Cherokee Creek project celebrated; opens more stream to salmon

Cherokee Creek project
A small but enthusiastic group of Snohomish County residents turned out last week to help celebrate the opening of the Cherokee Creek project under the DNR-administered Family Forest Fish Passage Program. Photo: Tamara Neuffer/Stillaguamish Tribe Natural Resources.

It was every bit as wet and cold as it appears in the photos taken at Cherokee Creek, east of Arlington, last week. But the Coho salmon didn’t care. Nor did those attending an open-house there to celebrate the successful completion of a DNR Family Forest Fish Passage Program-funded project. The project removed a deteriorating metal culvert and replaced it with a new bridge at almost no cost to the private landowners.

The aging and deteriorating culvert was too small to withstand floods, had created an artificial waterfall too high for salmon to get past on their journey upstream, and was interfering with natural stream ecology. In its place now is a steel bridge and an 80-foot section of restored stream channel which allows fish to access more than a mile of productive spawning habitat.

The Stillaguamish Tribe sponsored the Cherokee Creek project which included important tasks such as conducting landowner outreach, collecting habitat data, providing matching project funds, managing the project design, and providing construction oversight, permitting, billing, and grant management.

Projects mean jobs

Salmon swim in restored stream channel
Salmon could be seen swimming in the restored stream channel to reach previously blocked upper reaches of Cherokee Creek. Photo: Scott Rockwell/Stillaguamish Tribe Natural Resources

In addition to opening up more miles of stream to fish, projects like the one at Cherokee Creek provide safety, access, and economic benefits. Jobs at local engineering and general contractor firms were supported by conducting the culvert replacement and restoration work. Future timber harvest by landowners along the access road can now occur over the newly installed bridge. And as an added bonus, the project came in $30,000 under budget –- funds that will be applied to more projects in other high-priority streams.

A bit of background on Cherokee Creek

Cherokee Creek is especially significant for Coho salmon. Each week during the fall when salmon are migrating, Stillaguamish Tribal staff conduct spawner surveys, recording the number and location of reproducing adults and “redds” (or salmon egg nests). The information helps to forecast the size of returning Coho runs in future years. They shared the data with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other Treaty Indian Tribes to manage the Coho fishery, and monitor the health of runs. The stream also provides spawning, rearing and refuge for several other species of Pacific salmon, as well as cutthroat trout and bull-trout.

DNR administers the Family Forest Fish Passage Program to help landowners comply with forest practice rules and eliminate these stream barriers. This cost-sharing program helps small forest landowners correct fish passage barriers on their forestlands by covering 75-100 percent of their costs. DNR works with the Washington 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—to select and complete the projects.

Since the program began in 2003, 232 fish barriers—usually road culverts—have been eliminated on private, nonindustrial timberland. Some 500 miles of stream habitat have been restored to migrating salmon and trout.

Are you a small forest landowner who needs funding help to remove a fish barrier culvert? Apply online for funding help today.

Learn more about the array of services and programs offered by DNR’s Small Forest Landowner Office.

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