Cowlitz Tribe’s project improves salmon habitat


Salmon will have enhanced spawning and rearing areas in the North Fork Lewis River, thanks to a habitat improvement program being carried out by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.

The project involves chaining logs together along the shore of Eagle Island to create artificial log jams and form pools for cover. The placement also will keep water flowing through channels.

“We were looking at how to restore and protect habitat on land owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife without interfering with the recreational use of the river,” said Rudy Salakory, aquatic habitat restoration manager for the tribe.

The logs were purchased by the tribe with grant money it obtained for the project in 2011. Salakory said the logs, which were brought in by helicopter, had to be chained together because the North Fork Lewis River is “a high energy river,” according to Salakory.

He said that long ago people cleared the waterways for steamboat traffic and a lot of wood ended up falling into the river, creating similar pools and riffles.

However, there isn’t as much wood along rivers these days due to development and construction of levees that have channelized the streams.

“Wood has diminished through time and that the idea for us buying wood to mimic these natural logjam structures that would have naturally occurred there,” Salakory said.

In the past, floods would refresh the floodplain with new nutrients, allowing plants to grow. Now, he said, homes and businesses have been constructed in areas that block that flow so it must be created by land managers.

This summer’s project at Eagle Island only includes work around the edges of the land where fish have access. Salakory said some side channels that have been blocked are due to be opened again, with wood barriers installed to keep the channels in place.

The tribe has contracted with an engineering company for planning and with a construction company for the actual work. The project is taking place on the north side of Eagle Island near a public boat launch off Old Lewis River Rd.

The effort goes back to 2009 when a group of representatives from the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, the Cowlitz Indian Tribune, Pacificorp and county governments convened to seek ways to make area rivers healthier. The Eagle Island spot on North Fork Lewis River was targeted as a spot for rehabilitation.

The tribe applied for funding through Pacificorp and the state salmon recovery board, Salakory said.