Yakama Nation work will take place on Methow, Chewuch rivers
By Ann McCreary
Three projects to improve salmon habitat in the Methow Valley will be carried out this summer by the Yakama Nation.
The projects involve two stretches of the Methow River — one in Mazama near the Weeman Bridge and another in the Big Valley Wildlife area. Another project will take place along the Chewuch River near Falls Creek.
The salmon habitat improvements will all take place on state or federal lands along rivers in areas where human activity has altered the environment to the detriment of salmon habitat, said Hans Smith, Yakama Nation Fisheries biologist.
Smith is manager of a project called the Fender Mill Side Channel Restoration Project, which will get underway in July on the Methow River just downstream of the Weeman Bridge.
The location is the site of a historic lumber mill that produced apple crates for the apple industry in Wenatchee, Smith said. The site was altered by a levee, an irrigation diversion, the Weeman Bridge and riprap on the river, all of which have contributed to degrading habitat for salmon below the bridge, he said.
The Fender Mill project, estimated to cost about $1.5 million, “is a large aquatic habitat creation project similar in scope to last year’s 1890s Side Channel Restoration Project conducted on the north end of Twisp,” Smith said.
A new spring-fed creek system, about one-half mile long, will be created within the river floodplain near the main river channel. Like the project near Twisp, a side channel fed by groundwater will be created to provide salmon rearing habitat outside of the main river channel, Smith said.
Groundwater maintains a more constant temperature than surface water in the river, staying warmer in winter and cooler in summer, Smith said.
Using groundwater from the floodplain to feed the channel “provides for better stream temperature conditions for juvenile fish than … the main river channel during extreme hot and cold weather conditions,” he said.
The side channel project near Twisp showed promising results during the past winter, Smith said. While ice formed on the main channel of the Methow River during the coldest periods, the side channel remained unfrozen, providing a thermal refuge for fish.
The newly created side channel at the Fender Mill site will be enhanced with large tree trunks and roots and new native tree and shrub plantings. All of the land in the project is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the U.S. Forest Service.
Removing the ‘People Mover’
The second project on the Methow River will take place on land managed by the Department of Natural Resources near the Big Valley Wildlife Area.
The project will include removal of a cable tram structure, locally known as the “People Mover,” which has not functioned for several years. Located near the Big Valley Trail, the hand-operated tram was intended to carry people across the river.
The foundations of the tram constrain the river channel and will be removed, and the People Mover will be given to the city of Okanogan where it will be installed and operated in one of the city parks, according to Jarred Johnson, a Yakama Nation Fisheries Habitat biologist and project manager.
Nearly 300 logs will be installed along a one-mile stretch of river upstream and downstream of the People Mover, said Johnson. The logs will provide cover and create a more complex and supportive habitat for fish, he said.
Crews working on the project will use portions of the Methow Trails public trail system for access, but the trail will remain open throughout the project. Equipment and material will be brought in from both sides of the river, accessing the area from Wolf Creek Road and via an access road near the cultivated field along Highway 20.
About eight acres of floodplain and riparian areas will also be planted with native trees and shrubs to encourage forest regeneration and improve riparian health, Johnson said. Some cottonwoods will be temporarily fenced to protect them from browsing deer, he said.
Work on the project “will be visible at times from the trail,” Johnson said. The project is expected to take place in July through mid-August.
The Chewuch River project will take place on two sites within campgrounds north of the Forest Service’s Eightmile Creek Ranch and south of the Falls Creek Campground.
The project will create a half-mile-long side channel and 1.5 acres of forested wetland, and install eight large wood structures in the main channel of the river.
Part of the project will take place at the Chewuch River South Campground, which will be closed from June 15 – Oct. 15 while the project is underway. A sign will direct campers to the Chewuch River North Campground, one mile north, during this time.
The side channel, winding through a forested floodplain, will benefit salmon as well as other fish, amphibian and terrestrial species, according to Chris Butler, project manager and a Yakama Nation Fisheries biologist.
The wood structures created in the river will create pools, cover and feeding areas used by juvenile and adult salmon throughout rearing and migration stages, Butler said.
New wetlands will be created at the Chewuch River South Campground by removing fill that was used to create campsites and vehicle access. Access to the re-established wetland area will be prevented by removing an existing roadway and restoring the historic side channel.
Some parking will be eliminated, but the campground will not be affected, Smith said. The Chewuch River projects are estimated to cost about $1.2 million.
The habitat restoration projects are part of the larger Yakama Nation Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration Project, a tribal fisheries program dedicated to restoring salmon habitat along waterways in the Methow Valley through the year 2018.
The projects are funded under the Columbia Basin Fish Accords, an agreement signed in 2008 between Bonneville Power Authority and regional tribes to promote salmon recovery as mitigation for impacts to salmon caused by hydropower dams on the Columbia River.