Chief Joseph Hatchery: A promise from the past holds promise for the future

Little Miss Sunflower Emma Hall presents tribal fisherman Art Seyler with a hat during the opening ceremonies for the Chief Joseph Hatchery on Thursday. Seyler was one of several elder tribal fishermen honored during the event, which drew hundreds of people from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, several other tribes, and numerous state and federal agencies.
Little Miss Sunflower Emma Hall presents tribal fisherman Art Seyler with a hat during the opening ceremonies for the Chief Joseph Hatchery on Thursday. Seyler was one of several elder tribal fishermen honored during the event, which drew hundreds of people from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, several other tribes, and numerous state and federal agencies.

BRIDGEPORT — Hundreds came Thursday to celebrate the new, $50 million hatchery, its concrete raceways, its incubation building, its state-of-the-art plans to raise and release 2.9 million chinook salmon while protecting their wild cousins.

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation officially opened the Chief Joseph Hatchery bordering the southwest corner of their reservation.

Funded by ratepayers through the Bonneville Power Administration along with Grant, Douglas and Chelan County PUDs, the new facility is expected to bring thousands more spring and summer chinook back to the upper Columbia River for both tribal and non-tribal fishermen.

Those who gathered for opening ceremonies spoke largely about the history of events that led to this day, hailed as the fulfillment of a promise made by the U.S. government before the Great Depression.

First, a traditional salmon song and then tribal members caught the hatchery’s first salmon using a pole net.

Whooping cries and large smiles erupted as the salmon was laid on the aluminum platform, then filleted at a table nearby, its eggs and innards tossed back to the Columbia below.

After the riverside ceremony, tribal fishermen were honored, many speaking of times when the fish were abundant, and shared by all.

It was this place where Colville tribal fishermen came to fish after the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, and later Chief Joseph Dam — just across the river. The dams erased Kettle Falls, one of the largest fishing spots on the Columbia River, where tribes from around the region gathered yearly.

With no fish passage, the dams were barriers to spawning salmon, which still return each year to the concrete wall that prevents them from completing their journey.

So fishermen came here to fish from the rocks, and the bridge, or the wall below the dam.


World photo/K.C. Mehaffey


Freshly caught salmon was cooked and dried using traditional methods at opening ceremonies for the Chief Joseph Hatchery on Thursday. Hundreds of people came to celebrate the new facility, which will produce nearly 3 million smolts for release.

“If you needed something, we all shared,” said Lionel Orr, who had offered up the morning’s salmon song. “It was like a community. If I had fishing line, or hooks, I’d give it to you. It was really a good experience.”

Mel “Bugs Hook ‘Em In The Lips” Toulou recalled being accepted into the clan after catching his first salmon on a ten-foot bamboo pole. “What you feel down here is the brotherhood, and the family that you gain,” he said. They used to catch 50 and 60 pound fish, he said, and their fathers and grandfathers reeled in 100-pounders. Today, the salmon average 25 pounds he said.

Ernie Williams recalled catching 750 pounds of salmon in 72 hours once. And then giving it away to elders on their way home. He praised the rain as “soul cleansing,” and said his mother, Mary Marchand, and other elders who had passed on were there with them. “Those past fishermen too. I know they’re all here, and they’re smiling, too.”

Officials, too, spoke of the past.

John Smith, the first director of the Colville Tribe’s Fish and Wildlife Department, talked about the collaborative effort it took to build the hatchery, with not only the tribes, but state and federal agencies, PUDs and the support of other tribes.

He said he hopes people aren’t upset when they see tribal members catching these new hatchery salmon from boats or scaffolds, using nets or spears.

“What you’ve got to remember is, we’ve been denied a lot of good fisheries for a lot of years,” he said. “I’ve seen the devastation that’s been caused,” he said.

Fish were once 50 percent of their diet, and the dams cut off that food source for so many, he said. “That was like cutting you off from Safeway or Walmart. That’s what it did to our people.”

Federal officials also spoke of the impact that these dams without fish passage had on tribal people, and the promises made to for another hatchery.

Tom Karier, a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, said an old document of an 1800s missionary near Kettle Falls revealed that it was not uncommon for tribal fishermen to catch 1,000 fish a day, or count hundreds of salmon jumping out of the water on their way upstream.

“We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “Today, we celebrate significant progress.”


World photo/K.C. Mehaffey

Sneena Brooks, Robbie Stafford and Dan Edwards were among the drummers singing an honor song for elder tribal fishermen at the opening of the Chief Joseph Hatchery on Thursday.

Leroy Williams, a tribal fisherman who is teaching others the old ways of fishing with hoop nets and dip nets, recalled discovering the letter from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for a fourth hatchery while sorting through papers for the tribe’s fish and wildlife department. The Great Depression and World War II delayed the project, and he promise had been forgotten until they rediscovered this letter.

Hatcheries had been built at Leavenworth, Entiat and Winthrop, but this one was delayed by the Great Depression and World War II, and then forgotten.

The new hatchery is located on 15 acres owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the north bank of the Columbia River, just downstream of Chief Joseph Dam. The complex includes 40 raceways, three rearing ponds, and three acclimation ponds. It draws water from wells and the reservoir behind the dam, known as Rufus Woods Lake.

Colville Tribal Chairman John Sirois expressed gratitude for all the support from tribal members and former council members, agencies, and other tribes.

“This is truly humbling, and a day that we’ll remember forever,” he said.


Related: New Chief Joseph Salmon Hatchery: Restoring the Runs, Restoring the Culture

Elsewhere on the Columbia River, the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama tribes began commercial sales from their summer fishery on June 17, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission announced.

“This is the first significant commercial fishery of 2013,” the commission said in a media release. “Pre-season forecasts estimate 73,500 summer chinook and 180,500 sockeye. Depending on the actual run sizes, Indian fishers may harvest approximately 20,000 summer chinook and 12,000 sockeye, most of which will be sold commercially.”



Spoils of the Sea Elude Many in an Alaska Antipoverty Plan

“You eat from one bowl,” said Ivan M. Ivan, 67, a tribal leader in Akiak, quoting the Yup’ik Eskimo cultural adage about sharing resources, in good times and bad. “That didn’t happen.”
“You eat from one bowl,” said Ivan M. Ivan, 67, a tribal leader in Akiak, quoting the Yup’ik Eskimo cultural adage about sharing resources, in good times and bad. “That didn’t happen.”

Kirk Johnson and Lee Van Der Voo, The New York Times

AKIAK, Alaska — The humble pollock, great cash fish of the north, conquered the world through the flaky bland hegemony of a fish stick. At more than $1 billion a year, there is no bigger fishery for human consumption on the planet.

But pollock was also meant to be a savior, part of a Washington-backed antipoverty plan aimed at residents here on Alaska’s mostly undeveloped west coast. A generation ago, organizers envisioned federally guaranteed shares of the pollock catch that would create a rising tide of funds to lift up poor, isolated villages where jobs and hope are scarce.

Pollock did succeed, wildly. The dollars that flowed into the Community Development Quota Program, as the catch-share system was called, created a hydra-headed nonprofit money machine. Six nonprofit groups arose on the Bering Sea shore, and they have invested mightily in ships, real estate and processing plants. Over two decades, the groups amassed a combined net worth of $785 million.

But the results on the ground, in rural community and economic development, have been deeply uneven, and nonexistent for many people who still gaze out to the blinking lights of the factory ships and wonder what happened.

“You eat from one bowl,” said Ivan M. Ivan, 67, chief of the native community here in Akiak, quoting the Yup’ik Eskimo cultural adage about shared resources. “That didn’t happen.”

Collectively, the groups created tens of thousands of jobs and scholarships in one of the poorest regions of the nation. But critics say that community development, over time, got lost in a push toward institutional sustainability — and in some cases lavish salaries for leaders. Deregulation became self-regulation with a board of overseers appointed by the groups themselves the only real watchdog in recent years.

Meanwhile, a lopsided division of spoils among the groups has festered into a conflict that some Alaskans fear could unravel the catch-share project itself, which has done much good, they say, despite its flaws. In 2011, according to the most recent figures, one group with a small population got nearly 22 times more revenue per resident than another, larger group, based on allocation formulas locked in by Congress in 2006.

The fate of places like Akiak, a village of 350 people about 400 miles west of Anchorage, was dictated by a political compromise two decades ago, when a line was drawn 50 miles from the Bering Sea. Villages inside the line got pollock money. Akiak’s rutted dirt roads and 80 percent unemployment rate, residents said, bespeak its outsider status, 20 miles from that border.

Residents of Napaskiak, by contrast, a village of similar size 24 miles away, get scholarships, free firewood, free tax assistance and subsidized boat motors, all courtesy of the local catch-share group, the Coastal Villages Region Fund, which also buys halibut and herring from local fishermen.

The rules were hard but necessary, said Dick Tremaine, an economist who was a consultant to the state in the early 1990s. “This was a social engineering experiment that had not yet existed,” he said.

But even communities within the line have seen uneven development.

The federal health clinic in the village of Teller, for example, in Alaska’s northwest corner, went months without toilets last year after its septic system failed. Doctors and patients used five-gallon buckets instead, then stacked them in the street. Worse still, there were often not enough buckets to go around. Cardboard boxes, lined with plastic bags, then had to suffice.

Teller is not unique: 10 of 15 villages dotting the tundra along the Bering Sea outside of Nome — all within the catch-share system — do not have complete sewer service or running water.

“I can understand how C.D.Q.’s, in the early years, focused on the development of businesses,” said Ed Backus, vice president for fisheries at Ecotrust, an economic development group in Portland, Ore., that works in Alaska, referring to the Community Development Quota Program. “But over time as those revenue streams really bulked up, which they have, I think it’s important to remember the main mission of C.D.Q.’s is to really improve life in the villages.”

Spokesmen for the nonprofit groups agreed that not every village has seen the same benefits.

Part of the problem is geography, said Simon Kinneen, vice president and chief operating officer of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, which covers the northern corner of the catch-share region, including Teller. “Developing fisheries and economies in our member communities that do not have reasonable access to commercially viable fish species is difficult at best,” he said in an e-mail.

A spokesman for the Coastal Villages Region Fund, Dawson Hoover, conceded that much more work should be done.

Under that guise, Coastal Villages, the largest of the groups by population, with about 9,300 residents, began an effort last year to get Congress to change how pollock and other fish are apportioned in western Alaska — to a formula based on population.

The shift would greatly increase Coastal’s clout and income, and the effort is creating sharp conflict with other groups that could get less. “The groups with the largest amount of people receive less fish per person,” Mr. Hoover said. “It’s just not fair.”

Many native subsistence fishermen, meanwhile, say the pollock trawlers inadvertently catch too many salmon. Dozens were cited by state game wardens last summer — and faced emotional legal proceedings this spring — for setting their nets on the Kuskokwim River in violation of an emergency fishing ban.

Joe Garnie, a former mayor of Teller, and a board member of the Norton Sound group, said fairness depends on where you look. Imagine what might happen, he said, if a lack of plumbing had led to similar unsanitary conditions in a clinic in, say, Detroit. “In 15 minutes there would be a federal investigation,” he said. “Why isn’t there one here?”

Part of the answer to Mr. Garnie’s question, is that the program grew up without a yardstick, according to people who were involved in its early years. And as each nonprofit group went its way, one-size-fits all measurements no longer applied.

Coastal Villages became a vertically integrated seafood company. The Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, another catch-share group, developed a separate economic plan for each village. In Norton Sound, benefits were delivered mostly in the form of community grants and scholarships, sending hundreds of Alaskans to college every year and helping villages operate.

Federal rules are loose, requiring only that the groups spend 80 percent of their money in fisheries. And in 2006, Congress stepped back even further, allowing the groups to regulate themselves, with reviews from Washington every decade. But in the first 10-year review, even the self-regulating catch-share oversight board in Alaska said the data measuring changes in poverty and quality of life in the villages was not meaningful.

But there is no doubt that guaranteed pollock shares — later extended to include, crab, pacific cod, halibut and other fish — created a new empire. Coastal Villages now owns an entire fishing fleet based in Seattle and Alaska. The Bristol Bay group owns half of the seafood giant Ocean Beauty. The Glacier Fish Company, based in Seattle, is partly owned by fish-quota groups. Four groups also invested in publicly traded securities, totaling $134 million in 2011, or 28.8 percent of their net assets. Salaries for top executives, meanwhile, have ranged in recent years from $69,503 to $832,367.

The oversight board said in a recent report that in its first 19 years, the program distributed $521 million in wages, training and benefits. But the region’s troubles drag on. Of 65 communities within the 50-mile boundary, including Teller, 38 are still listed as “distressed” at the Denali Commission, a federal agency that focuses on Alaska’s remote communities.

Joel Neimeyer, co-chairman of the Denali Commission, said it would be impossible for one program to solve Alaska’s rural problems. The process of giving people training for jobs, for example can, in a perverse way, create a brain drain that leaves communities ever more locked in struggle. People leave and get a taste of the outside world. “A lot of them just never go back,” Mr. Neimeyer said.


This article was written in cooperation with InvestigateWest, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization based in Seattle that covers the Pacific Northwest.

Supreme Court sides with tribes in Arizona voting rights case

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with tribal interests today in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, a voting rights case.

By a vote of 7-2, the court held that certain provisions of Proposition 200 are pre-empted by federal law. That means the state can’t ask people to prove their U.S. citizenship when they register to vote.

The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona and the Hopi Tribe were among the plaintiffs that challenged the law. The tribes want to protect the voting rights of members who were born in the U.S. but might lack proper documentation.

The National Voter Registration Act already asks about citizenship, the Supreme Court noted. So the state’s requirement conflicts with federal law.

“We conclude that the fairest reading of the statute is that a state-imposed requirement of evidence of citizenship not required by the federal form is ‘inconsistent with’ the NVRA’s mandate that states ‘accept and use’ the federal form,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.

Supreme Court Decision:
Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (June 17, 2013)

Supreme Court Oral Argument Transcript:
Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona v. Arizona (March 18, 2013)

9th Circuit Decision:
Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona v. Arizona (April 17, 2012)

Related Stories:
Supreme Court takes up tribal challenge to Arizona voter law (3/19)
Supreme Court set to hear tribal challenge to Arizona voter law (3/12)
Editorial: Voting Rights Act necessary to prevent discrimination (3/12)
Supreme Court to review Arizona voter law that tribes oppose (10/16)

Tribes monitor Puget Sound for toxins

Nisqually natural resources technician Jimsan Dunstan samples water at Johnson Point in Olympia.
Nisqually natural resources technician Jimsan Dunstan samples water at Johnson Point in Olympia.

– Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Jamestown S’Klallam, Nisqually and Stillaguamish tribes are participating in the SoundToxins monitoring program to provide early warning of harmful algal blooms (HAB) and outbreaks of bacteria that could sicken humans.

“We want to make sure shellfish are safe to consume, not just for tribal members, but for all seafood consumers,” said Sue Shotwell, shellfish farm manager for the Nisqually Tribe.

During the shellfish growing season from March to October, tribal natural resources staff sample seawater weekly at designated sites. Additional sites across Puget Sound are monitored for toxin-producing algae by various citizen beach watchers, shellfish farmers, educational institutions and state government agencies. The monitoring results are posted in an online database.

The SoundToxins program helps narrow down the places where shellfish should be sampled for toxins, which is more expensive and time-consuming than testing the water.

“Just because we find algae that produce toxins doesn’t necessarily mean there are toxins in the seafood, but it could mean there will be soon,” said Stillaguamish marine and shellfish biologist Franchesca Perez. “If high numbers of an HAB species are found, then a sample of the water is sent to SoundToxins for further analysis, and appropriate parties are contacted to protect consumers and growers. We also look for Heterosigma, a flagellated plankton that causes fish kills.”

The Stillaguamish Tribe is sampling Kayak Point in Port Susan. Nisqually is monitoring the water at Johnson Point in Olympia, and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is taking its samples from the dock at Sequim Bay State Park, a popular shellfish harvesting site.

“Sequim Bay has had a number of harmful algal blooms historically,” said Neil Harrington, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe environmental biologist. “When we see the phytoplankton cells increase in the water column, we know to start increasing shellfish sampling for toxins.”

All three types of plankton that cause HABs in Puget Sound have been measured at toxic levels in Sequim Bay.

“The SoundToxins program aims to provide sufficient warning of HAB and Vibrio events to enable early or selective harvesting of seafood, thereby minimizing risks to human health and reducing economic losses to Puget Sound fisheries,” said Sound Toxins program director Vera Trainer of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

SoundToxins is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Science Center, Washington Sea Grant and the Washington Department of Health.

State appeals federal ruling on salmon-blocking culverts

State officials have said the ruling, part of a decades-old legal battle tied to treaties dating to the mid-1800s, could cost billions of dollars — money the state doesn’t have.

– Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is appealing a federal ruling ordering the state to fix culverts that block salmon passages.

The state on Tuesday filed a notice of appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the March 29 U.S. District Court ruling by Judge Ricardo Martinez that set up a timeline to fix hundreds of culverts around the state.

“The state remains committed to doing more to address fish passage barriers and will continue to do so as resources permit. The implications of the case, however, stretch beyond culverts. Issues of this magnitude deserve full and thoughtful appellate review,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson in a statement.

State officials have said the ruling could cost billions of dollars — money the state doesn’t have.

The Martinez ruling is part of a decades-old legal battle tied to treaties dating to the mid-1800s. Tribes say the state has blocked salmon passage and contributed to the decline of fish harvests.

More than 20 tribes signed up for the legal action, including the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakama Indian Nation, Tulalip Tribes, Makah Nation and Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

Culverts are often built under roadways to allow streams to flow under them.

Martinez ordered the state to fix approximately 180 culverts on recreational lands by 2016 and more than 800 culverts under the Department of Transportation by 2030.

State agencies told lawmakers in April that the ruling would cost more than $2.4 billion. The state could meet the repair deadline imposed by Martinez, if the money is provided

Martinez said in his decision that the tribes have been harmed economically, socially, educationally and culturally because of reduced salmon harvests caused by state barriers that prevent fish passage. He compared spending on culvert correction with the overall Department of Transportation budget and said the state has the financial ability to accelerate the pace of its fixes over the next several years.

Sovereign Nations Walk Out of Meeting With U.S. State Department Unanimously Rejecting Keystone XL Pipeline

Source: Huffington Post

The State Department, still with “egg on its face” from its statement that Keystone XL would have little impact on climate change, sunk a little lower today as the most respected elders, and chiefs of 10 sovereign nations turned their backs on State Department representatives and walked out during a meeting. The meeting, which was a failed attempt at a “nation to nation” tribal consultation concerning the Keystone XL Pipeline neglected to address any legitimate concerns being raised by First Nations Leaders (or leading scientific experts for that matter).

Climate Science Watch, The EPA and most people with common sense rebuked the State Department’s initial report and today First Nations sent a very clear message to President Obama and the world concerning the future fate of their land regarding Keystone XL.

Vice president for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation Jim Lyon said of the department’s original analysis that it “fails in its review of climate impacts, threats to endangered wildlife like whooping cranes and woodland caribou, and the concerns of tribal communities.” Today tribal nations added probably the most critical danger of the pipeline which is to the water. Their statement is below:

On this historic day of May 16, 2013, ten sovereign Indigenous nations maintain that the proposed TransCanada/Keystone XL pipeline does not serve the national interest and in fact would be detrimental not only to the collected sovereigns but all future generations on planet earth. This morning the following sovereigns informed the Department of State Tribal Consultation effort at the Hilton Garden Inn in Rapid City, SD, that the gathering was not recognized as a valid consultation on a “nation to nation” level:Southern Ponca
Pawnee Nation
Nez Perce Nation

And the following Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires People):

Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate
Ihanktonwan Dakota (Yankton Sioux)
Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Oglala Sioux Tribe
Standing Rock Tribe
Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Crow Creek Sioux Tribe

The Great Plains Tribal Chairmans Association supports this position, which is in solidarity with elected leaders, Treaty Councils and the grassroots community, and is guided by spiritual leaders. On Saturday, May 18, the Sacred Pipe Bundle of the Oceti Sakowin will be brought out to pray with the people to stop the KXL pipeline, and other tribal nation prayer circles will gather to do the same.

Pursuant to Executive Order 13175, the above sovereigns directed the DOS to invite President Obama to engage in “true Nation to Nation” consultation with them at the nearest date, at a designated location to be communicated by each of the above sovereigns. After delivering that message, the large contingent of tribal people walked out of the DOS meeting and asked the other tribal people present to support this effort and to leave the meeting. Eventually all remaining tribal representatives and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers left the meeting at the direct urging of the grassroots organization Owe Aku. Owe Aku, Moccasins on the Ground, and Protect the Sacred are preparing communities to resist the Keystone XL pipeline through Keystone Blockade Training.

This unprecedented unity of tribes against the desecration of Ina Maka (Mother Earth) was motivated by the signing on January 25, 2013, of the historic International Treaty to Protect the Sacred Against the Tar Sands. Signatories were the Pawnee Nation, the Ponca Nation, the Ihanktonwan Dakota and the Oglala Lakota. Since then ten First Nations Chiefs in Canada have signed the Treaty to protect themselves against tar sands development in Canada.

The above sovereigns notify President Obama to consult with each of them because of the following:

The nations have had no direct role in identifying and evaluating cultural resources.

The nations question the status of the programmatic agreement and how it may or may not be amended.

The nations are deeply concerned about potential pipeline impacts on natural resources, especially our water: potential spills and leaks, groundwater and surface water contamination.

The nations have no desire to contribute to climate change, to which the pipeline will directly contribute.

The nations recognize that the pipeline will increase environmental injustice, disproportionately impacting native communities.

The nations deplore the environmental impacts of tar sands mining being endured by tribes in Canada. The pipeline would service the tar sands extractive industry.

The nations insist that their treaty rights be respected⎯the pipeline would violate them.

The nations support an energy policy that promotes renewables and efficiency instead of one that features fossil fuels.

The nations regard the consultation process as flawed in favor of corporate interests.
The sovereigns of these nations contend that it is not in America’s interest to facilitate and contribute to environmental devastation on the scale caused by the extraction of tar sands in Canada. America would be better served by a comprehensive program to reduce its reliance on oil, and to invest in the development and deployment of sustainable energy technologies, such as electric vehicles that are charged using solar and wind power.

If the Keystone XL pipeline is allowed to be built, TransCanada, a Canadian corporation, would be occupying sacred treaty lands as reserved in the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties. It will be stopped by unified resistance.


To sanctify their solidarity with The Lubicon Lake First Nation of Canada, who are the traditional stewards of the land that 70% of the tar sands oil sit on, along with tribes across Canada and The United States, Chief Arvol Lookinghorse has called for a day of prayer everywhere on May 18, 2013. Chief Lookinghorse, The 19th Generation Keeper of The Sacred White Buffalo Bundle, has stated,

“I am asking ‘All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer’ to help us during this time of this gathering by praying with us on this day wherever you are upon Mother Earth. We need to stop the desecration that is hurting Mother Earth and the communities. These recent spills of oil are affecting the blood of Mother Earth; Mni wic’oni (water of life).”

Gatherings are being planned all over the world in solidarity during the weekend including one outside the UN at Isaiah’s Wall in NYC on, May 17th.

We all know that we are living in unprecedented times. We just surpassed 400ppm CO2 in the atmosphere for the first time in 10 million years, the planet is warming and we humans must bear the responsibility of our actions and their effects on the environment. What we do, and what we don’t do will effect the generations to follow. A better world is possible.

Tribes monitor Hooper Creek after culvert removal

A cutthroat trout is counted and measured in newly accessible habitat in Hooper Creek.
A cutthroat trout is counted and measured in newly accessible habitat in Hooper Creek.

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission,

When Sierra Pacific replaced an inadequate culvert with a 45-foot bridge over a tributary to the Skagit River, enough sediment had accumulated behind the fish barrier to fill 30 dump trucks.

Biologists with the Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC) monitored the channel, habitat quality and fish distribution before and after the 2008 culvert removal in Hooper Creek near Concrete. SRSC is the natural resources management arm of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes.

As the landowner, forest products company Sierra Pacific is required to fix culverts that block fish passage.

Forest and fish biologist Mike Olis was pleasantly surprised to discover an increase in habitat quality downstream of the project area. A year after the bridge was built, Olis counted almost three times the number of the large pools (with at least 3 square feet of surface area and 1 foot of residual depth) fish need to feed, rest and stay cool.

“We were expecting some pool-filling from the released sediment,” he said. “The increase in pools is good for the fish.”

Hooper Creek’s resident cutthroat trout quickly took advantage of the newly accessible habitat. In 2009, a year after the project was completed, surveys found 23 trout above the new bridge, including one as far as about a half mile upstream. In 2010, there were 137 fish. Of those 101 were younger than one year.

Coho also spawn in Hooper Creek, but year-to-year spawner surveys don’t necessarily reflect changes in habitat following the culvert removal because run sizes vary. More coho were seen spawning after fish passage was restored, but there also was a larger coho run that year. What the numbers do show, however, is that the release of 300 cubic yards of sediment didn’t have a negative effect on coho spawning.

For more information, contact: Mike Olis, SRSC biologist, or 360-708-2809; Kari Neumeyer, NWIFC information officer, 360-424-8226 or