NEAH BAY (Nov. 3, 2005) – The roar of a twin-rotor Boeing Chinook helicopter fills the air as a 25,000-pound tree, complete with rootwad, dangles from a cable under the aircraft. A delicate splash accompanies the surprisingly precise release of the tree into the Sooes River where it will become part of improved salmon habitat as designed by the Makah Tribe.
In seven hours, the helicopter helped create 18 logjams on a 1.5-mile stretch of the Sooes River. The jams will help reconnect the river with its floodplain and improve habitat by creating pools and eddies that allow salmon to survive and thrive.
“Moving that amount of wood with machines on the ground would have damaged the stream channel and added egg-smothering sediment at a time when fall chinook are preparing to return,” said Jeff Shellberg, hydrologist for the Makah Tribe. “The helicopter allows us to do a lot of work in a small amount of time with the least amount of impact on the river channel.”
The Sooes River empties into the Pacific Ocean on the Makah Tribe’s reservation, but much of it winds through thousands of acres of non-tribal commercial timberlands in its 10-mile plus course. Historically, much of the river channel off-reservation was bulldozed and cleaned of wood because it was thought to block salmon migration and destabilize the channel, contrary to scientific knowledge today. This practice was carried out for years on most of the Olympic Peninsula rivers.
“These jams are a start – a way to begin the healing process for the river,” said Shellberg. “We added to existing, small jams which should attract more wood to create large stable jams necessary to provide important salmon habitat.” Chinook, coho, steelhead, cutthroat and chum are all found in the river.
The tribe acquired the 160 trees used in the project over a two-year period from several sources including a Makah tribal member and the tribe’s forestry enterprise. “This is a good start and we hope to add more wood to the Sooes in the future,” said Shellberg.
The $160,000 project was paid for by two federal grants, a Bureau of Indian Affairs Jobs In The Woods grant and Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund grant.
For more information, contact: Jeff Shellberg, hydrologist, Makah Tribe, (360) 645-3160; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commisson, (360) 374-5501, firstname.lastname@example.org