South Fork Skokomish gets much needed wood for fish habitat

More than 1,000 logs were placed strategically in the South Fork Skokomish River this summer during the Skokomish Tribe’s latest project to restore much needed salmon habitat in the watershed.

Focusing on a 3-mile stretch, most of the 15 logjams were constructed within the floodplain and stream channel of the South Fork, with a few constructed in the nearby Church Creek tributary.

Skokomish natural resources staff finish up collecting data from a section of the South Fork Skokomish River that has newly installed logjams.

 “The ongoing objective is to increase habitat functionality by installing new structures to facilitate the development of pools and riffles, and guide sinuous characteristics of a river channel that more resembles what we believe existed historically and is more productive fish habitat,” said Joseph Pavel, the tribe’s natural resources director. 

Deteriorating fish habitat conditions throughout the watershed are the result of historic logging and road building associated increased sediment loads, and the removal of wood that had naturally settled into the river. These impacts have resulted in fewer pools that provide deep water refuge and habitat cover for adult and juvenile salmon.

 The logjams also will help stabilize the riverbanks for vegetation that will provide shade for the water and existing habitat and promote development of deeper and narrower channels, plus substrate conducive to spawning.

“These different habitats also will support benthic invertebrates (small aquatic animals and larval insects) which are, of course, a major food source,” Pavel said.

While spring chinook historically used this stretch of river, they have been eradicated. The tribe and its partner Tacoma Power are working to bring back a population of spring chinook similar to the native population. Steelhead, rainbow, cutthroat, and bull trout also have been documented in the project area.

This project is one of five the tribe has embarked on since 2010 when the tribe and its partners, Mason Conservation District and the U.S. Forest Service, started adding woody debris to the watershed to beef up salmon habitat within 15 miles of the upper South Fork.

Skokomish Tribe habitat biologist Lisa Belleveau takes measurements in the South Fork Skokomish River next to one of the recently installed logjams. Story and photos: Tiffany Royal