Coho, cutthroat trout, steelhead and other fish will have an easier time migrating in a small stream that flows out of Capitol Forest to the Black River, thanks to a state program that aids small-forestland owners with removal of barriers that block fish.
The $130,000 project this week to replace a fish-blocking road culvert with a small bridge across Goliath Creek frees up more than four miles of upstream fish habitat. It’s a prime example of the kind of work the state Department of Natural Resources and its partners are poised to do.
Since 2003, some 232 fish barriers – usually road culverts – have been eliminated on nonindustrial timberland, returning some 500 miles of stream habitat to migrating salmon and trout through the state Department of Natural Resource’s Family Forest Fish Passage Program.
The $17 million program investment to date is about to jump significantly: The state Legislature included $10 million for the program when it passed a $1 billion jobs bills this year.
DNR officials want forest property owners to know this is a good time to apply for a chunk of money, anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 to tackle troublesome forest road crossings. Eligible applicants face few, if any, out-of-pocket costs.
It’s habitat-improvement work landowners would likely have to do if they applied for a timber harvest permit. Removal of fish barriers associated with forest roads is a key component of the Forest and Fish Act approved by the Legislature in 1999.
The program recognizes how onerous the costs of complying with the landmark act can be to small-land owners.
“The jobs bill was a huge shot in the arm for the program,” said DNR program manager Rick Kuykendall. He said the state agency, working with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Recreation and Conservation Office and a host of project sponsors – including tribes, salmon enhancement groups and conservation districts – hope to complete nearly 100 projects statewide in the next two years.
To be eligible, landowners can harvest on average no more than 2 million board-feet of timber per year, which is the equivalent of a 40-acre clear-cut, he said.
DNR has a backlog of 400 applications, but knows from fish barrier studies that they are just scratching the surface.
In the Chehalis River watershed alone, which is the second-largest in the state, there are an estimated 1,500 miles of blocked fish habitat, said Jamie Glasgow, director of science and research for the Olympia-based Wild Fish Conservancy, the group overseeing the Goliath Creek project for DNR.
From its headwaters in Capitol Forest, Goliath Creek flows into Mima Creek, which flows into the Black River within the Chehalis River watershed.
“There’s a huge need to restore fish habitat in this watershed,” Glasgow said. “We’re working on just a fraction of the habitat that the fish historically had access to.”
The Goliath Creek project, on a 10-acre parcel owned by Steve Baker of Roy, included a short stream rechanneling effort to place the new bridge. In less than two days, Glasgow and his co-workers had recovered 36 juvenile coho salmon from a small pond created by the stream diversion. They also found 15 freshwater mussels, which is an indicator of good water quality.
“This is a very productive stretch of stream,” Glasgow said.
State Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Laura Till described Goliath Creek as a high priority project that will open up top notch spawning habitat for coho, cutthroat and steelhead.
The new bridge also will reduce flooding at the road crossing. In the past, it was not uncommon to find fish on the road during heavy storms, Till said.
Logging roads that rely on stream culverts tend to suffer more storm damage, require more maintenance and lead to degraded water quality, Till said.
HELP IS ON THE WAY
Owners of small forestland with forest roads that block fish habitat in streams can apply for state financial aid to remove the barriers. For more information call 360-902-1404 or go to www.dnr.wa.gov/sflo.John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org