quinault river

Fish of the Forest: Large Wood Benefits Salmon Recovery

Written by Emily Howe, Aquatic Ecologist
Photographed by Hannah Letinich, Volunteer Photgraphy Editor
Graphics by Erica Simek-Sloniker, Visual Communications

Boots. Any aquatic ecologist worth their salt needs a collection of boots. Rubber knee boots, lug-soled hiking boots, felt-soled stream boots, chest waders, and caulks.  Caulks? Before last week, a sturdy pair of spike-soled logging boots had not made my inventory list as a fisheries biologist.  Flippers, yes.  Wet suit booties, sure.  But generally speaking, spikes are left to those scaling glaciers or trees. 

My recent trip to Washington’s coastal rainforests changed my footwear paradigm. 

After a 3-day four-wheel drive tour of Ellsworth Creek, the Hoh, Quinault, and Clearwater Rivers, it is clear that active forest management goes hand in hand with salmon and river recovery.  Rolling back a century of damage from industrial logging requires active logging operations to thin and replant monocultural tree plantations, decommissioning and rerouting roads, and reintroducing large wood into streams and rivers.  The caulks come in handy on that last one.

You see, to enhance natural river processes critical to salmon and watershed recovery, The Conservancy and its partners are reintroducing fallen trees to streams and floodplains throughout coastal Washington, Puget Sound, and the Central Cascades. This restoration technique ranks as one of the most urgent actions needed for the recovery and future resilience of salmon because it promotes a complex portfolio of aquatic habitats. Once in the water, large wood initiates log jams that in turn increase natural scour, create new pools and deepen existing ones, provide slow-water refuge for juvenile fish, create gravel beds for nesting, trap nutrients in streams, and increase food availability.

The Conservancy’s coastal forest preserves embody the integration of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems- right down to the boots.

Queets Forestland Future Secured

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Nature Conservancy Sells 1,720 Acres to DNR

Photograph by Bridget Besaw

WASHINGTON COAST – The Nature Conservancy has sold 1,720 acres of forestlands above the Queets River to the state Department of Natural Resources for management within the Olympic Experimental State Forest as wildlife habitat and working forest.

“This sale assures our conservation goals for this property, and supports the Conservancy’s long-term goals of a sustainable Olympic rainforest that supports wildlife and the local economy,” said David Rolph, Washington’s Director of Forest Conservation and Management for the Conservancy.

The property was part of 2,321 acres the Conservancy purchased from Rayonier in 2014. Conservancy analysis showed that the 600 acres closest to the river is most important for salmon and the health of the river system. The remaining 1,720 acres, while important upland habitat, could be managed in ways that includes sustainable forestry and some logging.

By selling to the Department of Natural Resources, the Conservancy is ensuring good long term management of the land, Rolph said. DNR owns most of the surrounding land, and their management in the Experimental Forest is governed by a 70-year federal conservation plan. It ensures strong protection of wetlands and the development of older stands of trees in the forest rotation. It also allows for continued public access and recreation, and revenue to the state school trust

“Analysis from our scientists confirms that DNR’s management under their federal conservation plan can be a good match in supporting the Conservancy’s habitat restoration goals along the Queets River system,” Rolph said.

“We’re grateful for the partnership with The Nature Conservancy in purchasing this land,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, who chairs the Board of Natural Resources, which authorized the purchase. “It will benefit future trust beneficiaries and DNR’s conservation commitments on the Olympic Peninsula.” 

The sales agreement was announced in April, when the Board of Natural Resources authorized the $5.2 million purchase. The sale closed June 12. The Conservancy will use the money generated by the sale, for further forest conservation work.

The Queets is one of four major rivers flowing from the summit of the mountains in Olympic National Park to the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean. The Conservancy has also purchased and is restoring forest lands on the Clearwater, a tributary to the Queets, and on the Hoh River farther north. The Conservancy is also working with the Quinault Indian Nation for restoration of forests on the Quinault River.

Together with the acquisitions on the Clearwater and Hoh rivers, the Conservancy is now managing 9,410 acres of forest lands in Jefferson County. Conservancy foresters and ecologists have developed long-term plans that include planting trees, restoring important salmon and wildlife habitat, and sustainable long-rotation timber harvest where it makes sense.