Study looks at Snoqualmie River habitat conditions

SNOQUALMIE — Members of the Snoqualmie Watershed

Forum last week got their first look at a habitat conditions study

conducted last summer along the lower Snoqualmie River

that yielded a mixed bag of results.

During a two-month field season, King County employees

and members of Washington Trout surveyed the river from

the Snohomish-King County line to the Falls, as well as the lower

six miles of the Tolt River and the lower eight to nine miles of

the Raging River, cataloging what they found.

More work will be completed this year, and the forum will

use the data as it labors to establish local guidelines for

preserving fish habitat.

Melissa Boles, an ecologist with the King County Water

and Land Resources Division of the Department of Natural

Resources, told forum members at their Jan. 3 meeting that prior to last

year, no one had collected habitat conditions data in the

Snoqualmie River.

"This should give us an idea where the good habitat is that

we can protect," she said.

In creating an inventory of the river, the county and

Washington Trout studied the types of river banks found along the river,

riparian vegetation, any large, woody debris found in the

river, channel features, erosion, any garbage dumping in the river

and access points to the river created by humans, cattle or vehicles.

Boles said at first, the survey team didn't expect to find

much woody debris in the Snoqualmie River, which she said makes

for good fish habitat. And the study backed up anecdotal

evidence that the river lacked mature trees along its banks, which

provide shade and helps to stabilize the banks.

"But we actually saw wood lots of places, although there

aren't many mature trees downstream of Fall City," she said.

The study also pointed out several problem areas, such as

erosion near cattle access areas, a car that had been dumped in the

river and non-native plants invading stretches of the bank. Boles

added that the lower 20 miles of the Snoqualmie River were more

degraded than upstream.

This year, King County will assess other elements of fish

habitat, including spawning gravel, holding pools for adult

salmon, summer and winter rearing areas for juvenile salmon and

resident fish, as well as passage to off-channel habitat and tributaries.

Once the data is collected, the county will use geographic

information systems equipment to overlay the study's findings on aerial

photos of the Snoqualmie River.

Boles said the county would also compare the data to a

historical habitat reconstruction study on which the University of

Washington is working to complete.

Once done, the Snoqualmie River habitat conditions

information would provide specific restoration or protection

opportunities along the river, and it would be incorporated into the

larger Snohomish Basin plan, Boles said.

Snoqualmie Watershed Forum member Mark Sollitto, a

city councilman from North Bend, said he hoped the forum can begin

actively protecting or restoring fish habitat, instead of simply

generating more data to be studied.

"In the meantime, Rome is burning," he said. "This is

the most important basin in the county. This is all we have left."

Megan Smith, Snoqualmie watershed coordinator, said

the forum members have the opportunity to act quickly.

"We can use some of this data right away," she said. In the

coming months, the forum will review a "near-term action agenda"

and create a list of restoration and protection projects.

"We really, again, want to stress that we're doing

on-the-ground projects," said Olivia Rugo of the Water and Land

Resources Division.

Those projects will have to follow new regulations from

the National Marine Fisheries Service for preserving salmon and

protecting habitat, which went into affect Monday. Known as the

4(d) rule, it expands current laws regarding salmon preservation

to include individuals, private businesses and local

governments. Those found to violate the 4(d) rule are subject to fines.

"This is what we are trying to respond to," Rugo said of the

4(d) rule, "and to craft our response around those requirements."

Also at last week's meeting, the forum celebrated the

signing of interlocal agreements between it and local jurisdictions,

including the cities of North Bend, Snoqualmie, Carnation

and Duvall. In a statement, King County Executive Ron Sims

said the agreements for three county watersheds — the

Green/Duwamish, the Cedar/Lake Washington/Sammamish and

the Snoqualmie portion of the Snohomish Basin —

were needed.

"Salmon do not recognize political boundaries, so we

need a cooperative governance structure that mirrors the

geography that fish pass through," he said. "Together, we can accomplish

so much more than if we all worked on independent, yet

parallel, tracks."

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