Swinomish youth learn about native plants, salmon restoration

Photo by Theresa Trebon / Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Archive

For a group of La Conner seventh-graders, a lesson about traditional plant gathering also demonstrated how native plants are used in salmon habitat restoration.

Generations of Swinomish tribal members gathered plants such as snowberry and rose hips for food and medicine. Snowberries were used to treat tuberculosis and rose hips are a food source rich in Vitamin C.

This winter, students in James Fegel’s science class at La Conner Middle School gathered these plants on the Swinomish reservation, and will plant their seeds near the Swadabs Welcoming Pavilion.

The pavilion is the focal point of a new beachfront park and will be the site of this summer’s Tribal Canoe Journey, hosted by the Swinomish Tribe. The park is part of an estuary restoration project to remove spoils from 70-plus years of dredging the Swinomish Channel. The restoration returns tidal flow to the marsh and allows unrestricted movement of sediment, nutrients and fish to an estuarine corridor connecting Padilla Bay to Skagit Bay.

Streamside plants improve water quality by filtering out sediment and providing shade that lowers water temperature. Insects that fall from the plants into the water also provide food for salmon.

“We’re installing native plants to re-establish a nearshore that is more consistent with historic habitats,” said Steve Hinton, restoration coordinator for the Skagit River System Cooperative, the natural resources arm of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes. “This helps both native fish and wildlife species that depend on these habitats for survival.”

SRSC restoration ecologist Brenda Clifton and tribal archivist Theresa Trebon worked with the science class to gather the plants and extract the seeds with the help of Gaylene Gobert, manager of the Swinomish campus of Northwest Indian College. The college has a native plants nursery, where the plants will grow until they are ready to be planted in May or June.

“The students learned exactly what their ancestors used the plants for, and they can see how they’re being used in salmon restoration,” Trebon said. “They will be able to pass on that knowledge as ambassadors at the Canoe Journey.”

For more about the Tribal Canoe Journey: paddletoswinomish.com