Sauk-Suiattle Tribe buys houses, restores habitat

DARRINGTON (June 23, 2008) – The Sauk-Suiattle Tribe is resolving the meandering Sauk River’s erosion problem one house at a time.

The tribe worked with the Skagit River System Cooperative to acquire a $1.2 million grant to buy four properties on 55 acres of floodplain upstream of the reservation. The houses and 500 feet of riprap will be removed in hopes of restoring the river’s natural movement.

The dynamic Sauk River has moved 1,000 feet during the last 50 years. Houses that were once far from the river have become waterfront property, threatened by the bank’s continuing erosion. Skagit County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put riprap in the river several times, at great expense, in an attempt to protect the road and the houses.

Riprap constrains the natural movement of the river – designated as wild and scenic by the U.S. government – and degrades salmon habitat. It also is a potential threat to the reservation downstream.

With the riprap removed, it is expected that side channels will form, enhancing salmon habitat in this tributary to the Skagit River.

“This is a very productive part of the Sauk for salmon,” said Richard Wolten, natural resource director for the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe. “Riprap is bad for fish. Salmon don’t use large rocks the way they use river banks, and the riprap locks the river in place.”

Skagit County is working with the tribe, contributing funds and labor to the project. The work is expected to begin this summer.

“We have erosion threatening houses throughout the Sauk Valley,” Wolten said. “This is one approach that benefits everyone involved.”

For more information, contact: Richard Wolten, director of natural resources, Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, 360-436-0131 or [email protected]; Devin Smith, restoration ecologist, Skagit River System Cooperative, 360-391-1984 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].