The Challenges of Restoring Streams and Fish Stocks
Barry Olson, February 07, 2021
I became interested in pursuing a career in Forestry at the age of 14. I graduated from Everett Community College with an Associate Degree in Forest Technology and started a 30 ½ year career with the US Forest Service in 1971. In those 30 ½ years I utilized the sciences of forestry, fisheries, wildlife, hydrology, and engineering in the performance of my assigned duties. These included laying out those dreaded “clear cuts”, planting and thinning mixed species 2nd growth timber stands, and performing fish, wildlife and watershed restoration projects.
In 1980 the Forest Service started hiring “ologists” to manage our fish and wildlife species and restore their habitat. With this management change, I found myself being assigned the responsibility of learning how to create fish and wildlife habitat. Each Ranger District in Region 6 (Washington and Oregon) started broadening their staff by hiring hydrologists, fisheries and wildlife biologists, botanists, and cultural resource specialists. This program change was a result of public awareness of the effects of poor forestry practices, especially in regard to their influence on fish and wildlife species. This awareness increased after a 100 year “rain on snow” flood event in 1977. On the White River Ranger District (now Snoqualmie Ranger District) this was more evident by summer homes literally floating down the Greenwater River. The small community of Greenwater sustained much damage which resulted in a lawsuit. The lawsuit initiated the adoption of new forestry practices on private, state, and federal lands. In reaction to this lawsuit, a hydrologist recommended removing all woody debris from all tributaries of the White River that was over 8” in diameter and 8 feet or longer within their floodplain. This removed all large and small woody debris that was or had potential to create or hold existing fish habitat. These streams and rivers were basically turned into “ditches” that were very efficient at moving water. I don’t mean to be critical of anyone or governmental agency, past or present, but am merely explaining how I was given the opportunity to acquire the knowledge I want to share with the reader.
The hiring of the “ologists” and my transfer of duties from forestry to stream and habitat restoration put me in a unique opportunity to be one of the early “stream practitioners”. Each District started a program of work restoring fish and wildlife habitat and stream hydrology in the large woody debris deficient rivers and streams. At first, I wasn’t very happy with my career change moving me out of my comfort level in Forestry, but at the end of my career, it was very rewarding seeing fish utilize the engineered habitat structures we had installed.
My purpose in writing this article is to give the reader an awareness of my knowledge, experience, and breadth of background. I strongly believe as a society, regardless of affiliation, we need to share our experiences, good and bad, with each other. I love to mentor others and thoroughly enjoy the look of pride on the face of people I worked with helping to bring a project to completion. I know a lot about techniques needed to restore fish species and streams, but NOBODY KNOWS IT ALL, regardless of their level of experience or education. I learned that if I applied my “book learning”, used common sense, tried new techniques, and learned from my own and the experience of others, my project objectives were more successful. I also realized that what I was trying to accomplish was not always under my control. I will never forget my reaction after surveying the structures and habitat in projects we had completed in October 1990. They had been tested by the first flood event that wiped out or damaged much of our work. I had to remind myself that we were still in the early stage of our restoration program and this was our (my) first test of our engineered structures and securing techniques. After this experience, I revisited both my prior and newly completed projects at the end of each season to see if they were performing the function we installed them to achieve. Some did and some didn’t. I made corrections and learned more. Unfortunately, when I felt I had achieved the knowledge to have a “reasonable” chance of success by selecting the correct structure design and placement to perform their function in different stream sizes and channel types, the program switched from stream restoration to road obliteration.
The engineered cross log (also known as a sill or weir log) shown in the photo was used to trap bedload in the form of spawning gravel, cobble, and small boulders. This structure was constructed in a reach (stretch) of the channel that had no substrate and washed down to bedrock. Two more functions of the structure were to form a resting (plunge) pool and to establish a stream gradient to make it easier for the fish to migrate up or down stream.
The engineered double deflector is used to direct the streamflow to the middle of the channel and to allow the bedload to move and settle downstream. The narrower the distance between the two logs, the larger of a resting pool will be excavated immediately downstream. Note: This is the only structure of this type I constructed. I was very happy with the way this structure performed. If I was to design an engineered structure project that needed to create resting pools and trap and hold spawning gravels, I would alternate the placement of the weirs and double deflectors. The spacing between the structures and location within the channel is a major factor in meeting the objective(s) of each structure.
The engineered log jams in the picture were constructed after I retired. They are located about ¼ mile below the engineered double deflector, which was the last structure installed in my project. I don’t know what the objective was for these log jams because I had no part in their design or construction. They appear to be placed to create resting areas for migrating salmon. Note: This project is a good example of having someone with a history of the stream channel changes and structure types that worked well in a given location. Future “stream practitioners” can monitor the performance of the structure types used in this reach of the Greenwater River over time.
In this article I selected the engineered structures from past projects to compare their purpose and how they achieve a different outcome for fish habitat and to the overall recovery of fish species. These structures are constructed using large woody debris consisting all or in part from, logs, rootwads (tree stem with roots still attached), stumps, and even branches in the case of the log jams. They are excavated into the streambed and/or streambank. They are secured in place using ¾” rebar of various lengths, cable and epoxy anchored into boulders, or buried into thee streambank. I will follow up this article with a more detailed description of the structure types, construction, positioning, and anchoring techniques we used.
I hope reading about my career in the Forest Service will encourage others to consider their own career in stream restoration. There are many restoration projects being implemented across the United States, Canada, and Alaska by many local, state, tribal, and federal agencies, foundations, land trusts, thousands of volunteers, and others involved in educating the public, young and old.
The restoration projects implemented on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and other Forests in Region 6 from 1980 to 2000 and beyond were a major factor in keeping salmon and trout species from being depressed or going extinct. The numbers of fish in each species in the White River are gradually increasing, but it is unrealistic due to the habitat loss, predation, and overfishing, climatic and environmental conditions, to expect to see historic levels of fish to return. The restoration work performed on other public, private and government lands are also very instrumental in the recovery of fish species to complete their life cycle. It is essential that restoration efforts be shared and performed in a manner that enhances their success in achieving the restoration goals. This in itself is big challenge, but by working together, we can recover fish.
I am a new article contributor to NWFR. I have enjoyed the many articles and videos I have read and viewed through the years and they have enriched my knowledge of fishing techniques and where to fish for species I wish to pursue.