Salmon make small comeback
A Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) employee made an unexpected discovery earlier this year that could indicate an improvement in the health of Terrell Creek, an eight-mile creek that winds out of Lake Terrell and empties into Birch Bay.
Rachel Vasak, program director at NSEA, a non-profit agency that has been working on restoration efforts on the stream, said she happened to see several small pools filled with native-spawned juvenile coho salmon while she was checking stream flow levels several miles upstream of Birch Bay.
Vasak said the association has been monitoring the creek since 2000 and organizing restoration work since 2002. During that time, she said this is the first population of native-spawned juvenile coho salmon the agency has found in that location.
“We were able to positively identify them as wild coho salmon in an area that we haven’t found them before in several years,” Vasak said. “It’s very exciting for the people who have been working on the project.”
Problems with the creek included choking of the stream by non-native reed and canary grasses such as a section of stream near Jackson Bridge, which compromised the health of the stream environment. That particular area at Jackson Bridge was given priority because of its downstream location.
Another significant problem for the creek was a lack of flow during the summer time. This summer, however, NSEA has had success working with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife at Lake Terrell, a dammed lake, to increase flow levels during the summer to supplement water levels in critical habitat.
“It’s a very small amount,” she said. “But it’s enough to keep those fish populations under water.”
Vasak said NSEA hired a contractor to pull back banks of the stream, which were previously overcrowded with grass, implanted woody debris and removed much of the invasive grasses. The association received help from British Petroleum, which owns a substantial amount of land surrounding the area of the creek near Jackson Bridge as well as various other community members, businesses and state, regional and federal agencies.
“BP was very cooperative and the community involvement has been just amazing,” Vasak said.
She also said volunteers – largely the Chums of Terrell Creek – planted more than 4,000 native plants and trees to create a shady environment difficult for grasses to thrive in. The shade also helps to keep stream temperature down, she said.
“We are working with ongoing restoration efforts so more and more salmon can come back each year,” she said.
Vasak also encourages individuals to refrain from disposing grass, weed clippings or animal waste in the stream, or using detergents, chemical fertilizers or pesticides near the creek.