Morse Creek’s restoration raises questions on salmon, property

PORT ANGELES — A presentation on the North Olympic Salmon Coalition’s work in restoring Morse Creek salmon habitat turned into an informal debate between those focused on restoration and those concerned that restoration results in the loss of private property.

“We have a 200 percent increase in fish use [of Morse Creek],” Kim Clark, project manager for the Salmon Coalition, told about 30 members of the Port Angeles Business Association at Tuesday’s breakfast meeting at Joshua’s Restaurant.

Morse Creek was restored in 2010 and now runs as it existed in about 1930 prior to the installation of a dike.

The dike had pushed the river against the valley wall and changed it from its natural meander across the floodplain, she said.

The river became heavily cobbled, Clark said. It ran too fast in the winter and had no pools for fish to shelter in when the water was lower in the summer.

The $1,438,405 Morse Creek Riverine Restoration Project included the rebuilding of 2,400 feet of stream channel. That reactivated 1,700 feet of main channel, 700 feet of side channel and 9.3 acres of floodplain.

Logjams

Crews installed 19 engineered logjams, which have gathered natural material and are now larger and more natural logjams, providing shelter and slowing the flow of the river, Clark said.

The pools and side channels provide habitat for juvenile salmonids, including steelhead, bull trout and pink, coho and chum salmon, she said.

However, logjams and a creek freed to meander and flood triggered concerns among members of the business association.

Edna Petersen, owner of Necessities & Temptations gift shop, asked whether the process to make the changes includes hearings so that landowners who might be affected by flooding or changes in the river’s course are a part of the decision-making process.

Clark said the permitting process with the state departments of Fish and Wildlife and Ecology includes notification of nearby landowners.

Harry Bell, director of environmental affairs for the Port Angeles-based Green Crow Corp. and a longtime member of the Salmon Coalition, said the power of water makes anything that is done subject to possible failure.

“Who pays for the damage to private property?” Petersen asked.

Clark said the engineers who designed the new river plan are ultimately responsible.

Phil Kitchel asked whether there is evidence that restoration is actually increasing the number of fish and whether the cost is worth it per fish.

Long-term studies of a decade or longer, long enough to separate trends related to restoration and not caused by other factors, are expensive and not often done, Bell said.

Clark noted again that in the past five years, since the restoration of Morse Creek, fish count has increased by 200 percent.

‘Phenomenal’ increase

“It’s phenomenal,” she said.

Bell noted that much of the restoration is aimed toward smaller forage fish.

The decline of the forage fish numbers and the relationship to salmon is only recently understood as being a major factor in salmon returns, he said.

Other members of the association raised additional questions about the impact of hatchery salmon and whether there are options that can remove the hatchery fish from the rivers into net pens.

The Salmon Coalition does not take a position on hatchery fish versus wild fish and focuses on habitat restoration, they were told.

________

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at arice@peninsuladailynews.com.

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