Photo by Sean Koester, Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group  Biologists used backpack electro-shockers to stun fish briefly in order to net them and remove them from the Silver side channel project area last week. The fish were released further up the channel and a net was placed across the channel  to prevent the fish from returning while habitat restoration work is underway. Work on de-fishing in the channel continued this week.

Photo by Sean Koester, Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group

Biologists used backpack electro-shockers to stun fish briefly in order to net them and remove them from the Silver side channel project area last week. The fish were released further up the channel and a net was placed across the channel to prevent the fish from returning while habitat restoration work is underway. Work on de-fishing in the channel continued this week.


Cost of summer work at three sites totals nearly $1.8 million

Map courtesy of Hans Smith, Yakama Nations Fisheries Three projects to improve fish habitat are taking place on the Twisp and Methow rivers this summer.

Map courtesy of Hans Smith, Yakama Nations Fisheries

Three projects to improve fish habitat are taking place on the Twisp and Methow rivers this summer.

By Ann McCreary

Three projects on the Twisp and Methow rivers to restore habitat for threatened and endangered fish — steelhead, spring Chinook and bull trout — get underway this summer.

Two projects on the Twisp River will be conducted by the Yakama Nation through its Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration program. One is at the Twisp Ponds just outside of Twisp, and the other is about 10 miles up the river.

Another project conducted by the Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group will take place on a side channel of the Methow River about 5 miles south of Twisp.

The projects, with a total price tag of almost $1.8 million, are designed to improve the quantity and quality of habitat for fish in stretches of the rivers that have been altered by human activity.

Newby Narrows

Construction began Tuesday (July 5) on the Newby Narrows Fish Habitat Enhancement Project, located upstream of Little Bridge Creek between river miles 10 and 11 on the Twisp River, about 8 miles west of Twisp.

The 44-acre project area includes floodplain and property purchased by the Yakama Nation in 2015 and some adjacent private properties, said Jarred Johnson, project manager and a biologist with Yakama Nation Fisheries.

“This reach of the Twisp River has experienced many effects of development … some of which are related to the current land use and some of which are related to past watershed-scale land uses including timber harvest and road building,” said Johnson.

As a result, the river through this stretch has become a “simplified stream bed” that lacks pools, side channels and woody debris that are essential parts of the complex habitat that fish need for spawning and rearing.

The site was chosen for restoration because it is a section of the river that historically provided good fish habitat due to the surrounding floodplain area and flatter valley bottom than occurs downstream, where the river flows more steeply downhill, Johnson said.

It is a section of the river where habitat complexity, without human disturbances and alterations, would have been conducive to spawning and rearing, he said.

The project begins with installation of a temporary bridge across the Twisp River that will be removed when the project is completed. The bridge will provide access to parts of the property that would otherwise require new roads and resulting impacts on vegetation. 

Trucks have already delivered 250 trees to the site, some of which will be used to construct five large log structures in the river to increase habitat complexity.

In addition, a historic 1,200-foot-long side channel will be reconnected to the river and enhanced with logs and native vegetation plantings. Extensive revegetation will be done to complete the project.

Work in the river is planned to take place during a one-month window in July when it will have the least impact on endangered fish species. Some construction elements, including the bridge removal, will not be completed until August or September.

The project is estimated to cost about $900,000 including the survey, engineering, design, wood purchase and transport, construction, and revegetation. Engineering work is done by Inter-fluve of Hood River, Oregon; construction by Kysar and Koistinen of Woodland, Washington; and revegetation by Wildlands Inc. of Richland.

The project conducted as part of the Yakama Nation’s Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration Project.

Twisp Ponds side channel

Another Yakama Nation Fisheries project, scheduled to begin in late July, will restore a floodplain forest and create more than 1,300 feet of side channel habitat to benefit juvenile spring Chinook salmon and steelhead in the lower Twisp River. 

The project site is across the river from the Twisp Ponds Discovery Center, located along on Twisp River Road just west of town.

Called the Twisp Ponds Left Bank Side Channel Restoration Project, the work will focus on a 5-acre site that has been altered by human activity including dairy farming, residential development, installation of rip-rap and levees along portions of the riverbank, and construction of irrigation ditches.

Those activities degraded the habitat in the floodplain by filling in side channels of the Twisp River and removing native vegetation, said Hans Smith, project manager and biologist with Yakama Nation Fisheries.

“This project will restore side channel features within the old dairy fields by creating a new side channel inlet through existing riprap and excavating out new side channel alignments across the floodplain,” Smith said. The excavation will use heavy equipment to create a channel with year-round water.

“The entire 5-acre site will be aggressively planted with native riparian trees and shrubs to stimulate riparian forest restoration,” Smith said.

The project will take place on lands purchased by the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation as part of the Twisp Ponds area. Part of the project will also occur on neighboring private properties upstream of the Twisp Ponds property. 

Local businesses Boulder Creek Contracting and Methow Natives will conduct the restoration work, which will take about six weeks. With engineering, materials, planting, fencing, irrigation, and site grading the cost comes to almost $500,000, Smith said.

Funding for the Yakama Nation’s Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration projects is provided by Bonneville Power Administration under Columbia Basin Fish Accords — an agreement signed in 2008 among federal hydropower agencies and regional tribes to promote salmon recovery.

Silver side channel

On the east side of the Methow River about 5 miles south of Twisp is a side channel that was the main stem of the Methow River from 1894-1954.

Called the Silver side channel (for its location near the site of the historic town of Silver), the channel is now connected to the main stem of the Methow River only at its downstream end.

A project conducted this summer by the Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group (CCFEG) will restore the lower four-tenths of a mile of the channel to create desirable habitat for juvenile spring Chinook salmon and steelhead.

A dike on private land at the upper end of the side channel cuts the channel off from its connection to the Methow River, but the channel is fed by groundwater and occasional flooding, said Kristen Kirkby, fisheries biologist with CCFEG.

As a result of past land use practices, the side channel has become “overly widened and shallow, with excessive fine sediment,” Kirkby said. The water is thick with vegetation and gets too warm for salmon in summer, she said.

The Silver side channel project will focus on the lower part of the channel where it connects to the main stem, on land owned by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The project will restructure the lower part of the channel by excavating it to make it deeper and narrower, “which will create more habitat diversity and help with temperature issues,” Kirkby said.

Logs and root wads will be placed to create 30 small logjams to provide more complex habitat with pools and alcoves for fish.

Portions of the broad, shallow channel will become low floodplain areas that will be revegetated to provide shade, cover, and bank stability.

In the lower channel, marshy areas with pockets of open water will support wetland plant diversity and provide water bird habitat, a priority for WDFW managers, Kirkby said.

About 5 acres of wetlands and riparian habitat will be revegetated with native plants. Restoring stream channel, riparian, and floodplain habitat will benefit juvenile Chinook and steelhead and other native fishes, as well as wildlife such as deer, waterfowl, songbirds, and amphibians, Kirkby said.

The project is being done in partnership with WDFW, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.  The project construction and revegetation cost is approximately $365,000, and the majority of funding comes from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Colville Tribes.

Work began last week with “de-fishing” the lower part of the channel to remove fish from the water where work will take place.

“We’re using both backpack electro-shockers and a raft electro-shocker. The sediments in the side channel are so fine and deep that it’s like walking through quicksand. Very difficult shocking conditions, so we’ll be using the raft in the deepest sections,” Kirkby said.

“We had a lot of much-appreciated help from various partners for de-fishing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WDFW, the Colville, and our own crew,” Kirkby said. “We’ve pulled out some Chinook, coho, and whitefish, as well as many longnose dace and bridgelip sucker, and, so far, a single Pacific lamprey.”

Engineering is provided by Intermountain Aquatics of Driggs, Idaho, construction by Aqua Terra Restoration, also of Driggs, and revegetation by Methow Natives of Winthrop. The project is expected to be completed by mid-August, Kirkby said.