Planting caps decade of salmon restoration by Nisqually Tribe

A new forest will be the finishing touch on more than a decade of salmon restoration work by the Nisqually Indian Tribe on the Mashel River.

The tribe is working with the Nisqually River Education Project and the Nisqually Land Trust to plant more than 5,000 trees and shrubs over 7 acres along the Mashel. The planting will continue through next spring and is adjacent to recent habitat restoration work on the Mashel.

Over the past two years, the tribe and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG) built 20 logjams and dug a new side channel on property partially owned by the land trust. Logjams are important for salmon at all life stages because they create good habitat where fish can spawn, feed and rest.

“We’ve been working for years to restore the Mashel back to supporting salmon again,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Nisqually Tribe. “Years of cooperation and hard work have gotten us to this point.”

More than 10 years ago, the tribe and SPSSEG built a series of logjams to replace a rock berm that protected a park from the river. A few years later the tribe constructed another series of logjams downstream from the park.

“Replanting after restoration is a way to ensure that we don’t lose our short-term habitat gains and recreate a more natural system that will support complex habitat for generations,” Troutt said.

“Logjams form because there are big enough trees right next to the river that fall in,” said Lance Winecka, SPSSEG executive director.

The Mashel River is one of only two tributaries to the Nisqually River where chinook salmon spawn. Nisqually River chinook are part of a larger population listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The tribe has no doubt that the recent restoration on the Mashel will benefit salmon.

“Our biologists have gone back to see if salmon are using newly created logjams, and they are,” Troutt said. “These are fish that otherwise wouldn’t find a place to hide from predators or feed because, before the logjams, the river was barren.”

Volunteer Brandon Bywater places a plant alongside a newly restored stretch of the Mashel River. E. O’Connell.