The Nisqually Tribe taking a close look at how salmon recovery can mean wildlife recovery

Troy Rahmig, a consultant working for the Nisqually Tribe, checks a game camera near Ohop Creek.
Troy Rahmig, a consultant working for the Nisqually Tribe, checks a game camera near Ohop Creek.

The Nisqually Indian Tribe is taking a look at how improvements to a creek meant to benefit salmon could also be helping elk, deer and beavers.

“For over a decade we’ve been planning and conducting restoration on miles of salmon habitat on Ohop Creek,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the tribe. “But, what we’ve really been doing is restoring the ecosystem here. So, obviously, you’d expect other animals to benefit.”

The tribe installed a series of wildlife cameras in a newly planted forest near the creek. “Every time an elk or deer walk by, we get a photo of that animal,” said Chris Ellings, salmon recovery manager for the tribe.

The tribe also hired a consultant to conduct foot surveys, tracking the usage of the restoration site by wildlife. That information will be added to data collected by volunteers over the past five years. Last spring volunteers spent one intensive day counting and cataloging every bug, bird and plant in the restoration site. This was in addition to less intensive monitoring conducted each month by volunteers.

“We know historically that this was a major wildlife corridor, that lots of animals were using the area around the creek,” Ellings said. “Hopefully, what we find is a major bump in what animals are coming down here.”

The wildlife survey is part of a much larger restoration project led by the tribe, South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group and Nisqually Land Trust. So far, the project has included digging an entirely new 2.4 mile channel for Ohop Creek, which created better quality habitat for salmon.

The channel was constructed to restore a sinuous stream connected to its floodplain. The floodplain, now re-planted with native vegetation, re-creates 120 acres of healthy streamside habitat that controls water temperatures and stabilizes the stream banks.

“We not only changed how the creek looks, but we also are replanting the forest around the creek,” Troutt said. “That should have some major benefit to wildlife, in addition to salmon.” The monitoring was made possible by a Tribal Wildlife Grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Protecting the tribe’s treaty rights extends to not just protecting salmon, but every aspect of natural resources,” Troutt said. “This survey will hopefully show us that what we do to protect and restore salmon has ripple effects across the ecosystem.”