Salmon have long been the symbol and lifeblood of the people who call the Pacific Northwest home. For the Pacific Northwest Tribes who've been here for thousands of years, millenia before European settlers arrived (and mucked things up), salmon were and still are part of their spiritual and cultural identity.
While I grew up fairly oblivious to the problems facing our wild salmon, I now think it's important to do all we can to restore our Puget Sound Chinook salmon. Since 2005, they've been listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Back in the late 1990s I "adopted" the lower reach of Swamp Creek just upstream of where it flows into the Sammamish River at the north end of Lake Washington (north of Seattle). Swamp Creek historically was a salmon-spawning stream, and today a few stragglers still manage to make their way upstream.
Back then, the land along the creek was in very poor condition for salmon, who need forest cover to shade the water, good water quality, and large wood debris in the water for refuge. In the scanned shot below from 1999, I'm pointing out the lack of trees and abundance of invasive reed canarygrass bracketing the stream.
So I organized a few tree-planting parties through the King County Department of Natural Resources, which provided the baby spruce, western red cedar, and willow trees to plant close to the streambanks.
|See the bare, grassy area? No trees! Also note the flagged baby spruce just planted.|
It was a fun group effort, a collaboration of co-workers and their families, friends, and neighbors. And Winnie the golden retriever, who was an enthusiastic tail-wagging cheerleader.
|Recently planted spruce seedling. We had to cut back the grass that was trying to overtake it.|
Every few years I like to paddle upstream to check out the trees we planted. In 2010 I blogged about Swamp Creek. So here I am again.
This past Sunday my friend Julie and I, both involved in the 1998 planting parties, paddled up Swamp Creek on a lovely, bluebird almost-summer day. And the spruce trees!
|Notice the healthy spruce trees on the right. We planted those!|
Although conditions are still far from perfect, many of the spruce we planted are thriving and shading the stream banks. Only a few of the many cedar trees we planted have survived.
We can't paddle upstream as far as we used to because of downed trees in the water, a good thing for fish.
After almost 20 years, the new forest is starting to take shape along Swamp Creek. But high water temperatures and low water levels the last two years due to record-setting heat has put a damper on salmon recovery efforts overall.
As usual we saw lots of cool birds and waterfowl, from abundant red-winged black birds, to chatty belted kingfishers, to awkwardly elegant great blue herons.
Besides the restoration aspect, it's very peaceful and soothing to paddle up Swamp Creek. In this region of close to 4 million people and growing, it's a quiet natural place, something to treasure.
It's very rewarding to see a forest emerging where there used to be mostly invasive grass. I look forward to going back again in a year or two.
Let's hope more wild salmon find their way back too.
When You Go
You can access lower Swamp Creek by foot or hand-powered watercraft. We put in at the boat launch in Kenmore just off the 64th Street/Juanita Drive bridge. A Discover Pass is needed to park there. From the boat launch, we paddled up the Sammamish Slough/River about 1/4 mile to the mouth of Swamp Creek and on up.
Across the region there are lots of opportunities to volunteer to help restore salmon streams, even if just for a few hours or a day. A typical event includes clearing non-native, invasive plants and planting native plants and trees along streambanks, which improves habitat for salmon and their chances of spawning and survival. Here are some links, but you can also do a Web search for opportunities near you: People for Puget Sound, Oregon Watersheds, King County (Washington), and River Restoration Northwest.