Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Saving Wild Salmon: Return to Swamp Creek


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  think it's important to do all we can to restore our wild salmon. Since 2005, Puget Sound Chinook have 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.
Over three plantings we put dozens of trees in the ground. In the intervening years, the land has become a City of Kenmore park and the subject of other, more comprehensive habitat restoration studies and projects.

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 have 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.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

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.



Rabbits' Guy said...

Thanks for that post. It is always so inspiring to see where those kinds of efforts are making a difference - much nicer and better habitat for all sorts of critters - including you-all!

Lesley said...

Good for you! Thanks.

Lainey Piland said...

This is so great, Jill! It's got to be a rewarding experience to revisit the stream and see how well your restoration efforts are coming along. Those trees look nice and healthy!

Most environmental issues are so vast and overwhelming that we're paralyzed into inaction - but stories like yours show that everyone can make a difference in our own corners of the world!

jill said...

Hey Rabbits' Guy, thank you for your comment. Like Lainey says in her comment, the issues are overwhelming, but doing a little bit is at least something. Hope you are well!

Lesley, thank you! Safe travels this summer.

Lainey, Thanks! Yes, it is all overwhelming, but seeing trees that should be there grow healthy is something.