Wood Fiesta: Yakama Nation Salmon Habitat Project Transports By Helicopter Logs To Streams
Posted on Friday, October 12, 2018 (PST)

A high flying habitat restoration project is underway in Washington’s Yakima Basin, with a heavy helicopter delivering logs to the streambeds and flood plains of seven Yakima River tributaries.


The Yakima Basin “Wood Fiesta” is aimed at enhancing aquatic habitat in remote areas where terrain and vegetation limit the ability to use ground-based equipment to move and place large wood. Work got underway last week and is scheduled to continue through mid-November under the leadership of Yakama Nation Fisheries.


The project involves the transport of nearly 6,000 “habitat logs” in reaches of Lick Creek, Swauk Creek, Umtanum Creek, the North Fork of Manastash Creek, the Little Naches River, Little Rattlesnake Creek and Satus Creek. The work, which will encompass a total of 24 stream miles, will progress in weekly intervals from one drainage to the next through Nov. 15. The logs are largely being sourced from forest health thinning projects that have been carried out by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy, said Ashton Bunce, one of the project managers for Yakama Nation Fisheries.


Bunce said the project is likely the largest of its kind in Washington, and it may be the largest in the country for a habitat restoration project involving a helicopter.


Bunce said a 107 Bertol twin-rotor helicopter is doing the heavy lifting, on a pace that has exceeded expectations. “They’re able to lift way more logs than we thought per turn,” Bunce said, noting that the helicopter has been able to carry loads of five or six logs weighing up to 8,000 pounds.


“The work we’re doing is strictly placing the wood in the streams,” rather than doing other streambed modifications, Bunce said.


According to Yakama Nation Fisheries, research has shown that healthy streams with abundant fish have dynamic characteristics that include the presence of large, unanchored woody material.


“We find that if you give the river the wood Mother Nature will do its work,” Bunce said.


A project explanation states, “The most productive Pacific Northwest streams flow through broad valleys that are frequently flooded. These areas are often full of wood … During floods, smaller wood ‘racks’ against the larger wood, creating log jams that form deep pools. Smaller fish find refuge in the nooks and crannies formed by the wood. Aquatic insects thrive. Stream gravels are sorted upstream of log jams that fish utilize for spawning.”


Log jams also force water into the broader flood plain, promoting groundwater recharge and storage. This enables beavers to colonize and native vegetation to thrive, further promoting groundwater storage.


Over the last century, wood has been removed from streams, and past land management practices related to logging, the development of road and railroad networks, along with agricultural and residential development, have combined to reduce the natural recruitment of wood in streams and floodplains.


“Restoring the project areas through wood placement will directly address limiting factors of the recovery of Yakama Nation treaty-reserved fish species, including diminished habitat complexity, elevated stream temperatures and reduced stream flows,” the project explanation states.


The project is targeted at improving habitat for Mid-Columbia River steelhead, spring Chinook, Coho salmon, Lamprey and westslope cutthroat trout. Yakama Nation Fisheries has announced a series of temporary access closures for some of the seven project areas, while some will not have any public impacts. One project area, for instance, is located on a stretch of Swauk Creek that is bordered by private property.


The Wood Fiesta is backed by multiple partners, including the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Swauk Creek landowners and the U.S. Forest Service.


The total project price tag is just under $2 million, with most funding support coming from the Bonneville Power Administration and the McNary Mitigation Fund. Other support is coming from the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and The Nature Conservancy.


The Wood Fiesta is part of a broader, long-term Yakima Klickitat Fisheries Project that is aimed at restoring sustainable and harvestable populations of salmon, steelhead and other at-risk species. The umbrella project got underway in 1996, leading to a series of habitat restoration work, fisheries reintroductions and fish plants, research, monitoring and evaluation efforts.

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