Restoring Hard-to-reach Streams in the Yakima Basin

Helicopters help reestablish fish-friendly habitat

Carefully placing logs in the river to restore healthy aquatic habitat

Sometimes, habitat restoration is as simple as putting back what you took away. For years, it was common practice to remove woody material from streams to increase river flows for human purposes—moving logs and irrigating crops, for example.

The idea of slowing down the flow of water would have been viewed as counterproductive. But we now understand that healthy watersheds need fallen logs and woody debris—nature’s detritus—not only to create favorable habitat for fish, but also to replenish water throughout the floodplain.

At the Council’s May fish and wildlife committee meeting, John Marvin with the Yakama Nation and Rebecca Wassell with Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, briefed committee members on the Yakima Basin Aquatic Restoration Project.

The project—nicknamed ‘wood fiesta” and completed in 2018—used helicopters to transport and strategically place logs into remote mountain streams to create favorable habitat for salmon and native fish species. Locations ranged from Lick Creek near the North Fork Teanaway River in Kittitas County to the Little Naches River near the Lost Meadow Campground in Yakima County.

The logs help slow and disperse stream water out onto the adjacent floodplains, promoting groundwater storage and recharge. As the wood settles into the streams, it becomes a hospitable retreat for fish, creating protective overhangs and deep, cool pools where they can forage and grow throughout their life cycle.

Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group and Yakama Nation received funding and support from a broad range of stakeholders, including the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the McNary Mitigation Fund.

The project transported over 6,000 logs into seven Yakima River tributaries. A report on habitat conditions is expected to be released in 2022.

Collaboration in the basin was critical. “Two key takeaways would be the importance of tapping into all the resources available to you—and good communication—biweekly check-ins are critical to keeping everyone on track,” noted Wassell.