Tidelands as a Classroom

Skokomish (June 6, 2008) – Since earthen dikes were breached last fall on the Skokomish tidelands, Alex Gouley has been a busy man.

The Skokomish Tribe’s habitat division manager has not only been working on the next phase to restore the 300-acre estuary back into a natural salt march area that is good for fish habitat, he’s also been teaching others about the importance of this effort.

In the past few months, Gouley has been leading groups, including a science class from Shelton High School and the local chapter of the Audubon Society, to the tidelands to explain how the area has been successfully restoring itself since last fall. People are walking away with a new appreciation for the importance of free-flowing tideland areas, he said.

“Using this project for environmental education and interpretation increases the value of the resource and the project, and that is an important aspect of enhancement,” he said.

Prior to last September, a mile-long dike prevented the delta from receiving a natural tidal flow, severely affecting the health of the estuary and eliminating important juvenile salmon rearing habitat. Since then, the delta has changed quicker than expected, Gouley said.

“It’s important to show why this type of work needs to be done and how it can be done with success,” he said.

Most recently, a group of eighth graders from Hood Canal School, located next to the tribal reservation, made a visit to understand why tidelands are important to the area.
“Chemicals get into the water, settle into the river and affect the water and the life in it,” said Celina Brandsen, an eighth grader at Hood Canal School.

“I learned how sediment builds up and can hurt the river if it’s not flushed out,” added eighth grader Alexandra Gaines.

“Look to the west side of the estuary and compare it to the restoration site and look for differences,” Tribal elder Tom Gouley Sr. asked the young students. The western portion of the estuary was not diked, and has remained connected with natural tidal influences, maintaining the natural features and salt march vegetation.

The next step, to restore Nalley Island on the eastern side of the estuary and adjacent to the Skokomish River, is currently in the design phase. The tribe hopes to begin work on the site next summer.

“Restoring this area toward a natural state is important for the Skokomish people, as it’s a current harvest area with cultural and spiritual significance,” said Alex Gouley. “With several salmon species listed on the federal Endangered Species Act, such as Hood Canal summer chum and Puget Sound chinook, steelhead and bull trout, we need to do everything we can to make sure proper habitat is available for the salmon.”

Cultural and environmental education is a high priority of the Skokomish Tribe and internal coordination between the tribe’s cultural, education and natural resources departments continues with great success.


For more information, contact Alex Gouley, Skokomish Tribe habitat division manager, at (360) 877-2110 or [email protected]; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or [email protected].