SALT CREEK (July 30, 2003) – In the late 1940s, low water levels in Salt Creek left juvenile coho salmon marooned along a stretch of the stream running through John McFall’s property. Using buckets and a wheelbarrow, McFall scooped up the small salmon and transferred them to a nearby tributary flowing with water.
“Three years later, I started seeing salmon return to the tributary where I placed those fish,” said McFall, whose family has owned and worked land in the Salt Creek watershed for about a century. “To this day, I can take you up there around Thanksgiving time and show you spawning salmon.”
Over the past several decades, McFall has done his part to help salmon and restore habitat on his property along Salt Creek. But elsewhere throughout the watershed, which is about 15 miles west of Port Angeles, more work is needed. With the help of local landowners, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition are taking on the task of identifying what can be done to improve fish habitat. The two groups have teamed up to survey the Salt Creek watershed this summer and develop a list of restoration projects to improve salmon habitat. They will then seek funding for the projects on that list, and work with local property owners to make those improvements.
“Salt Creek is a watershed that we know very little about,” said Mike McHenry, habitat biologist for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. “So we need all the help we can get from local landowners in the area. We want their input and we want to work with them because they are the ones that know the watershed better than anyone else. The more landowners that are willing to work with us, the more complete our assessment will be of the watershed, and the better our chances of restoring the habitat and bringing back the fish.”
So far, the tribe and NOSC have found correctable problems along many of the streams in the watershed. Some fish blocking culverts need to be fixed, and the addition of woody debris and streamside vegetation will improve spawning and rearing habitat. Woody debris in the stream provides protection for fish from predators, while vegetation along the creek provides shade that cools the water and keeps it at an ideal temperature for salmon.
“The hope is to categorize these projects that need to be done, seek grants for the projects and then work with the local landowners to fix the problems,” said Craig Isenberg, outreach coordinator for NOSC. The Port Townsend-based coalition is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and enhancing salmon habitat in Clallam and Jefferson counties. “So far, we are pleased with the response we have gotten from some of the local landowners. We have had a greater response than expected, but we haven’t heard from everyone in the area yet.”
About 25 miles of streams are accessible to fish in the Salt Creek watershed, which produces coho salmon, along with steelhead and cutthroat trout. Before white settlement, Lower Elwha Klallam tribal members harvested salmon at the mouth of Salt Creek in Crescent Bay. Today, the area is dotted with state and industrial forestland, rural residences and farms. Settlement of the area has taken a toll on salmon and trout populations, which are significantly smaller than they were in the past.
“When it comes to salmon restoration, the biggest thing is to get out there and really look at the watershed, and take the time to talk to the landowners,” McHenry said. “That helps us figure out what the restoration priorities are, why salmon and trout numbers are fluctuating, and what we can do to help those fish populations become abundant and remain healthy.”
Property owners in the Salt Creek area interested in the watershed assessment should contact Mike McHenry at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, or Craig Isenberg at the North Olympic Salmon Coalition.
For more information, contact: Mike McHenry, habitat biologist for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, (360) 457-4012 ext. 14, [email protected]. Craig Isenberg, outreach coordinator for the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, (360) 379-8051. Darren Friedel, information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, [email protected].