Upper Skagit Tribe manages elk habitat with Seattle City Light

Upper Skagit biologist Doug Couvelier, right, and timberland services forester Robert Schuyler assess a parcel of Seattle City Light land.

The Upper Skagit Tribe has been contracted to help assess more than 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat that Seattle City Light (SCL) purchased to mitigate for habitat lost due to the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.

As required by the 1991 Wildlife Settlement Agreement among SCL, tribes, and federal and state resource agencies, the public utility has been acquiring property in the Skagit and Nooksack watersheds.

“Acquisition and protection of the South Fork Nooksack River property is a great example of investing in a nearby watershed that has high habitat mitigation value” said Ron Tressler, a wildlife biologist for SCL. South Fork Nooksack land was identified by tribal representatives and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as important habitat for the Nooksack elk herd.

Degraded and disconnected habitat is one of the main causes of the decline in numbers of Nooksack elk, which went from a population of more than 1,700 20 years ago to about 300 by 2003.

Since then, tribal and state co-managers have worked to improve elk habitat in the region. Surveys the last few years have shown that the elk population has rebounded to more than 800 animals, allowing for limited hunting opportunities.

“Elk need a corridor of habitat that is rich in forage to keep them from becoming nuisances in populated areas,” said Scott Schuyler, natural resources director for the Upper Skagit Tribe.

Many other species of wildlife besides elk live in the habitat. To gain information for proper management, Upper Skagit natural resources staffers will assess and map upland, wetland and riparian habitat types on SCL’s parcels of land, documenting areas with unique snags, cliffs and rock outcrops. Staff will identify inactive roads and stream culverts that need to be removed or replaced, and update habitat mapping where river channels have migrated since the previous management plan was developed in 2006.

The staffers also will inventory and remove invasive weeds and monitor for illegal activities such as wildlife poaching, timber theft, trash dumping and other encroachments that cause damage to wildlife habitat.

For more information, contact: Doug Couvelier, Timber/Fish/Wildlife biologist, Upper Skagit Tribe, 360-854-7090 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].