The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is hoping fish-friendly structures will protect property in Wilkeson to help save a local steelhead run. Heavy floods a few winters ago washed away almost two acres of land the tribe wants to convert into steelhead acclimation ponds.
The facility on Wilkeson Creek has been in the planning stages since the tribe bought the site of a former trout hatchery in the mid-1990s.
“We needed to find a way to protect what was left of the site, but also help protect the fish we’re trying to save,” Blake Smith, enhancement manager for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, said in a news release.
The tribe is planning to use hundreds of pieces of wood to build several dozen logjams along the bank of the creek.
Traditional flood protection techniques, such as rip rap, can be harmful to fish.
“Dumping boulders along a bank can be cheap and easy flood protection, but it ends up making flooding worse for people downstream because it makes the water move faster,” Smith said in the release.
Fast-moving water also washes away any salmon eggs that might have been laid nearby, Smith said. Because rocks remove any habitat features that fish might have used, rip-rapped streams are pretty barren of fish, he added.
Instead, the wood structures along the bank will deflect the creek’s flow while providing juvenile salmon with a place to hide and feed. The logjam will also create a side channel with additional rearing and spawning area for salmon.
Steelhead runs in the Puyallup watershed have dropped at an alarming rate the past few years.
“We’re at the point where we need to safeguard some of the wild steelhead in a broodstock program so we don’t totally lose the genetics of this unique stock,” Smith said in the release.
The tribe is already participating in another broodstock program for White River steelhead, a large tributary to the Puyallup, with the Muckleshoot Tribe and the state of Washington.
“The system of Puyallup tributaries around Wilkeson Creek are probably home to the last strong wild spawning population of steelhead in the watershed,” Smith said. “This makes them very attractive for broodstocking purposes.”
Because coho and steelhead spend more than a year in the freshwater after hatching, stream habitat conditions have a large impact on their health.
“If we don’t do anything to restore their habitat, steelhead and other fish species won’t ever recover,” Smith said.