Stillaguamish, state reclaim wetland habitat

ARLINGTON — Near where Pilchuck Creek flows into the Stillaguamish River, the Stillaguamish Indian Tribe and the state are finishing a project to restore an important wetland habitat.

The state Department of Transportation, the tribe and a work crew of minimum-security prisoners from the Snohomish County Jail are planting 60,000 native shrubs and other plants. The wetland area is on 40 acres of floodplain along I-5 north of the river.

The jail crew provides the manual labor and their involvement helps the tribe meet some of its grant-funding requirements, said Dave Timmer, the tribe’s restoration crew supervisor.

The planting is ongoing now as the weather permits.

The tribe bought the land along Pilchuck Creek a few years ago with plans for the wetland restoration project, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission spokeswoman Kari Neumeyer said.

The state then offered to pitch in around $3.6 million to mitigate for the disruption of a couple of acres of wetlands during recent traffic improvements to Highway 532. The funding includes future work at the wetlands site, said Robyn Boyd, a state transportation project engineer.

The tribe’s land around the creek near its confluence with the river was previously cleared, graded, farmed and then turned into a dirt-bike track. The banks of the creek were hardened and pushed closer to the water, choking the channel.

“We were just going to plug the ditches and contour the fields so there were high and low spots,” said Pat Stevenson, environmental manager for the tribe, in a press release from Neumeyer. “(The Department of Transportation) is paying for a more elaborate wetland project than we proposed.”

With help from the state, the project expanded to include more extensive ditch filling, earth moving and planting.

The Pilchuck Creek restoration helps create quality rearing habitat for chinook, coho, chum and pink salmon, steelhead and bull trout, Neumeyer said. Other features include frog ponds, floodwater storage and a wildlife habitat that could encourage beavers to return to the area.

The state Salmon Recovery Board is contributing to restoration, too. That portion of the project features a fish-rearing pond, logjams and a new stream channel that connects the pond to Pilchuck Creek, Neumeyer said.

Tribal funds are paying for a 1,500-foot-long trail between the creek and the wetland, an observation deck and interpretive signs.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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