Salmon leaving the Quillayute River watershed now have access to 22 acres of habitat that had been blocked for decades. Last fall the Quileute Indian Tribe restored the connection between a tributary slough and four wetlands by replacing a series of culverts under a road with three larger culverts and a bridge.
“Juvenile salmon can now use these wetlands to grow and feed before they head out to the ocean,” said Nicole Rasmussen, water quality biologist for the tribe.
Since the completion of the project, tribal staff have observed coho, stickleback and cutthroat trout using the wetlands.
“You can really see when the slough starts to flood during these big winter storms how salmon are getting into the wetlands,” Rasmussen said.
Small side channels, tributary creeks and wetlands are vital places for juvenile fish to escape the river’s flow to rest and feed.
In addition to replacing the culverts, the tribe also did some invasive species removal.
“English ivy is pretty widespread along the road,” Rasmussen said. “We killed some of it. We’re planning on going back and taking care of the rest of it.” English ivy outcompetes native plants, reducing habitat for wildlife and fish.
The project provided an opportunity to improve tribal access to treaty-protected natural resources.
“To get large equipment out to replace the culverts, we needed to add gravel and make other fixes,” Rasmussen said. Access to the river at the end of the road is now easier to reach for tribal fishermen. Tribal members also use the road to access traditional plants like Indian tea, thimbleberry and elderberry.
Nicole Rasmussen, water quality biologist for the Quileute Indian Tribe, and John Hagan, habitat biologist with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, inspect a new bridge over a tributary to the Quillayute River.