By Ann McCreary
Four salmon habitat restoration projects in the Chewuch, Twisp and Methow rivers will be conducted this summer by the Yakama Nation Fisheries.
The projects all seek to improve habitat conditions for juvenile spring Chinook salmon and steelhead by increasing the amount of large wood in the main stream channels to create pools and cover, and by restoring side channel habitats that have been disconnected from the rivers as a result of past land uses.
Spring Chinook salmon are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, and steelhead are listed as threatened. The habitat improvements are primarily aimed at those species, but benefit other fish, including bull trout, said Hans Smith, Upper Columbia habitat coordinator for Yakama Nation Fisheries in Winthrop.
The projects will begin in July and continue through October, said Smith. Any work taking place in the rivers must be completed during a one-month window in July, when it will have the least impact on fish. Work in late summer and fall will focus on vegetation restoration.
All the work will be managed by the Yakama Nation staff in the Winthrop field office. Yakama Nation Fisheries uses funding obtained through the 2008 Columbia River Fish Accords to implement habitat restoration in the upper Columbia Basin to restore endangered salmon runs. This year’s projects are estimated to cost about $1.8 million, Smith said.
Chewuch River project
New restoration work will begin on the Chewuch River, extending instream work done by the Yakama Nation over the past five years on U.S. Forest Service land upstream from the Eight Mile Ranch, Smith said.
This summer’s work will include creating several large wood structures along the banks of the river between river miles 15 – 17, north of the Falls Creek campground, and reconnecting a side channel through excavation and installing a wood structure to divert some surface flows into a new side channel.
Big Valley project
The defunct “people mover” cable tram spanning the Methow River near the Big Valley wildlife area will be removed as part of a project on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land.
“DNR identified the people mover as a relic that should be removed,” Smith said. He said there has been interest by some parties, including the city of Tonasket, in the device. “It could be repurposed,” he said.
The habitat project involves adding wood to the river just downstream of the people mover to about half a mile upstream of the tram. The river is powerful in this area and the wood structures will be anchored in place by pilings so that they can’t be flushed away, Smith said.
“There is some rip rap associated with the people mover. We will put wood in its place,” he said. The project also includes vegetation restoration in the nearby floodplain.
Twisp River projects — Newby Narrows, Horseshoe Side Channel
The Newby Narrows and Horseshoe Side Channel projects are located on the Twisp River about 8 and 9 miles, respectively, west of Twisp. Each is primarily focused on reconnecting side channels with the river to provide habitat for young salmon.
“That specific reach of the Twisp River has a very high density of spawning spring Chinook and steelhead, some of the highest of the Twisp watershed. But there is a serious lack of side channel habitat … that is required by the juvenile fish to successfully grow,” said Jarred Johnson, project manager.
The Newby Narrows project was begun last year and will be completed this year. A temporary bridge will be installed again to provide access to the south side of the Twisp River where work will be done to reconnect and restore a side channel system.
Excavation will take place at the inlet of the side channel to reconnect it to the Twisp River and large wood structures will be placed in the main river channel to improve habitat for juvenile salmon, said Johnson. The work will take place on property purchased by the Yakama Nation.
The Horseshoe Side Channel project will take place on private property, through agreements with property owners, about one mile upstream from the Newby Narrows project.
The project will reconnect a side channel on the north side of Twisp River through excavation. Additional wood will be placed in the river at that site as well. Some of the side channel work outside of the river will continue through August, followed by vegetation restoration through October.