of projects,” said Ladley. Dikes along the Puyallup River cut off much of what once was valuable rearing habitat for juvenile salmon.

The diking of the river was intended to prevent flooding, but in the end has harmed salmon populations by intensifying the effects of floods. “Before the dikes, high winter water was able to spread peacefully across the floodplain,” said Ladley. “Now floods are forced to stay between the dikes, increasing the damage they can do. It’s like putting your finger on the end of a hose.”

“In addition to cutting off hundreds of acres of salmon rearing habitat, dikes also intensify floods that scour gravel where salmon lay their eggs,” said Ladley. “Increasing the amount of off-channel habitat will not only restore the natural function of the river, it will mean more salmon will return to the Puyallup River every year.”

The project, which was designed by Paul Tappel, was funded through state Salmon Recovery Funding Board and Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds. The property being restored is owned by Pierce County.

Similar off-channel projects on the river, such moving levies away from the river banks, help alleviate the shortage of salmon habitat on the Puyallup. But, there is still a long way to go, said Ladley. “We’ve been diking the Puyallup River for a century; we’ve only been trying to take the cork off for a few years.”


For more information, contact: Russ Ladley, resource protection manager, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, (253) 845-9225. Lance Winecka, project manager, SPSSEG, (360) 412-0808 [email protected]. Terry Wright, president, SPSSEG, (360) 438-1181, ext. 336. Emmett O’Connell, South Sound information officer, NWIFC, (360) 438-1181, ext. 392, [email protected]

For more information on the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, go to www.spsseg.org