Suquamish Tribe, partner study shoreline habitat before and after restoration

The Suquamish Tribe has the rare opportunity to monitor the results of an estuary restoration project and compare them to a nearly pristine wetland nearby.

The tribe is working with the Mid Sound Fisheries Enhancement Group (MSFEG) to restore an estuary for improved salmon habitat on private property near Rose Point in northern Kitsap County. Work includes removing a 770-foot-long creosote bulkhead and invasive reed canary grass, plus replacing a partial fish passage barrier on a salmon-bearing creek with a bridge that will reconnect the creek with its historical estuary. The creek channel also is going to be redirected, helping the restored estuary mix fresh water with salt water.

The nearly pristine reference site is a few miles south at Doe Kag Wats, an estuary on property owned by the tribe.

Hanna Brush and Theo Suver, field biologists for the Suquamish Tribe, survey the beaches of Doe Kag Wats, a nearly pristine estuary owned by the tribe, serving as a reference point for its Rose Point estuary restoration project.

“It’s refreshing to see an area that’s generally unimpacted,” said Hanna Brush, a field biologist for the tribe. “It’s in the roughly same region as Rose Point, so the same species are probably going to use it.”

The primary purpose for this restoration project is to support salmon habitat while giving the landowners a chance to make long-term positive changes, Brush said.

“We may not have big rivers for spawning here in Kitsap, but we do have an abundance of shoreline, and the science around estuary reconnection is hopeful,” said Lisa Reynolds, MSFEG restoration project manager for Rose Point. “We’re learning more about how critical these embayment estuaries are to the survival of juvenile chinook out-migrating from the sound.

“Partnership really is priceless,” Reynolds said. “The long-term investments made by the Suquamish Tribe support the legacy left by the families who reside at Rose Point today and will inform, advance and fund critical shoreline process restoration into the future.”

From 2023-2025, data collected at both locations will include documenting existing plant communities and fish in the estuaries, and estimating the amount and types of vegetation that wash ashore during tide cycles. Physical changes such as the amount and size of tidal channels, and elevation and substrate changes in the estuaries and adjacent beaches also will be monitored.

“The monitoring should indicate whether the restoration effort is working to re-establish habitats that support juvenile salmon, and ultimately whether the salmon use it,” said Steve Todd, the tribe’s salmon recovery biologist. “We are still learning what actions are most effective and can apply any lessons to future restoration sites.”

The tribe also hopes to see changes such as native vegetation growth and fish taking advantage of newly restored and reconnected salmon habitat at Rose Point.

Suquamish tribe biologists Theo Suver, Hanna Brush and Steve Todd use a fyke net to collect data about fish that use Doe Kag Wats.

“The creek is mostly forested with good habitat and we’ve seen how the bridge replacement has improved fish passage already, so it’s a good clean reach for salmon,” Brush said.

Fish swimming along the East Kitsap shoreline have several salmon-friendly places to stop to rest and feed, including Doe Kag Wats, Carpenter Creek estuary and now Rose Point. Two more pocket estuaries north of Rose Point show promise for restoration as refuge for salmon as they make their way to Admiralty Inlet, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the ocean, Reynolds said. But Rose Point is the only estuary project to advance to construction.

“This project is one more place along the route for them to stop,” Brush said. “It’s kinda like, ‘if you build it, they will come,’ with estuary restoration.”

Hanna Brush, Suquamish Tribe field biologist, takes a compass reading as part of a vegetation survey at Rose Point. Story and photos: Tiffany Royal