Relocating Taholah

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

As a member of the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN), I spent the majority of my childhood summers in Taholah at my grandparent’s house while my parents worked throughout the summer. My grandparents lived right at the heart of the lower village. Many of my childhood memories occurred in Taholah. Playing backyard baseball with all of my cousins, daily trips to the mouth of the Quinault River with my auntie, bike rides with my sister throughout the reservation, lighting fireworks on the beach and enjoying good food and times served up at the many family functions at the community center. In my adolescent years, I worked for the Quinault newspaper, the Nugguam, where the offices had an amazing view of the river, located directly across the street. My mother, my grandparents and countless others created priceless memories in the lower village and have lived there for nearly their entire lives. It’s heart wrenching to learn that at any given moment the entire lower village could be washed away. 

“The last huge cataclysmic earthquake happened on January 24, 1700. The Quinault or Makah didn’t have records, but the Japanese kept good records,” states QIN Senior Planner, Kelsey Moldenke. “From that, they were able to extrapolate back to when it exactly happened. That’s three hundred and thirteen years ago, these quakes happen every three to five hundred years. We’ve already passed that three-hundred-year threshold, so the biggest threat to the village is a tsunami.” 

Kelsey Moldenke, Quinault Indian Nation Senior Planner

Schools along the coast, throughout Grays Harbor County, practice tsunami evacuation drills in case they ever need to transport students to higher ground. Tsunami evacuation routes are posted throughout the highways as coastal communities including Ocean Shores, Seabrook and Westport are all at high-risk. Many of the small towns have only one or two roads leading away from the ocean. Several of my classmates would often scoff at the idea of a tsunami ever occurring during our lifetime. One classmate even stayed home while his entire family evacuated during one of a few red tsunami alerts. Tsunamis, for some reason, always seemed somewhat farfetched. However, the Quinault Nation is currently in the planning process of creating an entire new village that is out of the tsunami danger zone, preparing for a tidal wave that may not be as far away as we once thought.  

 “We have the Cascadia subduction zone off of the coast, about fifty miles,” says Kelsey. “It’s geologically similar to the area off Indonesia, which back in 2005 had that big quake and tsunami that wiped out two hundred and fifty thousand people. There’s six hundred and fifty people and one hundred and seventy homes in the lower village, so we need to get people up the hill and out of danger in case of a disaster.” 

Relocating all of Taholah’s lower village community members and programs will be no easy feat. In fact, the planning department envisions completing the entire project within twenty to twenty-five years, depending on a number of variables such as funding and convincing the community to leave their current homes. When creating the plan for the new village, QIN also had to include the programs that are currently located in the lower village as well as the cultural museum, the Taholah Mercantile, post office, community center and the school. 

“We wanted to have a central road with the mercantile, the bank, the post office and other offices,” Kelsey said while describing the relocation plan.  “We have the museum at the heart of the community to keep the culture right there in the center. And also a new community center at the top of the hill where you would be able to have better space. The community center will probably be a little oversized, we’ll have extra showers and we added some storage for cots and tents, so that it could serve as the emergency evacuation area.

“The school’s plan was in place before I got here,” he continues. “The school is owned by the state, it’s not a BIA school, so it’s going to be harder to fund. I think the state will pay up to twenty percent of the new school, otherwise it’s up to local jurisdiction. Somehow we’d have to come with forty million dollars to pay for that school. Those funds could come through congressional appropriation or a big loan because that’s by far the most expensive building we’d be looking at and it’s not totally within the Nation’s control.” 

The new village will also include a central park, cottages for elders, apartments for college students and single adults, and tiny houses for the homeless population as well as people who are returning to the community from recovery. If a disaster were to take place, the QIN planning department took measures to ensure the sustainability of the community. 

“In the case of the quake and the tsunami, Taholah is by itself,” says Kelsey. “There’s one road in and there’s one powerline in and they both go through the tsunami zone on the beach. So having the best shelter in place was the goal of this project. We talked to Grays Harbor PUD and it would take six months to two years to get power restored in Taholah. Being at the end of the line, we’re the last ones to get served out here. How do we maintain at least some power was another goal of this plan. We placed an energy park in the village and a biomass facility. We worked with some federal agencies and with a non-profit group on incorporating solar into the neighborhoods. That may not take care of all the power needs for the village but it would keep the lights on for some of the day and the refrigeration going. And with the biomass, we’re looking at doing the district heating system where it would basically boil water and then you would take the heat from the boiled water and heat the clinic, the Admin Building and the Generations Building.”

The Generations Building is essentially the first step in implementing the relocation. The Generations Building will unite the elders and the babies of Taholah, combining the senior program and the Taholah Early Head Start, Head Start and day care programs into one building. Although the tribe hopes for much interaction between the generations, Kelsey explained that the idea behind the Generations Building is to protect the community’s most vulnerable populations. The new building will also serve as Taholah’s evacuation facility until the new community center is completed. 

The Generations Building is currently in the process of architectural development and if approved by the Nation, could begin construction as early as next year. After the Generations Building is complete, the next phase will be constructing the first neighborhood of the village, with spaces for both small and large families.

QIN will then focus their attention on relocating the Queets Village, located near Lake Quinault and home to a number of Quinault tribal members.

“We asked, how’s the tsunami going to affect Queets, and found that all of the lower village of Queets will also possibly be wiped out. We’re working on a plan for Queets, we’ll also be building a Generations Building for them, which could also serve as the evacuation center.”

 Kelsey believes the relocation of Taholah and Queets will happen over a number of years and in phases, alternating projects between the two new villages. In addition to the tsunami, QIN has to think about how climate change will continue to affect Taholah through sea level rise and beach erosion. 

Funding remains a concern for the project at the moment because many communities haven’t had to move an entire village to higher ground for the safety of their people during this modern age. In earlier years, Indigenous communities would be able to move about the land more freely, today the tribes face more challenges such as property ownership and the cost of construction. Since working on this project with QIN, Kelsey has come into contact with two tribes, one in Alaska and the other in Louisiana, who are currently experiencing similar situations and are having to relocate. By keeping in contact with those tribes, Kelsey has been able to learn of a couple new resources for funding as well as pick up a few pointers.

Saying good-bye to the entire Taholah village would be extremely hard because of the memories created and shared there. However, QIN is making efforts to protect the culture, the safety of its people and ensuring the future of the tribe by beginning to build a safe, new community away from the danger of a tsunami. 

Beavers Star in Tribes’ Fish, Water Conservation Project

Chris Thomas, Public News Service – WA, April 6, 2015

SEATTLE – Sometimes moving to a new neighborhood is the best choice for everyone. That’s the theory behind a research project by the Tulalip Tribes of Washington to relocate beaver families. The critters have become a nuisance in the lowlands but in higher elevations, their hard work can benefit the entire Snohomish watershed.

Ben Dittbrenner is a graduate student of University of Washington Environmental and Forestry Sciences and he’s working with the Tribes to trap and move beavers and study the effects of their dam-building. When less snow is predicted with a changing climate, he says a beaver dam is just the right type of eco-friendly barrier to moderate spring runoff.

“It will just flow right down to Puget Sound and it won’t stay in the system for more than a couple days,” says Dittbrenner. “But if we can trap it high up in the watershed, we can keep it there for months and hopefully continue to keep those systems healthier for a longer period of time.”

This will be the second year for the project. Dittbrenner says one family’s big dam in the pond that is its new home has raised the water level by four feet.

Jason Schilling, the Tribes’ wildlife biologist, says beaver dams are engineering marvels, holding back sediment and creating more complex stream systems and good habitat for fish feeding and spawning. In this part of Washington, he says that’s especially important.

“The Snohomish ecosystem is the second-largest salmon-producing system in Puget Sound and there are some limiting factors for salmon production, the biggest ones are water temperature and sedimentation,” says Schilling. “It just so happens that beavers are very good at fixing those problems.”

Relocation starts again in June. The goal is to trap and move at least ten families. Schilling explains beavers tend to stick together as family units and are more likely to settle into an area and get to work if they arrive together.

The project is one of 22 conservation projects across the country, among 13 Native American Tribes, to receive grant funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Relocation turns pests into assets: Beavers help salmon and ease the impacts of climate change

The beaver are paired up in traps before being transported to their new home. Photo/Niki Cleary
The beaver are paired up in traps before being transported to their new home.
Photo/Niki Cleary


By Niki Cleary, Tulalip News


Beaver are known for their industrious landscaping. They regularly use their skills to rearrange the world around them, much like humans, to build safe places to live and grow the plants they feed upon. Unfortunately, for businesses and homeowners, the beaver’s best-known talent is also one of its least charming attributes.

The solution? Move nuisance beaver from urban areas to Forest Service land in the mountains where their construction skills will both build salmon habitat, and mitigate the effects of climate change. A win-win that Tulalip Wildlife Biologist Jason Schilling is excited to share.

“Beavers are marvels of engineering, we’re hoping to tap into their ability to store water,” he explained. “This was a big vision of Terry Williams [Tulalip Natural Resources], he saw it as a way to restore degraded landscape.”

“Benjamin Dittbrenner [of the University of Washingon], is studying how beaver change water quality,” Schilling continued. “ Particularly he’s looking at stream flow before and after beaver relocation and water temperature, those are two very important things for salmon.”

Dittbrenner is a former Snohomish County employee. While at the County he worked with landowners to ensure that property was protected from beaver activity.

“Beavers have a lot of really great ecological benefits,” he explained. “They take water and slow it down so that it can infiltrate into subsurface soils, increase groundwater and recharge aquifers. This creates backwater habitat for specialist species, and there have been studies to show that beavers and Coho are closely linked, Coho use beaver habitat as juveniles. We suspect that part of the reason Coho numbers are dropping is lack of beaver habitat.”

Dittbrenner continued, “The climate shifts that are predicted in the mountains mean that we’re going to have a lot less snow. That snow directly provides water to streams in spring and early summer. If there’s less water that means there is warmer water, and warmer water means less dissolved oxygen and less successful spawning. We’ve been looking at solutions to cope with less and warmer water.”

The project will work, said Dittbrenner.

“We’re modeling the project after other projects, east of the Cascades, where it’s legal to relocate beavers. Ranchers who once were against beavers are seeing that when the beavers come in, the groundwater levels increase and their pastures stay greener much longer. We’re hoping to see the same great benefits that they’re seeing.”

In a nutshell, the beaver’s dam building creates ponds which helps increase the water table. Beavers slow down water during fast flow times and increase water during the dry season. All of which adds up to more, and better quality water, as well as rearing habitat for salmon. Lastly, as climate change causes the snowpack to decrease, beaver ponds are an effective and natural way to store water for the dry season.

Since it’s such a great solution, why isn’t everyone doing it? Because in Western Washington it’s illegal to transport beaver alive from where they are trapped. It’s still perfectly legal to kill them. Tribes, however, are not subject to state law.

“It really has to do with our management of wildlife, as part of our broader treaty rights in off-reservation resource management,” explained Tulalip Attorney Tim Brewer. “We have the right to manage these resources and we’re working with the feds on federal land and therefore state law is pre-empted.”

Tulalip biologists have 24 beaver friendly sites picked out, but only eight of the sites will be populated initially. The unused sites will be used to as a comparison to demonstrate how effective the project has been.

“We may use them as release sites next year,” said Schilling, “but that will give us some good baseline data for beavers we released.”

For more information about the project contact Jason Schilling via email


Molly Alves points out the recently nibbled branches, explaining that they will be placed on site with the beaver. The beaver are more likely to stay because they recognize their scent on the old branches.
Molly Alves, Assistant Wildlife Biologist at Tulalip, points out the recently nibbled branches, explaining that they will be placed on site with the beaver. The beaver are more likely to stay because they recognize their scent on the old branches.


Beavers await relocation at the Tulalip Hatchery


Assistant Wildlife Biologist Molly Alves helps take care of beaver while they await relocation. She feeds them, dropping bunches of vine maple and vegetation, into the chum raceways where they are living. The beaver are also offered commercial rat food, but don’t seem to care for it. They sleep in man-made lodges built out of cinder blocks.

“We have to rebuild their lodges every night,” she said. “We weren’t anticipating catching six, and they don’t fit very well in a single lodge. The lodges are built out of plywood and cinder blocks, we have to line the plywood with steel mesh or they will chew through it.”

Alves explained that beaver are highly social and prefer to sleep together. That is one of the reasons they’ll be relocated as a group. Other strategies to ensure the animals don’t leave include scent marking the locations.

“We take these,” she held up the vine maple from the previous day, it’s bark stripped and the wood notched with teeth marks, “we call them chew sticks, and we’ll put them at the release site. They’re more likely to stay there if their scent is already there.”

The family is made up of two adults, three sub-adults and one kit.

“We’ve been setting up camera traps as well, so we know there are two more at the site where we caught this family,” said Alves.

“There’s another kit and a sub-adult. We’ll go back and catch those two and release them [as a pair],” she continued. “We know the sub-adults stick around for a couple of years to take care of the kits, so we know the kit will be fine. They’ll be released as their own family and they’ll probably go to a different spot because by the time we get them, these ones will be established.”

While the cameras are useful, Alves said the biologists knew there were more beaver because the animals can’t stand a leaky dam.

“There were three dams where we caught these guys. We notched the dams, that means we pulled out sticks and mud so there was a trickle of water,” she described, “it drives them crazy. When we went back some of the dams were rebuilt.”

Beaver are nocturnal herbivores, although they don’t hibernate, their planning and construction ensure that they survive winters just fine.

“They eat leaves in the summer and bark year round,” Alves said. “They stay in their lodges all winter and they create caches of food under their lodges. Other animals like muskrats and mice will stay in their lodges too.”

Hatchery visitors can learn about the beaver through series of interpretive signs that describe the relocation project and it’s benefits.


Photo Niki Cleary
Photo Niki Cleary