October 9, 2000
Volunteers needed for salmon rescue effort
by Ramon Vanden Brulle
FALL CITY Washington Trout, a wild-fish conservation group, is seeking volunteers to help return threatened chinook salmon to upper Tokul Creek, a tributary of the Snoqualmie River. With the cooperation of the Washington Departments of Transportation and Fish and Wildlife, the Tulalip Tribes and Weyerhaeuser, Washington Trout is leading an effort to capture chinook in lower Tokul Creek and transport them around an artificial barrier that has blocked fish migration for at least ten years.
The project will continue through November 15, and Washington Trout is seeking up to four volunteers for every weekend between now and the end of the project. Volunteers will assist WDFW personnel to gather the chinook, tag them for later data collection, and release them into productive spawning and rearing habitat upstream of the barrier. The project will improve chinook-spawning success and protect chinook eggs from mortality associated with a large landslide on lower Tokul Creek.
WDFW's Tokul Creek Fish Hatchery has been operating on the banks of lower Tokul Creek since the early 1900s. The diversion dam that sends water into the hatchery ponds has completely blocked chinook and other salmon and trout species from reaching spawning and rearing habitat in upper Tokul Creek for at least ten years, when the dam's fish ladder was destroyed in a flood.
There is some debate about whether the fish ladder had ever been adequate to allow year-round migration of all the salmon species in Tokul Creek.
On September 18, responding to an initiative by Washington Trout, WDFW installed a temporary fish weir in Tokul Creek near its mouth. The weir diverts migrating chinook into the hatchery's outlet stream. Blocked from moving up Tokul Creek, the fish make their way through the smaller outlet stream and into a holding tank/trap.
WDFW and Washington Trout monitor the weir and trap around the clock. Once every weekday, hatchery personnel tag the salmon for identification, gather them into a tank truck, and transport them to a site well upstream of the diversion dam, where they are released back into the creek. Washington Trout is coordinating volunteers to help transport the fish on weekends.
Tokul Creek may have been one of the Snoqualmie River's most important chinook-spawning tributaries. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, from 1974 to 1998, lower Tokul Creek exhibited the highest concentration of chinook spawning redds, or nests, in the Snoqualmie basin, averaging over twice the number of redds per mile as any other tributary in the system. However, the diversion dam crowds the salmon into less than half a mile of lower Tokul Creek. The inability to access habitat above the dam compromises the salmons' spawning success and the survival rate of juvenile fish.
The situation has been exacerbated in the last several years by a large landslide on the high bank opposite the hatchery. Sediments from the slide impact nearly all the available spawning habitat in the lower creek.
Studies conducted last winter by Washington Trout and the Tulalip Tribes indicated that fine sediments deposited by the slide likely resulted in near-100 percent mortality of last year's chinook eggs. The landslide also threatens Hwy 202 above Tokul Creek, and DOT has been examining options to protect the road and stabilize the slide.
WDFW has also been working to restore fish passage at the diversion dam. However, it was clear that neither issue would be resolved in time for this year's chinook spawning season, which generally runs from mid-September through mid-November.
Immediate action needed to be taken. Washington Trout developed and pressed for the trapping and transport plan, to divert the fish away from the areas where their nests would be damaged by the landslide's effects, and move the salmon to the more productive habitats above the diversion dam. The two-year project is being funded largely by DOT, with in-kind contributions of labor and materials from WDFW, the Tulalip Tribes and Weyerhaeuser. Washington Trout is managing and coordinating the effort.
The project will have direct benefits for Tokul Creek's chinook, by increasing this year's spawning success and protecting the salmon eggs from mortality caused by the landslide. It also presents an opportunity to collect data that biologists and managers can use to restore Puget Sound chinook, listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.
Washington Trout believes that improving salmon production in Tokul Creek will require removing the fish-passage barrier at the hatchery. Allowing fish to spawn in the unused habitats above the diversion dam may show how productive those habitats can be.
"This project is an emergency operation, and it will help ensure the
success of this year’s spawning run,” said Kurt Beardslee, Washington Trout
Executive Director. “We applaud DOT and WDFW for stepping up to the plate.
But this is by no means the solution to the problems facing Tokul Creek. The
salmon and trout populations in Tokul Creek will continue to struggle until
the diversion dam is removed or replaced with one that allows fish passage.”
The salmon are being released on a section of Tokul Creek surrounded by
private property, owned by Weyerhaeuser and leased to the Snoqualmie Valley
Rifle Club. Weyerhaeuser and the rifle club have granted access to the
property, and volunteers from Weyerhaeuser are helping in the fish-transport
operation. So far, the project has been trapping and moving about a
half-dozen fish per day. Washington Trout and WDFW expect that number to
increase as the run builds through October and November.
Volunteers are needed from 9:30AM to noon on Saturdays and Sundays, For
more information, or to volunteer, contact Washington Trout at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425/788-1167.
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P.O. Box 402
Duvall WA 98019