Tag Archives: Skokomish Tribe

Hood Canal avoids a major fish kill following unwelcome conditions

Southern Hood Canal avoided a major fish kill this year, but for a few days in September it looked like conditions were set for low-oxygen waters to rise to the surface, leaving fish in a critical state with no place to go, experts say.

Data from the Hoodsport buoy show the rise of low-oxygen waters to the surface over time (purple color in top two graphs). // Graphic: NANOOS

Seth Book, a biologist with the Skokomish Tribe, has been keeping a close watch on a monitoring buoy at Hoodsport. Dissolved oxygen in deep waters reached a very low concentration near the end of September, raising concerns that if these waters were to rise to the surface they could suddenly lead to a deadly low-oxygen condition. This typically happens when south winds blow the surface waters to the north.

“I started asking around the community to see if anyone had seen evidence of low DO (fish at surface; dead fish; deep fish being observed or found in fishing nets at surface; diver observations) and luckily I had no reports,” Seth wrote to me in an email.

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Spring Chinook return to the Skokomish River to start a new salmon run

Spring Chinook salmon are being reared at a new hatchery on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. The hatchery is owned and operated by Tacoma Public Utilities. // Photo: Tacoma Public Utilities

For the first time in decades, an early run of Chinook salmon has returned to the Skokomish River in southern Hood Canal.

These bright, torpedo-shaped hatchery fish are the first of what is expected to become an ongoing run of spring Chinook as part of a major salmon-restoration effort related to the Cushman Hydro Project. Eventually, the salmon run could provide fishing opportunities for humans and orcas.

“it is pretty exciting,” said Dave Herrera, fish and wildlife policy adviser for the Skokomish Tribe. “Our objective has always been to restore the salmon populations that were once here.”

Andrew Ollenburg, Cushman fish facilities manager for Tacoma Public Utilities, reported that 19 spring Chinook — 15 females and four males — have been captured at the base of the lower Cushman Dam on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. As of this week, biologists estimated that 50 or 60 spring Chinook were in the river farther below the dam — and more are coming.

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New video describes quest to restore Skokomish

In an impressive new video, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team tell the story of the Skokomish River, its history and its people, and the ongoing effort to restore the watershed to a more natural condition.

The video describes restoration projects — from the estuary, where tide channels were reformed, to the Olympic Mountains, where old logging roads were decommissioned to reduce sediment loading that clogs the river channel.

“I thought it was really well done,” SWAT Chairman Mike Anderson told me. “Some people have remarked about how well edited it is in terms of having different voices come together to tell the story in a single story line.”

The 14-minute video was produced with a $20,000 grant from the Laird Norton Family Foundation, which helped get the SWAT off the ground a decade ago, when a facilitator was hired to pull the group together.

The foundation’s Watershed Stewardship Program invests in community-based restoration, said Katie Briggs, the foundation’s managing director. In addition to the Hood Canal region, the foundation is supporting projects in the Upper Deschutes and Rogue rivers in Oregon.

As Katie explained in an email:

“LNFF has been interested in the collaborative work in the Skokomish for a number of years, and we have been consistently impressed with the way an admittedly strange group of bedfellows has pulled together, set priorities, and moved a restoration agenda forward in the watershed.

“We think their story is compelling, and by being able to share that story in a concise, visual way, they could not only attract more attention to the work they are doing in the Skokomish, but also potentially influence and share with other communities grappling with similar kinds of challenges.

“By helping SWAT tell their story, we’ve also gained a tool through which we are better able to share what it is we care about with the larger Laird Norton family and others interested in the foundation’s approach to watershed stewardship.”

The video project was overseen by Tiffany Royal of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and a subcommittee of SWAT members. North 40 Productions was chosen to pull together the story, shoot new video and compile historical footage.

“It captures a lot of the collaboration and restoration,” Anderson said, “but it doesn’t cover everything. It leaves out most of the General Investigation and the Cushman settlement.”

The General Investigation is how the Army Corps of Engineers refers to the studies I wrote about Sunday in the Kitsap Sun (subscription) and in Water Ways. The Cushman settlement involves an environmental mitigation project on the North Fork of the Skokomish funded by the city of Tacoma and related to relicensing of the Cushman Dam power project.

Alex Gouley of the Skokomish Tribe said he hopes that the video will help tell the story of the Skokomish watershed, as with other tribal efforts such as watershed tours, educational workshops and classroom field trips.

Alex said he and other tribal members appreciate all the work done by each member of the SWAT, from Forest Service employees to the county commissioners, from Green Diamond Resource Company (formerly Simpson Timber) to small property owners in the valley.

“By coming together, everyone is able to make more informed decisions about the projects they are working on,” he said.

The PSP Interviews: Dave Herrera

When I wrote my recent progress report on the Puget Sound Partnership, my story included little more than brief quotes and snippits of information from a variety of informed people. It is somewhat rewarding to have a blog where I can bring you more complete impressions of the people I interviewed. Here is the second in a series of expanded reports from those interviews.

Dave Herrera, one of two vice chairmen of the Ecosystem Coordination Board, is one of three tribal representatives on the 27-member board. The other tribal reps are David Trout of the Nisqually Tribe and Randy Kinley of the Lummi Nation.

Herrera currently serves as “fisheries policy representative” for the Skokomish Tribe. His career started with the tribe as a hatcheries technician in 1975 following the landmark Boldt Decision. He was 18. He worked as fisheries manager from 1979 to 1982 before leaving tribal employment. Dave later worked for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Point No Point Treaty Council before returning to the tribe in 1996, where he has remained one of the tribe’s top fisheries managers.

Dave is a member of the Skokomish Tribe. His mother grew up on the Skokomish Reservation. His father was in the military, so Dave moved around with his family at a young age. He spent many of his early years in Tacoma.

Herrera has been an excellent spokesman for the Skokomish Tribe and tribes in general. For the Puget Sound Partnership story, I interviewed him by phone while he was in Washington, D.C., working to advance salmon restoration. Unfortunately, I could not fit his comments into my final story, but I’m now pleased to report his views on the partnership.

“It is fair to say,” Dave told me, “that the tribal representatives would like to see things moving faster than they are.”
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Sharing the joy of restoring Hood Canal wetlands

UPDATE, Oct. 20, 2010

The Kitsap Sun’s “North Mason Life” reporter, Rodika Tollefson, put her own spin on the Klingel Wetlands story. She was able to interview Gary Parrot, who returned from an out-of-town trip, and was able to talk about the history of the wetlands.
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Last week, I had a rare opportunity to take a mental trip back in time. It happened twice, as I stood in two different Hood Canal wetlands and recalled the past while pondering the future.

The first place was the Klingel Wetlands outside Belfair on the North Shore Road. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 7.

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, considers changes coming to the Klingel Wetlands as she stands on an old farm dike destined for removal.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

This place is special to me because I spent time here in June of 1990, preparing to write the introduction for a yearlong newspaper series that would become the book “Hood Canal Splendor at Risk.” Here are the opening lines of the book, which described the Klingel wetlands at that time:

“A great blue heron, its broad wings spread to the wind, dips out of an overcast sky and glides into the marsh. Extending its legs, the large bird lands gracefully among tall reeds near the water. The tweet-tweet-tweetering of songbirds creates an agreeable chorus, though each bird sings its own distinct song.

“Untold numbers of wild birds share this place on Hood Canal, just outside of Belfair on the North Shore. River otter slink along the shore at sunset. Mink, beaver and muskrat mind their own ways, thanks to what remains of this ancient swamp. Human visitors may find themselves refreshed by the wildness here, as in other natural environs. Some people describe a warm feeling of enthrallment, a kind of mild hypnotic state.”

Gary and Celia Parrot, who have kept watch over the property all these years, appreciated the need to connect people to nature. They helped me express a concept that I’m afraid is largely lost on our urban-based society.

As Celia explained to me, the human heart yearns for a more primitive experience, away from the cluttered pattern of modern life:

“The reason I go out two or three times a day is not just to walk the dogs,” she said. “It’s like a refueling. I go out to get another dose of that intimate feeling.”

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Understanding the Skokomish is not a simple exercise

I admit that I have sympathy for people of the Skokomish Valley, who have been subjected to extreme flooding for many years. I also admire these local folks for putting aside blame and working together for solutions. The vast majority are honest, hard-working and likable people.

I remain an outsider, but I have become better informed during my research into this issue, which will be the subject of a four-part series that begins Sunday.

In a report in today’s Kitsap Sun, I wrote about a meeting of valley residents who are appreciative of the work being done to restore the river, yet they remain understandably frustrated that their farmland has lost so much of its productivity.

The first comment at the bottom of today’s story showed little understanding of this issue. The writer said the river has been flooding forever; he or she suggested that dredging would trigger a lawsuit from the Skokomish Tribe; and he or she urged residents to sell their land and move away.

I don’t have all the answers, but I’d like to address these three points.

First, the river has not flooded forever. It’s bedload was increased dramatically after extensive logging in the upper watershed within Olympic National Forest and on lands owned by Simpson Timber Company (now Green Diamond).

In a story I wrote last summer, I called the river “sick.” Rich Geiger, an engineer with Mason Conservation District, calls it “dynamically unstable.” The river is tearing itself apart and acting nothing like a natural system should behave.

The Skokomish Valley was once among the most productive farmland in the Hood Canal region. Yes, old-time farmers may have made mistakes, such as putting dikes in the wrong places and filling in natural channels. But farm families never faced the kind of problems they’re seeing today.

If someone decided to dredge the river without an understanding of what might happen, the Skokomish Tribe might file a lawsuit. But I am pleased to say that the tribe is fully engaged in finding solutions. If dredging could be demonstrated to be part of a long-term solution, I believe the tribe would go along with it.

As for selling the land and moving, you have to realize that these farm families have lived here for generations. As more and more of our nation’s agriculture is turned over to large corporations, I think we should do what we can to encourage these farmers to stay. If the land could be made productive again, the Skokomish Valley could be part of the “buy local” movement.

Furthermore, as the largest river in Hood Canal, experts tell me that fixing the Skokomish must be part of the effort to restore the ailing canal back to health.

There is so much to say about the Skokomish Valley, the flooding problems and the importance of this ecosystem that I could not squeeze everything into even four days of coverage. Let’s just say I’ll be reporting on these issues for years to come.

Skokomish issues will get attention this week and next

The Skokomish River is the largest river in Hood Canal and vitally important to the canal’s health. It’s also the most flooded river in the state and home to the Skokomish Tribe. At the moment, there’s a lot of activity taking place with regard to ecosystem restoration.

The Skokomish River is the focus of a reporting project that has been consuming my time lately. Planned as a four-part series, the stories will examine natural values plus the history and future of the Skokomish watershed. The project is scheduled to begin on Sunday and run through Wednesday.

I’d like to apologize for the lack of postings on “Water Ways” last week. As deadlines approached on this project, I seemed to put everything else aside. Now, you’re likely to see a flurry of posts as I catch up on things I’ve been wanting to talk about.

As for the Skokomish, a public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in the Skokomish Valley. For details, check my story in Saturday’s Kitsap Sun, which mentions several issues up for discussion: the General Investigation of the river’s functions, a new plan to anchor trees into the banks of the South Fork of the Skokomish, ongoing decommissioning of roads in Olympic National Forest, a study of the functions of Vance Creek and dike removals on the Skokomish delta.

Not listed on the agenda is a discussion about the recent agreement between the Skokomish Tribe and city of Tacoma over the Cushman Dam project. I’d be surprised, however, if this didn’t come up in some fashion. (See my personal observations and details of the agreement in my Jan. 13 blog entry.)

The majority of the real action at the moment involves removing culverts and decommissioning roads on Forest Service lands. I wrote a story about some of these projects for the Kitsap Sun last August.

As an aside, I’m not sure I like the term “decommissioning” when it comes to roads, but I may be stuck with it. The project is usually more than “abandoning” a road, but less than “removal.” Anybody got a better term for it?

Can the Cushman Dam dispute really be over?

It is rather mind-boggling to think that the city of Tacoma and the Skokomish Tribe have worked out their long-standing disagreements over the Cushman Dam Project. Yesterday, the parties signed a settlement agreement, as I explained in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

I have covered the Cushman battles for the Sun since I first arrived at the paper in 1977, nearly 32 years ago. While some stories never seem to end, I can’t think of any legal dispute that has taken half this long to be resolved — even those that I’ve followed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A story I wrote for the Sept. 27, 1999, edition started this way:

The future of Cushman Hydroelectric Project in southern Hood Canal remains tied up in court — and it’s a good bet that even King Solomon couldn’t settle this dispute.

Nobody is happy with the requirements of a new operating license issued last year by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Both the city of Tacoma, which owns the facility, and the Skokomish Tribe, which resides downstream, are suing to have the terms of the license changed.

And numerous state and federal agencies have become tangled in the controversy as they try to comply with provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Now salmon — particularly those protected by federal law — are moving to the center of the relicensing battle, which has gone on for more than 25 years.

So, what are the details of this settlement — which is actually a series of documents signed by the city and tribe as well as state and federal agencies? You may wish to download the 260-page compiled settlement (PDF 5.6 mb), which I obtained yesterday, or read on for my expanded “summary” of the various documents.
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Mending minds while settling scores on the Skokomish

Nearly two years of serious negotiations have brought the Skokomish Tribe and city of Tacoma close to an agreement over what to do with the Cushman dams on the North Fork of the Skokomish River.

I was able to report on some broad provisions of the agreement in today’s Kitsap Sun, following the lead of Jason Hagey, a News Tribune reporter who covered a Tacoma City Council meeting where the city agreed to include land as part of a settlement with the tribe.

City Councilman Jake Fey noted that Tacoma had benefited from low electricity rates for decades while ignoring the damage caused to the tribe. Fey said the settlement would help remove a “black mark” regarding Tacoma’s regard for the environment and the tribe, according to Hagey’s report.

I have been following this issue for most of my 31 years as a reporter for the Kitsap Sun. For much of that time, both the tribe and the city believed they held the upper hand in the legal arguments. As a result, both sides looked to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the courts for answers.

After one court threw out a $5.8 billion damage claim made by the tribe against Tacoma and another court said the relicensing process should include both damage mitigation and environmental restoration, suddenly both sides had potentially more to gain — and more to lose — by leaving the judgment to FERC and the courts.

Both the city and the tribe should be given credit for working together, given their 80 years of history in which each side believed it was right.

As for the terms of the settlement, I see where many people are already passing judgment in comments after reading my account in the Sun. And that troubles me. I urge everyone to wait until they see the final settlement, which will deal with a number of environmental issues not yet made public.

I’ll have more to say on this subject in the future, but sometimes a situation is too complex to be boiled down to winners and losers.

Skokomish Tribe floats the idea of a new Potlatch marina

Skokomish Indian Tribal Enterprises is developing a plan for a marina near Potlatch in southern Hood Canal and would like to know what boaters and residents think of the idea. Check out my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Possible marina location near Cushman power plan
SITE map (Click to enlarge)

The project is undergoing a feasibility study, but it could include slips for 25 to 35 boats and various amenities including a restaurant, fuel dock, fish-cleaning station, sewage-pumpout facility and restrooms.

Ed Binder of SITE said the tribe recognizes the sensitivity of Hood Canal but hopes to work through the various issues. Water coming out of the Cushman power plant could help stir the waters and reduce environmental impacts, he said.

Boaters and area residents are encouraged to express their opinions about the project in an online survey. If the project moves forward, it would take several years before the project would be built, Binder said.