Photo “Salmon Restoration and Flood Control,” by Nancy Regan via flickr.

Quick thinking and some emergency funding from the Nisqually Tribe ensured that an almost decade-old logjam would not wash away on the Mashel River.

The Mashel River watershed lacks large streamside trees that historically fell into the river and maintained logjams. This summer, a logjam at Smallwood Park in Eatonville began to fail. “This was the jam farthest upstream. It was taking the brunt of the energy from the river,” said David Troutt, natural resources manager for the tribe.

Logjams create the habitat diversity that is important to salmon. Juvenile salmon prefer cool, deep pools where they can hide from predators and find food. Adult salmon like slow, calm water and broad gravel spawning beds.

Working with the town of Eatonville, the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group quickly repaired the jam. It is one of a series built by the tribe and the enhancement group in 2007 to replaced a rock bulkhead at Smallwood Park. The logjams at Smallwood are part of 34 total jams the tribe and their partners have placed in the Mashel. Another 10 are planned for next summer.

“We can restore habitat by building logjams, but that doesn’t reverse decades of forest management that has removed trees that would have ended up in logjams,” Troutt said. “The reason we built the logjam in the first place is also the reason why we need to maintain it.”

Dozens of community partners, including the Nisqually River Land Trust, the Nisqually River Foundation and the tribe are working to reverse this trend by putting the commercial forestlands in the Mashel watershed into local, nonprofit ownership.

“The community forest would bring the economic benefits of commercial forestry back to the local community and result in better ecological health by focussing on sustainable practices,” said Justin Hall, director of the Nisqually River Foundation.

Since it will take decades for the watershed’s forest to heal in any case, habitat restoration projects need to be maintained. “When we complete a habitat restoration project, it doesn’t fix the entire ecosystem,” Troutt said. “We need consistent monitoring and maintenance money to make sure our gains are not short lived.”

Since the logjams were built, juvenile salmon have benefited greatly from the new habitat around the jams. “Our biologists found more than 2,500 coho living in the same part of the Mashel, up from around 900 before the logjams,” Troutt said. In addition to coho salmon, the logjams also benefit chinook and steelhead, both of which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“Lack of high quality habitat is the major factor in declining salmon populations in tributaries to the the Nisqually River,” Troutt said. “This project shows that you can restore and protect habitat while protecting people as well.”

“Strong communities can balance protecting personal property and environmental protection,” Iyall said. “This is an innovative technique that makes both happen.”