Logs help improve fish habitat in Central Washington

Washington forest landowners‘ leading role in improving salmon habitat received attention this year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Washington must replace hundreds of road culverts that block salmon passage. A new project in Kittitas and Yakima counties is shedding light on how logs themselves can help fish.

The “Wood Fiesta” project, led by Yakama Nation Fisheries, as well as state and federal leaders, the Nature Conservancy and private landowners, is using a helicopter to place thousands of logs into seven tributaries of the Yakima River.

The purpose of the project is to restore and enhance stream habitats by creating log jam conditions along floodplains. Such conditions help create ideal habitats for fish spawning, promote more abundant habitats for both large and small fish as well as aquatic insects and helps recharge ground water. The project aims to reverse 100 years of impacts that have reduced natural wood placement in streambeds.

The log project is coordinated with local forest thinning so forest health is boosted along with the fish habitat.

(Yakama Nation Fisheries Habitat Biologist Ashton Bunce) said when possible, the project tried to source the wood, estimated at over 5,000 logs from land managed by The Nature Conservancy and WDFW. She said partnering agencies are working to thin smaller, less dominant trees to make the forest more resilient against wildfires.

“We try to partner with them and get those trees from them when they’re doing that type of forest health thinning project,” she said. “We use those trees for our restoration work and so it’s sort of a win-win for both the forest and the streams.”

The Wood Fiesta is a “massive undertaking” that is a sight to behold in person, according to the Ellensburg Daily Record.

The sound is both unmistakable and awe-inspiring.

A Columbia Helicopters Vertol 107-II appears over the ridgeline carrying an impressive load of logs. Technicians with Yakama Nation Fisheries wait on the ground along with crew from Columbia Helicopters for the payload to be placed in strategic locations marked by ribbons along the streambed of Swauk Creek. The pilot peers out of a viewing turret on the side of the helicopter while he places the logs with pinpoint precision. He releases the coupling connecting the chokers to the tow line and the logs find their ultimate resting place in the creek. The ground crew removes the chokers and ribbons, examines the resting place of the logs and moves on to the next location.