Yakama Nation and Confederated Tribes Launch Fish Habitat Projects – Methow Valley News

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Photo by Matt Young
The log locations on the Twisp River are intended to help restore critical fish habitat.

Restoration efforts on the Twisp and Methow Rivers

This month, the Yakama Nation and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation began construction of fish habitat restoration projects along the Twisp and Methow Rivers.

The two entities, which work independently at adjacent sites along the Twisp River, oversaw the transport of hundreds of logs to project sites by helicopter earlier this month. Now that wood is used to create log structures in the water, designed to restore critical habitat for endangered fish like chinook salmon, rainbow trout and bull trout.

“It’s a very exciting time for habitat restoration as people see the impact we’ve had on the environment,” said Jarred Johnson, fish biologist for Yakama Nation Fisheries. “We actually have the ability to improve on that and leave it better for future generations.”

Fish play an important role in ecosystems and serve as a cultural resource for the Yakama Nation and Confederated Tribes. Restoration of endangered fish habitat will be carried out through two separate projects.

The Suspension Reach Fish Restoration project will install 11 ice jam structures along 0.6 miles of the Methow River near the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge. The project is managed by the Yakama Nation in partnership with Methow Trails, Okanogan County, Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest, Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and many private landowners. It is funded by the Yakama Nation under the Columbia Fish Accords of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Department of Natural Resources.

The Twisp Aquatic Restoration Project (TARP) will include the installation of over 150 ice jam structures along 11.9 miles of the Twisp River watershed and Little Bridge Creek.

The project includes five sites. Three sites are managed by the Yakama Nation and partially funded by the BPA Columbia Fish Accords and the Salmon Recovery Funding Board through the Recreation and Conservation Office and the Wells Tributary Committee. The remaining two sites are operated by the Confederate Tribes and funded through the BPA Columbia Fish Accords.

The Yakama Nation and Confederated Tribes worked closely with staff from the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest District on the project.

Restore a natural process

One of the main goals of restoration projects is to increase fish populations by restoring wooden structures that were once plentiful before logging operations and timber removal along waterways, Matt said. Young, a fisheries biologist for the Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

“This is a dynamic project in a dynamic river,” Young said, referring to the Twisp River. “What we’re really trying to do by putting the wood here that would have been historically present is to kick-start some of the natural river processes that haven’t been able to happen for a long time.”

Johnson said log structures and wood accumulations allow a river to meander, creating complex floodplain habitats that fish have evolved to live in for thousands of years. If these accumulations are removed, the river will straighten, reducing available habitat for fish.

“The more we move [a river] a, the longer the length, the more habitat there is,” Johnson said. “The straight line will be the shortest possible distance, so it will minimize the available habitat.”

Wood accumulations also help increase habitat diversity and complexity, Johnson said. Often a small island develops in the hollow of an ice jam, creating a protected, vegetated area where fish can hide from predators and rest. Ice jams can also create pools of cooler, calmer water for spawning and spawning fish.

In comparison, a straight channel without wood will be more uniform in speed and temperature.

“From a fish’s perspective, if you’re trying to live in this flat, fast water that doesn’t have a lot of diversity in front of us, it takes a lot more energy to live here than the other side. of this log where it’s nice and calm,” Johnson said.

In addition to increasing meanders and creating habitats and ponds for fish, some timber placements along the Twisp and Methow Rivers will be used to control erosion near human structures such as trails and bridge abutments.

Timber for the Suspension Reach and Twisp River projects was harvested near Okanogan and Kettle Falls, and other small trees and slash were harvested locally in the Twisp watershed for use in the TARP. After being moved to staging areas, the Yakama Nation and Confederate Tribes used a Boeing Vertol helicopter to lift and move lumber to project sites.

Young said the use of helicopters, rather than heavy ground-based equipment, minimized impacts to nearby habitats and vegetation. It also saved time, turning what could have been a years-long field operation into a two-week project.

“It was a no-brainer to use a helicopter to bring in the logs, as it’s the best way to reduce any impact on the nearby forest,” Young said. “It’s the least impact to get the most benefit for ESA-listed species.”

Although many of TARP’s log structures were built using a helicopter, some sites will require excavators to complete construction until mid-August. Trailgoers can also expect to see excavator construction taking place on the Methow Community Trail and Lunachick Trail from July 25 through August. 10 for the Suspension Reach project.

While construction will have some impact on vegetation and trail use, Johnson said these impacts should be considered in the context of the more permanent positive impacts of restoration projects. Bottlings tend to be long-term investments, lasting over 50 years.

“For a species that’s on the verge of extinction, that’s a really big time frame to try to do something to preserve its existence,” Johnson said. “Without this type of work and the work of many other people, such as hatcheries, we will not have the opportunity to see wild salmon on their spawning grounds in the Methow.

The importance of fish

Fish like spring chinook migrate between fresh and salt water, rising in rivers like the Twisp for a year before heading to the ocean. When they return to freshwater to spawn, they bring back vital ocean nutrients, Young said. Their carcasses also feed many other members of the river ecosystem, including otters, eagles, and trees.

The fish also hold spiritual significance for the tribal agencies running the two restoration projects. The current restoration projects along the Twisp and Methow Rivers are located on the traditional homelands of the Methow people, one of 12 bands that make up the Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Mark Miller, a descendant of Methow, remembers fishing and camping along the Twisp River as a child. At the age of 12, Miller fished and smoked salmon with his grandfather, bringing it back to give to the elders of Methow. One recipient, an older woman, remains in his memory years later.

“She started crying right away,” Miller said. “I was scared – I thought I had done something wrong in the preparation. And my grandfather explained to me that the fish she ate rejuvenated her spirit.

Miller said salmon was a traditional food among the Methows. When the first Chinook spring returns to the Twisp and Methow rivers each year, Methow descendants hold a first feeding ceremony to honor the fish, said Methow and Wenatchi people Randy Lewis.

The Yakama Nation is also holding a first salmon ceremony, said Virgil Lewis Sr., vice president of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council who also worked for Yakama Nation Fisheries. Members of the Yakama Nation have traditionally fished the mainstem Columbia River and its tributaries in Yakama territories. Vice President Lewis said the projects on the Twisp and Methow Rivers, which flow into the mainstem Columbia River, are part of Yakama Nation Fisheries’ broader habitat restoration efforts.

“It’s very important to us as a tribe of treaty fishers to ensure that spring chinook salmon will always return through the Columbia River to their spawning ground,” Vice President Lewis said. “These unborn generations need to experience a bit of the salmon like some of us who are older have seen it.”

For Randy Lewis, the descendant of Methow and Wenatchi, projects like TARP have meaning not only for the people of Methow, but also for the community at large. Because fish like salmon are so interconnected with the plants, animals and people in their ecosystems, their recovery impacts everyone.

“Save the salmon and you will save the people. And I’m not just talking about the folks at Methow, I’m talking about everyone,” Lewis said. “So what does this mean to me?” It means everything, it means life.

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