Squaxin Island Tribe repairs Skookum Creek for salmon

The Squaxin Island Tribe reshaped the banks of a South Sound creek to make it friendlier for salmon.

Decades after landowners removed logs from Skookum Creek, its creekbed degraded from meandering and shallow to a fast-moving trench.

“Without the wood, the creek eroded down to the point where we don’t have much habitat here,” said Scott Steltzner, salmon habitat biologist for the tribe. “Juvenile and adult salmon have a hard time when water moves too fast. They can’t find places to eat or hide from predators.”

The tribe worked with the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group to dig out the banks of the creek. Instead of a steep 10-foot wall, the streambank is now a gentle slope.

“Now when the creek floods, water will be able to flow out over the banks instead of being forced down a narrow canyon,” Steltzner said.

The partners are also building logjams to recreate natural conditions. Logjams help create pools where adult salmon can rest while making their way upstream. They also provide shelter and food for juvenile salmon that haven’t made their way out to sea.

A newly planted streamside forest will lead to even more logjams as wood falls into the creek over time. After an initial planting of a few hundred willows this fall, the partners will plant hundreds of more trees along the creek.

“Logjams provide habitat now, and a streamside forest will mean salmon have habitat in the future,” Steltzner said.

Tribal restoration projects in the Skookum Creek watershed have especially benefited a troubled coho run. Wild coho salmon spend more than a year in fresh water before moving out to sea and are on a downward trend in the region. “Improving freshwater habitat is important if we want to restore these coho runs,” Steltzner said.

Brian Zierdt, program manager for the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, and Scott Steltzner, salmon habitat biologist for the Squaxin Island Tribe, examine a newly constructed logjam on Skookum Creek. E. O’Connell.