Readying for restoration

Spearheaded by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, restoration at the Pysht River Conservation Area is set to begin late summer 2017. The 74-acre Conservation Area owned by North Olympic Land Trust is one of four access points to the river and its surrounding floodplain targeted for restoration.

Originally the project was scheduled to occur during the summer/fall of 2016, but permit restrictions related to fish activity caused a delay.

Because the Conservation Area is the final restoration site of the project, crews aren’t expected to begin work until late summer. However, in order to prepare, materials such as wood and rock will be staged at the Conservation Area throughout the summer. The staged materials and equipment should not impact public access to the Pysht River Conservation Area, but once work begins, the area could experience temporary public closures.

In preparation for and during the work to restore the river’s habitat and surrounding floodplain, visitors can expect the property to look somewhat disturbed, including construction of short-term access roads. Mike McHenry, habitat biologist for Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and his crew are taking precautions to avoid critical habitat and ecologically important areas. All restoration work was timed around when fish activity within the river is at its lowest, and revegetation of disturbed areas will follow.

A total of 36 complex wood structures (often referred to as “engineered log jams”) will be installed. Of those 36, 12 are slated for installation within the Conservation Area. Via the installation of such structures, McHenry aims to restore instream and floodplain habitat conditions to facilitate salmon recovery, improve water quality and reduce risk of flooding on State Route 112. Upon completion of the project, nearly 2 miles of the Pysht River will be restored.

“We started planning for this project about six years ago,” he said. “It’s a joint effort between the Lower Elwa Klallam and Makah tribes.”

In the past, logging had occurred along much of the river’s banks triggering “channel incision,” (The process of down-cutting into a stream channel leading to a decrease in the channel bed elevation) and disconnect between the river and its floodplain, McHenry explained.

Pysht River

Fortunately, logging practices have since changed to better protect the river and its natural processes, but McHenry and his crew are trying to “accelerate the recovery until the trees are large enough to do it.”

The Pysht River supports populations of Chinook, Coho and Chum salmon, as well as Steelhead and Cutthroat Trout. Of these populations, Chinook are considered “chronically depressed,” Chum are “declining” and Coho are “below potential,” according to the project grant application submitted to the Washington Department of Ecology.

For additional questions about the restoration project, please contact North Olympic Land Trust at (360) 417-1815.