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