The latest phase of the Skokomish Estuary restoration effort is the largest to date: 600 acres of forested wetlands are going to be reconnected to 400 acres of Skokomish tidelands.
“The main goal of this phase is to reconnect the historic tidal channels that have been blocked or filled in over time,” said Alex Gouley, the tribe’s habitat program manager. “Doing that will reestablish the forested wetland-to-salt marsh connection that’s been missing for 70 years.
“When we started excavating channels this fall, we immediately saw the wetlands starting to drain and function properly,” he said. “Excavating the historic channels creates path and route, allowing the water flow out of the wetlands.”
In addition to channel excavation, small fish-blocking culverts and tidegates will be removed from roads that snake throughout the estuary, including a Mason County access road that allows Tacoma Power access to their transmission line towers on the tidelands.
“Tacoma still needs access to those towers, so we can’t take out the road,” Gouley said. “But we can upgrade it by removing the small culverts and sediment fill that is blocking some of the old channels and replace them with larger culverts and bridges.”
Since 2007, the tribe has been restoring the 400-acre estuary at the mouth of the Skokomish River through dike and culvert removal, large woody debris installation and native plant revegetation.
“The tidelands have recovered well since we started taking out the dikes in 2007,” Gouley said. “Fish are coming back, native plants are taking to the estuary environment and wildlife is abundant. The transformation has been quicker than we expected.”