Salt Creek watershed, salmon benefit from Tribe, Property Owner partnerships

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has improved a 1-mile stretch of salmon habitat in the Salt Creek watershed with the help of a half-dozen property owners.

“This area has been heavily affected the past few decades by the presence of more than 30 fish-blocking culverts, in addition to residential development and logging along the streambeds,” said Mike McHenry, the tribe’s habitat program manager. “Partnering with property owners to restore damaged salmon habitat has had positive and rewarding results.”

Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe habitat manager Mike McHenry and property owner Dave Colthorp walk along Nordstrom Creek. The large logs were installed to improve salmon habitat on Colthorp's property.

The focus of the past year’s work has been installing logs and rootwads into creeks flowing through the owners’ property, plus planting native vegetation along the streambeds, including cedar, dogwood, shore pine and cottonwood. Slowing down the water velocity by installing logs helps build pools for salmon, which use them for rearing, feeding and hiding from predators.

Coho, chum, steelhead and cutthroat all inhabit the highly productive Salt Creek watershed. As many as 30,000 young salmon have been counted making their way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Salt Creek.

“Growing up in the Port Angeles with Klallam tribal members, it has been great to learn more and more about their culture and how important these fish restoration projects are to them,” said property owner Dave Colthorp, who lives on Nordstrom Creek, a major tributary to Salt Creek. In addition to the wood installation, a 5-foot wide fish-blocking culvert on his property was replaced with an 18-foot-wide metal culvert in 2009.

“I appreciate the tribe’s respect for my property and for me as a property owner throughout this restoration project,” he said.

There wasn’t a tree anywhere near the creek when Steven Carlyle moved to his property 22 years ago at the confluence of Bear and Salt creeks. It was the result of the mid-20th century mindset that removing trees and straightening creeks would “help” fish get into the upper watersheds, McHenry said.

Since planting trees over the years and working with the tribe’s habitat program, Carlyle’s seen the positive results of the work.

“When I moved here, I would see just five or six fish in the stream,” Carlyle said. “Now, there are easily 30 or more moving upstream every year. The improvement to the habitat is definitely working.”