Quileute Tribe Working to Restore River Function and Protect Village

It took the Quileute Tribe decades to have the traditional fishing area known as Thunder Field returned in a land swap with the National Park Service in 2012.

Now the tribe and its partners are investing millions of dollars in a restoration effort to restore parts of the Quillayute River to protect Thunder Field, the village in La Push and other tribal lands.

Climate change has increased the number of flooding events in La Push. An emergency flood berm was installed in 2006 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect the lower village and nearby U.S. Coast Guard station. However, flooding events have gotten worse, overwhelming the berm in some areas and washing away where Quileute fishermen land their catch on Thunder Field.

The road leading to the area encompasses important hunting grounds for elk and deer as well.

“It’s really important to protect the lower village to the extent possible by improving the berm and restoring river function that will protect Thunder Field too,” said Nicole Rasmussen, water quality biologist for the Quileute Tribe and temporary project manager.

The name Thunder likely comes from the last name of the owner of the original 40-acre homestead.

Following several assessments by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, and Washington Coast Restoration and Resiliency Initiative, the tribe received funding from the state legislature to conduct a geomorphic assessment and design improvements to the flood berm and restoration work within the river area around Thunder Field. An additional grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funds– the completion of the full design for the river reach work.

The Quillayute River system is vast, including the Sol Duc, Bogachiel, Calawah and Dicky rivers that support six species of salmon including a unique run of summer coho. These rivers feed into the Quillayute River that flows nearly six miles to the Pacific Ocean.

Work is slated to begin in the spring of 2022 with Tetra Tech, Inc. now completing the geomorphic assessment, flood protection berm and river structure designs around Thunder Field. Planting more trees and other native plants along the river’s edge will help with future stability of the river’s flow.

The tribe is consulting with several partners in the work, some of which will be done within Olympic National Park (ONP). Across the river from La Push is Mora Road, the ONP access to Rialto Beach that receives in excess of 800,000 visitors a year. That road has been eroded away and repaired in a few areas in the past.

“The tribe has made this one of its highest priorities,” Rasmussen said. “Climate change is expected to increase the flooding by 30 percent and affect the river even further upriver than it does now. By giving the river tools to return to more normal function, it helps protect people too.”

Nicole Rasmussen, water quality biologist for the Quileute Tribe, measures bank loss from Thunder Field on the Quillayute River. The tribe has contractors designing structures to protect Thunder Field and restore river function.