Skagit watershed restoration under way

SWINOMISH (Oct. 8, 2008) — Restoration efforts in the Skagit River watershed have made headway with two projects aimed at undoing past destruction of salmon habitat.

At the South Fork of the Skagit River delta, crews are returning tidal flow to about 150 acres of a former estuary. The parcel of land, known as the Headquarters Unit of the Skagit Wildlife Area, was converted from salmon habitat to a recreational area in the 1960s — using dikes, drainage ditches, culverts and tide gates.

Construction crews will remove approximately 6,500 feet of the old dikes and levees, allowing the tides and the river to reclaim the area. In preparation, crews are building a new setback dike farther inland along the border of the wildlife area and installing a new, larger tide gate upstream on Wiley Slough.

The Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC) — the natural resources arm of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes — is working on the project with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) along with other partners.

The work was set to begin last year, but was delayed after recreational interests raised objections to the loss of the hunting and wildlife viewing area. To address concerns about lands lost to hunting, WDFW is working with a coalition of hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, farmers and other landowners to secure hunter access to private lands in the area.

On the Swinomish Reservation, the tribe is removing some of the spoils that were dumped on top of marsh habitat when the Swinomish Channel was dredged 70 years ago.

The excavation will return flooding to the marsh, allowing unrestricted movement of sediments, nutrients and fish. The Swinomish Channel is an estuarine corridor connecting Padilla Bay to Skagit Bay, where salmon habitat is limited. Padilla Bay is filled with eelgrass meadows that provide rearing habitat for juvenile chinook and other salmon during the early phase of their oceanward migration.

For more information, contact: Steve Hinton, Skagit River System Cooperative, 360-466-7243 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].