Piling Creek can be easily missed with the blink of an eye, in fact the creek often dries up entirely during the late summer. Much of the creek isn’t even a creek as it drains a large forested wetland perched on the floodplain of the Pysht River. But while it’s small and shallow, it’s significant for coho salmon as it provides over-winter refuge from the much larger Pysht River.

To help the juvenile coho that use Piling Creek during winter as rearing areas, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has improved access of the creek by removing a fish-blocking culvert and replacing it with a bridge this summer.

Initially, the creek, located on the Merrill & Ring Tree Farm, was crossed by a railroad wooden trestle until the 1950s. It was replaced with a road and a 24-inch diameter culvert when the loggers switched from trains to trucks. Culverts were used because they were cheaper and simpler to install than bridges. Over time, the old culvert degraded to the point it became a barrier to migrating fish.

Because of the creek’s strong potential to produce salmon, the tribe replaced the culvert with a 30-foot long bridge. This effort is part of a larger cooperative effort to correct fish passage barriers on the Pysht River floodplain between the tribe and Merrill and Ring.

“Working collaboratively with the tribes has helped us understand each other’s needs and provided an opportunity to accommodate concerns,” said Joe Murray, Merrill & Ring’s forester.

“Small channels and wetlands located on the floodplain provide critical areas for salmon to rest and feed,” said Mike McHenry, the tribe’s habitat program manager. “Salmon need this type of habitat, especially during the winter when the Pysht is running fast and high.”

Replacing the culvert with a bridge allows the creek more room to move and helps contribute to the wetlands in upper Piling Creek. Wetlands are important for salmon because they provide refuge during storms and floods.

This project was funded by Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, with collaboration from the tribe, NEC Construction Management and Merrill & Ring Tree Farm.

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For more information, contact: Mike McHenry, Lower Elwha habitat program manager, at (360) 457-4012 or mchenry@elwha.nsn.us; Joseph Murray, Merrill and Ring Tree Farm Forester, at (360) 963-2378 or pysht@olypen.com; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or troyal@nwifc.org.