Upper Skagit Tribe Uses Groundbreaking Methods in Hansen Creek Project

SEDRO-WOOLLEY — The Upper Skagit Tribe is using an unusual mechanized tree-planting device to plant more than 50,000 trees in the Hansen Creek floodplain.

The tribe is working with WildLands and S & K Environmental Restoration, a division of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which developed the rotary stinger to plant trees more efficiently than traditional methods.

The tree planting is part of a project that began last summer to restore 140 acres of salmon habitat around Hansen Creek, a tributary to the Skagit River near the Upper Skagit Tribe’s reservation.

The restored freshwater floodplain habitat will develop 53 acres of river delta and 87 acres of forested wetlands in the Skagit County-owned Northern State Recreation Area.

The past 60 years of dredging and levee maintenance has degraded spawning habitat and interfered with natural stream processes. “We have all six species of salmon in the Skagit watershed,” said Scott Schuyler, the tribe’s natural resources director. “Hansen Creek supports chinook, steelhead, coho, chum and pink salmon, but it has been straightened, narrowed and disconnected from its floodplain fan and wetlands.”

The Upper Skagit Tribe is removing parts of the levee and building log jams that will restore natural sediment movement and improve salmon habitat. The project will restore nearly 2 miles of side channel habitat, as well as hundreds of feet of mainstem habitat to support fish productivity.

The tribe is partnering with Skagit County and several federal and state agencies. The restoration is expected to cost more than $2.6 million. In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awarded nearly $1 million to the project. Last spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded $105,000 to the project through Puget Sound Partnership funding.

“I think this restoration project is an excellent example of the tribe’s spirit for action, your ability to leverage resources and to create partnerships,” said Michelle Pirzadeh, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator in Seattle. “The tribes have a long history of demonstrating their ability to care for natural resources in a way that’s sustainable and we can learn a lot from them.”

Other funding partners include National Association of Counties – Coastal Initiative funds, Washington State Centennial Clean Water and Salmon Recovery Funding Board funds, in addition to matching contributions from Skagit County.

The fragmentation of habitat in Puget Sound has resulted in the loss of freshwater wetlands important to salmon survival. The Hansen Creek restoration is an important part of the salmon recovery effort. Puget Sound chinook and steelhead are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act, and Skagit coho are listed by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife as a species of concern.

“Salmon habitat has suffered centuries of abuse,” said Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “The tribes are undoing that damage one step at a time. We all have to work together to get Puget Sound healthy again.”

For more information, contact: Lauren Rich, environmental planner, Upper Skagit Tribe, 360-854-7006 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].