stilly pillchuck plantingARLINGTON — The state Department of Transportation (DOT) and a crew of inmates are helping the Stillaguamish Tribe restore 40 acres of floodplain adjacent to Interstate 5.

The tribe acquired the parcel of land along Pilchuck Creek with plans to restore wetland habitat. The state offered to contribute to the project, because it needed to mitigate for 2 acres of wetlands that would be destroyed during planned safety and congestion improvements to Highway 532.

During the past 100 years, the land around the creek near its confluence with the mainstem Stillaguamish River was cleared, graded, farmed and turned into a dirt bike track. The banks of the creek were hardened and pushed closer to the water, constraining the channel.

“We were just going to plug the ditches and contour the fields so there were high and low spots,” said Pat Stevenson, environmental manager for the tribe. “DOT is paying for a more elaborate wetland project than we proposed.”

With DOT’s support, the project expanded to include more extensive ditch filling, earth moving and planting. Up to 15 acres of new wetlands will be created, some of which will be banked by the state to mitigate for future improvements.

The Pilchuck Creek restoration will create quality rearing habitat for chinook, coho, chum and pink salmon, steelhead and bull trout. Other features include frog ponds, floodwater storage and wildlife habitat.

A work-release crew of minimum-security inmates from the Snohomish County Jail is planting the newly excavated floodplain with 60,000 plants and shrubs. The tribe has employed an inmate crew for years, but the program was put in jeopardy this past year when the county Department of Corrections restructured.

In a typical year, the riparian crew plants trees and shrubs in about 30 different riparian projects.

“Besides the amount of work they complete, this crew is vital to our grant matching requirements because of the valuable labor they provide,” said Dave Timmer, the tribe’s restoration crew supevisor. “For many reasons, they are difficult to replace.”

Fortunately, the tribe was able to work with the county to reinstate the program.

State Salmon Recovery Board funding is contributing to restoration separate from the mitigation work paid for by the DOT. That portion of the project features a rearing pond, logjams and a new stream channel that connects the pond to Pilchuck Creek.

Tribal funds are paying for a 1,500-foot-long trail between the creek and the wetland, an observation deck and interpretive signs.

For more information, contact: Pat Stevenson, environmental program manager, Stillaguamish Tribe, 360-631-0946 or pstevenson@stillaguamish.nsn.us; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or kneumeyer@nwifc.org.