Quinault Flooding: Before Clear-Cutting, Watershed Prevented Overflow

Courtesy Quinault NationHighway 109 at Moclips on the Quinault Indian Nation, taken just before 10 a.m. on January 6.
Courtesy Quinault Nation
Highway 109 at Moclips on the Quinault Indian Nation, taken just before 10 a.m. on January 6.


Richard Walker, Indian Country Today, 1/12/15


In its natural state, before the logging and development and riprap, the Quinault River watershed worked like a finely tuned machine.

The north and east forks of the Quinault River flow from headwaters in the Olympic Mountains, meander through temperate rain forest and the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls to Lake Quinault—where returning blueback salmon mature before they head upstream to spawn—and, finally, to the Pacific Ocean. The Quinault River and its tributaries nourish and drain a 188-square-mile watershed.

The river has changed since the time of the grandparents’ grandparents.

“Areas that were clear-cut changed river processes to a greater degree than did areas where only the largest trees were selectively cut,” the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reported in a 2002 study. “After vegetation was removed … the river was free to migrate across the floodplain at a faster rate.”

The more rapidly migrating river “liberated large amounts of sediment that had been stored in bars, vegetated islands, and the floodplain,” the Bureau of Reclamation added.

To protect their homes and property from the force of the rapidly migrating river, riverfront landowners responded “by re-arranging or removing large woody debris and log jams in the river and placing cabled logs and rock riprap along the river bank to prevent erosion,” the Bureau of Reclamation reported. While this worked in some places, it had unanticipated effects downstream.

“In some cases, this has limited [salmon] habitat availability because entrances to side channels become blocked with fill or levees,” the Bureau reported.

Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, who lives at Lake Quinault, said a century of manmade changes on the Quinault River have altered natural river dynamics and ecological processes, diminishing “the popular desire for watersheds to flood within their natural floodplains, and many of the fixes and proposed fixes only make matters worse.”

Sharp believes those modifications are partly responsible for flooding, road washouts and culvert failures that occurred during a storm on January 4–5. Several residents were evacuated, one elder was rescued from a car that stalled on a flooded road, and a school in Taholah was temporarily closed because of flooding. The Quinault Nation issued a disaster-area declaration, spurring the involvement of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“FEMA quickly responded and are working with staff to assess damage,” Sharp reported on January 7. “We sustained damage to a number of interior bridges and logging roads. Our offices and schools reopened today.”

The Quinault will work with FEMA over the next 30 days “to assess damages and financial impacts,” Sharp said, adding that a meeting had been scheduled for January 14. “Our scientists and natural resource staff will be briefing us on environmental impacts. [We] will know more then.”

One thing Sharp knew as she issued the emergency declaration: Any response must address modifications that have made the river more hazardous during storms.

RELATED: Deluge Causes Flooding, Mudslides, State of Emergency on Quinault Reservation

A July 2011 environmental impact assessment, by the Quinault Nation and BIA, of Quinault’s restoration plans for the Upper Quinault River “preferred [the] alternative of installing engineered logjams and restorative planting of conifer and hardwood trees to meet the goals of improving river processes and salmon habitat.”

The Quinault Nation is installing engineered logjams, removing invasive species, and replanting native trees to aid forest regeneration. And between 2000 and 2013, the Quinault Nation spent more than $5 million on river and salmon habitat restoration.

In 2013, the Quinault asked Congress for an investment of $5.79 million over a period of five years for Upper Quinault River restoration; the tribe also asked Washington State—with the Quinault a co-manager of the state’s salmon populations—for an allocation of $2.8 million for continued restoration work on the Upper Quinault River watershed. Those requests were partially funded, according to Quinault Nation spokesman Steve Robinson.

As far as salmon habitat restoration goes, “We have had small local effects, particularly in those areas where we’ve put in structures, such as log jams,” Quinault Nation fisheries senior scientist Larry Gilbertson told Indian Country Today Media Network in 2013. “But in the overall watershed, we’ve only just begun.”

RELATED: Quinault Nation Pushes for Blueback Habitat Restoration Support

And now, the impacts to people and property of those earlier modifications that altered natural river dynamics are being felt.

‘The worst I’ve seen it’

Sharp is accustomed to storms. And she has studied photographs of floods that occurred in Quinault territory 100 years ago. But she had never seen anything like this.

There were reports of landslides and flooding in Quinault territory and in neighboring communities during the January 4–5 storm. Portions of two state routes and U.S. Highway 101 were closed, made treacherous by flooding, debris or washouts.

The Quinault Nation’s administrative offices and a school in Taholah were temporarily closed because of flooding. Quinault’s Property Management Division ordered an emergency inspection of all the Nation’s buildings and infrastructure. Major access roads into Quinault were closed or deemed extremely hazardous.

A portion of road reportedly washed out on the Upper Quinault River, sending debris into salmon spawning habitat. Two nearby rivers, the Moclips and the Queets, also overflowed.

“The Moclips River flooding is the worst I’ve seen it,” Sharp said on January 5. “The Moclips Highway 109 Bridge near Quinault Village, a main access road to and from the Nation, has been washed out and is closed. That is a major problem for [Quinault]. SR 109 could take days to repair. And if our own Moclips Highway needs major repairs, we will have significant commuter problems.”

Various Quinault agencies worked to clear storm drains, evaluate damage, and monitor the wastewater treatment plant in Queets, which was compromised by the overflowing Queets River.

Amid the rain and flooding and landslide and debris, Sharp found reason to be grateful. “We are very happy and relieved to report that, to our knowledge, there has been no loss of life or injury caused by this heavy rain and flooding,” she said at the time.

However, as rain was expected to return during the weekend, Sharp warned, “It is important for people to remain alert for potential slides, lingering flood dangers and infrastructure damage.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/01/12/quinault-flooding-clear-cutting-watershed-prevented-overflow-158657?page=0%2C1

“Being Frank” Tell The Truth

Dave Herrera, Skokomish Fish and Wildlife Policy Advisor
Dave Herrera, Skokomish Fish and Wildlife Policy Advisor


Note: Being Frank is the monthly opinion column that was written for many years by the late Billy Frank Jr., NWIFC Chairman. To honor him, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington will continue to share their perspectives on natural resources management through this column. This month’s writer is Dave Herrera, a Skokomish tribal member who serves as the tribe’s fish and wildlife policy advisor, and who also is an NWIFC commissioner.


By Dave Herrera, Skokomish Fish and Wildlife Policy Advisor

The late NWIFC chairman Billy Frank Jr. left us all many lessons during his time on this earth. One of the most important was also one of the simplest: “Tell the truth.”

But that’s not what the state of Washington is doing when it comes to salmon recovery. You wouldn’t know it from what state government tells us, but the truth is that salmon recovery is failing.

At the center of that truth is the fact that we are losing salmon habitat faster than it can be restored. We cannot recover wild salmon until we stop the bleeding in our watersheds and estuaries.

Another truth is that tribal treaty rights are one of the few things strong enough to stand between all of us and the extinction of wild salmon. We have demonstrated that time and again over the decades.

Most recently, we showed that truth with a victory in the culvert case. We the filed suit in 2001 to force the state to repair hundreds of failing, fish-blocking culverts. These blockages under state roads cut off salmon from hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat. The case was filed as a sub proceeding of the 1974 Boldt decision in U.S. v. Washington that upheld our treaty fishing rights reserved in treaties with the United States.

On March 29, 2013, federal district court Judge Ricardo Martinez confirmed those rights by issuing a permanent injunction. He ordered the state to repair more than 600 of its fish-blocking culverts over the next 17 years. He wanted to “ensure that the State will act expeditiously in correcting the barrier culverts which violate treaty promises.” Martinez noted that funding for the repairs would come from the state’s separate transportation budget, not at the cost of education or other social services.

Judge Martinez clearly ruled that our treaty-reserved right to harvest salmon also includes the right to have those salmon protected so that they are available for harvest. And not only by tribes, but by everyone who lives and fishes in the region.

It’s the same with tribal hatcheries and the 40 million or so salmon they produce every year. Tribal hatchery production makes the pie bigger for all because everyone can harvest those fish.

Without the tribes, the salmon and its habitat would be in far worse shape than it is today. We bring to the table our treaty rights, traditional and scientific knowledge, funding, and a strong cultural commitment to recovering the salmon resource. Everyone benefits from the work we do.

Perhaps most importantly, tribes and our treaty rights bring the rule of federal law to natural resources management. Federal law trumps state law and treaties are protected under the U.S. Constitution as the “supreme law of the land.”

The truth is that tribes aren’t the only beneficiaries of treaty rights. Non-Indians benefit from them as well. Besides sharing the natural resources of the region with the tribes, non-Indians have homes, businesses and schools on lands ceded by the tribes in return for the fishing, hunting and gathering rights tribes reserved in the treaties.

But our treaty rights – and the protection they give to all – are under constant, heavy attack by those who want to close our fisheries, shut down our hatcheries and destroy the salmon’s home. That puts treaty rights at risk for everyone.

We’re all in the same canoe, so let’s tell the truth: salmon recovery is failing. Tribal treaty rights are one of the few things that might keep salmon from disappearing altogether. The tribes will not allow salmon recovery to fail. That is why we must pull together to protect our natural resources and the treaty rights that protect those resources and all of us.

Being Frank: Boeing, Let’s Talk

By Billy Frank, Jr., Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – It was the mid-1980s, and Roy dairy farmer Jim Wilcox was worried.

As an owner of Wilcox Family Farms, one of the largest dairy producers in western Washington at the time, he was concerned how his business would be affected by the activities of a new group called the Nisqually River Task Force. I was part of that task force of tribal, state, federal and local governments, businesses and others charged with developing a management plan for the Nisqually River watershed. The aim of the plan was balanced stewardship of the watershed’s economic, natural and cultural resources.

Fearing that possible environmental regulations in such a plan could put his family farm on the Nisqually River out of business, Wilcox quickly joined the task force to protect his interests. But before that, he teamed up with other large landowners in the watershed – including Weyerhaeuser – to try and shoot down any plan that might be developed.

But those fears melted one day when the task force was touring the watershed and our bus broke down. Waiting for help, Jim and I started talking. I told him that we wanted him to stay in business, but that we needed to protect salmon as well, and that if we worked together, we could come up with a solution.

He agreed to try. Today, Wilcox Family Farms is still in business and the Nisqually River watershed is one of the healthiest in the state. It’s a model of how a watershed can be managed for the benefit of everyone.

About that same time, a war was raging in the woods of Washington. Timber companies, environmental groups, tribes, state and federal agencies, and others were battling each other in court over the effects of timber harvests on fish and wildlife. I asked Stu Bledsoe, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, a forest products industry trade group, to see if his members would be willing to join a cooperative effort to develop a solution for everyone involved.

He agreed to try. After many months of negotiations by all of the parties involved, the result was the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement – now called the Forests and Fish Law – which put an end to the war in the woods with a cooperative science-based management approach that ensures a healthy timber industry while also protecting fish and wildlife.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today with the state’s extremely low fish consumption rate that is used to regulate pollution in our waters. The lower the rate, the higher the level of pollutants allowed.

Washington has one of the highest populations of seafood consumers, but uses one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the country to control water pollution. State government is quick to admit that the current rate of 6.5 grams of seafood per day – about one 8-ounce serving a month – does not protect most Washington citizens from toxins in our waters that can cause illness or death.

That fact is especially true for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as recreational fishermen and others who eat more seafood than most. For us tribes, fish and shellfish have always been basis of our cultures. Our treaty-reserved harvest rights depend on those resources being safe to eat.

Oregon recently increased its fish consumption rate to 175 grams per day, the most protective rate in the U.S. We think everyone in Washington deserves at least that level of protection.

Sadly, the effort to adopt a more accurate fish consumption rate has become one of the biggest public policy battles in the country, pitting human health against the economy. Some industry leaders such as Boeing are digging in their heels to delay or kill rule-making on a more accurate rate because they say it will increase their cost of doing business.

To find a solution, Gov. Jay Inslee has put together an informal advisory group of tribes, local governments, businesses, environmental organizations and others to help resolve the issue. That group met for the first time recently, and although Boeing was invited, the company chose not to participate.

That’s too bad, because I would have told them that we don’t want Boeing to leave the state or go out of business. We want them to keep making planes here in western Washington, but at the same time we have to protect the health of everyone who lives here by adopting a more realistic fish consumption rate. I also would have told them about Jim Wilcox and Stu Bledsoe and the many great things that can be accomplished when we sit down together to solve a shared problem.