The Chehalis Basin supports a diverse array of aquatic species—including multiple species of salmon, native fishes such as lamprey and the Olympic mudminnow, and the highest diversity of amphibian species in Washington. The Basin is unique in the state because of its extensive floodplains, amphibian diversity, relatively healthy and robust salmon runs, and the absence of Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed salmonids. Similar to other river basins in the state, it has seen significant habitat degradation over the last 100 years, with populations of both fish and wildlife decreasing.
The State of Washington, Quinault Indian Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis, and other stakeholders are developing an Aquatic Species Restoration Plan (ASRP) as part of a comprehensive strategy to restore the ecological health of the Chehalis River Basin. The goal of the ASRP is to create a comprehensive restoration plan that improves and protects habitats, ecosystem processes, and populations of aquatic and semi-aquatic species—while also creating flood- and climate-resilient systems that support the human needs in the Basin.
In November 2017, the ASRP’s Steering Committee released the initial ASRP document (available here). This initial document identifies the expected outcomes to aquatic species if no action is taken to address climate change impacts, as well as the expected outcomes from two comprehensive restoration scenarios. The restoration scenarios include quantitative estimates for salmon species and qualitative effects on other native aquatic species. There are also associated costs for each scenario. The Chehalis Basin Board, tribes, and state agencies will use this initial document to develop guidance related to the desired outcomes and necessary level of investment. The first phase of the ASRP will be released in fall 2019.
Actions that may be taken to implement the ASRP include, but are not limited to:
- Restoring riparian habitat (shrubs and trees along a creek)
- Removing fish passage barriers (undersized culverts and other structures in a stream)
- Restoring off-channel habitat (oxbows and side channels off the main river)
- Adding wood (fallen trees and their roots) to rivers and streams to improve habitat for salmon and other species
- Restoring bank erosion to naturally occurring rates
- Reconnecting the river to its floodplain in appropriate areas
- Creating, restoring, or enhancing wetlands
In addition to active restoration, the ASRP Steering Committee also recognizes that the protection of existing functioning aquatic habitat will be necessary to achieve the goals of the plan.
Habitat Restoration Grants – Getting Projects on the Ground
In April 2016, the State provided approximately $6 million in grants to public and non-profit organizations in Grays Harbor, Lewis County, and Thurston County for 28 habitat restoration projects in the Chehalis River Basin. Most of the grant projects were designed to restore fish passage in streams where it is partially or fully blocked by culverts (pipes under roads) and other man-made structures. Altogether, these projects will open more than 130 miles of streams to migrating salmon and other aquatic species.
The competitive grant process was conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity’s Habitat Work Group. Proposals were selected for funding by biologists, engineers, and habitat restoration professionals from WDFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Quinault Indian Nation, and a representative of the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity’s citizen advisory committee. The state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) is administering the funds and overseeing the projects.
For additional information about these restoration projects, please see WDFW’s April 4, 2016 News Release.
In 2018 and 2019, large-scale restoration projects are being designed in five sub-basins of the Chehalis River Basin: the Newaukum, South Fork Chehalis, Skookumchuck, Satsop, and Wynoochee Rivers. These sub-basins were chosen through a rigorous scientific process because of their potential to increase salmon abundance with restoration actions. Projects will be developed in collaboration with willing landowners where there is a high likely benefit to salmon.
In addition to restoration projects, there will be a significant effort in the basin to remove fish passage barriers and to protect critical habitat. Eleven undersized culverts will be replaced with bridges or larger culverts in the next two years, and an additional six culvert improvements will be engineered to construct at a later time. Once complete, the projects will open 32.5 miles of stream habitat for migrating salmon.