Tribal wetland plan incorporates climate change forecasts, cultural needs

The Tulalip Tribes are updating their wetland management plan and inventory using high-resolution imaging, field data collection and climate change forecasts.

“Accurate, detailed and current wetland mapping is a cornerstone of sound wetland management and protection efforts,” said Jonathan Hall, Tulalip wetland biologist.

The work includes refining an inventory of 475 reservation wetlands, ponds and lakes. Improved aerial and satellite data will update a geographic database used by tribal staff in the natural resources, planning, fisheries, wildlife, forestry, construction development, public works and code enforcement departments.

In 2016, the tribes began a climate change adaptation planning effort to identify at-risk resources, including wetlands, streams and other aquatic sites.

“We’re looking at potential changes to coastal wetlands as a result of climate change,” Hall said. “As sea level rises, habitat types will shift inland and upstream. We’re trying to estimate what effect sea level rise will have on the reservation. What’s now salt marsh, in 20 years might be mud flat. What’s now forested wetlands along Quil Ceda Creek – those non-brackish wetlands will change from forested to salt marsh.”

In the meantime, the tribes are restoring lost types of wetlands in the region. The wetland plan aims to provide sound, consistent and effective standards to enhance native vegetation diversity and increase habitat for culturally significant fish and wildlife.

“We want to retain the distribution of wetland types,” Hall said. “That might involve purchasing land or doing more restoration outside the reservation. There’s a lot of pressure on dikes on the lower Snohomish River because of increased flows in the winter and spring, and higher water due to sea level rise. Some landowners might realize their best option would be to sell property.”

Tulalip has seen a surge in development activity because of positive economic factors.

“Reviews of permit applications and code violation reports have increased in the past few years, prompting the need for current and more accurate information on wetland resources,” Hall said.

“In a wetland buffer, we have to work with landowners doing development. We provide technical advice if they have to do mitigation. If we find violations, we often provide technical advice on restoring or enhancing wetlands.”

Tulalip also mitigates for its own development, including a road to the tribal administration building that cuts through a wetland. The replacement of lost acreage and enhancement of wetland buffer areas will add to an existing 145-acre wetland feeding important fish habitat in Battle Creek.

Photo: Tulalip wetland biologist Jonathan Hall checks on the progress of a wetland restoration that mitigates for a road to the tribal administration building. K. Neumeyer

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