Courtesy Tulalip Tribe
In a habitat-restoration project, the Tulalip Tribe has removed about 1,500 linear feet of levee in the Snohomish River’s Qwuloolt Estuary, reopening 350 acres of wetlands to threatened salmon and other species.

Tulalip, Swinomish Preserve Forest and Salmon Habitat With Two Significant Initiatives

Richard Walker

Two significant environmental initiatives were implemented within the last three weeks—opening prime salmon habitat on the Tulalip Reservation and, on Swinomish land, setting the stage for forest preservation.

On August 28 at Tulalip, bulldozers removed about 1,500 linear feet of levee in the Snohomish River’s Qwuloolt Estuary, reopening 350 acres of wetlands to threatened salmon and other species. It’s part of what is reportedly the largest restoration project so far in the Snohomish River watershed. The estuary is habitat for one of the largest remaining populations of wild Puget Sound chinook salmon.

A system of levees cut off and drained the Qwuloolt Estuary from the rest of the Snohomish system in the early 1900s, converting it into farmland, like thousands of acres of other wetland and estuary habitat in Puget Sound. When the land became no longer viable as farmland, the Tulalip Tribes, NOAA Fisheries and other partners spearheaded its restoration to boost salmon populations, restore ecological systems, and improve flood control and recreational opportunities.

“Today, we witness the culmination of years of coordination, planning, and preparation by a coalition of trustee and implementation partners,” Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon said in an announcement of the project. “[The] partners’ hard work and dedication over nearly two decades will bring salmon in great numbers back to our rivers, helping to secure our lifeways for future generations. This is the first large restoration project in the Snohomish estuary, the first of many, and sets the stage for a basin-wide recovery.”

According to Jennifer Steger, regional supervisor of the NOAA Restoration Center, reopening the wetlands “[restores] ecosystem processes of hydrology, energy and nutrients, chemistry, and food web that will benefit robust fish populations and strong ecological communities.”

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries, the Tulalip Tribes, and Snohomish County have studied the Snohomish River system for more than a decade, compiling baseline data that will help managers detect changes in fish populations and evaluate effectiveness of the restoration work. Other project partners include the Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Nature Conservancy, and the City of Marysville.

Scientists will now monitor changes in the site including elevation, sediment dynamics, water temperature and salinity, nutrient and food availability, fish population and diversity, and wildlife abundance and diversity.

Thirty-two miles north, on the Swinomish Reservation, the Swinomish Tribe and Ecotrust will use a $528,000 three-year matching grant to develop a forest conservation plan. The grant, announced on September 17, comes from the Natural Resource Conservation Service and will be matched by Swinomish and Ecotrust.

Former Swinomish Tribe attorney Marty Loesch, a consultant, said the plan is being developed with public input and could include carbon sequestration credits, conservation easements and forestland acquisition. Swinomish owns 70 percent of the land within the reservation (7,000 acres are uplands, 3,000 acres are tidelands), and two-thirds of the reservation is undeveloped, Loesch said.

“They want to try to preserve as much of that [forestland] in its current form, but at the same time, there are constant pressures for timber to be harvested or for land to be developed in some way,” he said. “They will be looking to keep forested areas in their current condition—or do some restoration, as some areas that have been logged are now in recovery—and regain some economic and ecosystem benefits out of them.”

Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby said the partnership with Ecotrust, a non-profit conservation organization, creates the opportunity to achieve several important objectives.

“Forest conservation and climate change adaptation require new ways of doing business, which could open up new business opportunities,” Cladoosby said in an announcement of the grant. “As we improve our forest management practices to reflect changing forest conditions, we can not only help mitigate carbon emissions, but we can also identify new and emerging revenue opportunities that we aren’t currently capturing.”

“Ecologically managed” forests can store more carbon, provide higher-quality habitat for fish and wildlife, and offer “more economic development opportunities [while] supporting a robust forest products industry,” said Brent Davies, Ecotrust’s vice president of forests and ecosystem services.

“The Swinomish forest has always been a community resource,” Davies said. “The hopes for this project are to create a more stable revenue source in addition to establishing a healthy forest ecosystem that meets tribal landscape-level management priorities.”

How Carbon Sequestration Credits Work

From a 2012 EPA report, “Carbon Sequestration through Reforestation”: Carbon sequestration removes carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), either directly from the atmosphere or at the conclusion of combustion and industrial processes.

One type of sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon in trees and plants. CO2 removed from the atmosphere through forestation helps moderate global warming by reducing or slowing the buildup of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

Each ton of carbon sequestered is called a carbon credit. Landowners can generate carbon credits for planting forests that result in carbon sequestration. A company can buy those credits on the market to offset its own carbon dioxide emissions.

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