The “Wood Fiesta” airlift will place logs in Yakima River tributaries to help habitat and protect against wildfire and flooding damage. The effort should benefit the ecosystem along 24 miles of streams.
A project organizers are calling a “Wood Fiesta” will airlift logs to Yakima River tributaries to help habitat and protect against wildfire and flooding damage.
The effort is expected to cause some minor traffic delays and brief recreational closures over the next two months in Central Washington.
Yakama Nation Fisheries will collaborate with several other groups and private landowners to use helicopters to carry more than 5,000 logs to seven tributaries in remote areas of the Yakima Basin.
The efforts should benefit the ecosystem along 24 miles of streams at a cost of nearly $2 million from a combination of state and federal grants from eight different sources, including the Bonneville Power Administration and the McNary Mitigation Fund.
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Scott Nikolai, a longtime habitat biologist for the Yakama Nation, said adding wood to streams helps slow down water and reconnect floodplains long since dried out because of mismanagement. The logs, which ideally will soon be buried under gravel by floodwaters to provide permanent effects, also protect infrastructure downstream from damage.
“Because we have infrastructure in bad places, it’s not like we’re going to eliminate that,” Nikolai said. “But we will take some of that punch out of those flood peaks by reconnecting these streams with their floodplains.”
He pointed out an example of a dry flood plain Monday morning in the drainage area for Umtanum Creek where it connects with the Yakima River near Canyon Road.
The effort will affect some recreation in the popular Yakima River Canyon and other sites this fall.
Helicopters will fly from the Umtanum Creek Recreation site for no more than two days during the second week of October to place 1,000 logs in 4.5 miles of water, starting just one mile above the creek’s confluence with the Yakima River.
The impact on recreation will be minimal since the site will already be closed from October to December for a separate Bureau of Land Management project. The agency plans to begin work in mid-October to improve the narrow suspension bridge over the river and possibly pave the parking lot and access road if funds allow.
Nicolai said reconnecting floodplains could reduce the spread of wildfires, since it will add moisture to the ground and create a natural fire break. Much of the wood to be used for the project will come from The Nature Conservancy and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s timber harvests designed to create healthier, more resilient forests.
Cindi Confer Morris, who manages the Wenas Wildlife Area, said the extra wood should help beavers, river otters and other animals. Extra channels and pools in the streams should also create a better habitat for fish, according to Ashton Bunce, another Yakama Nation biologist who worked on the project’s design.
“We have rearing spring chinook and coho salmon and spawning and rearing steelhead, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and a variety of other native species in the streams we’re restoring,” Bunce said. “None of the streams we’re restoring are bull trout spawning habitat, but they are connected to a bull-trout spawning habitat so they could have rearing juveniles in them.”
Mid-Columbia fisheries Enhancement Group, the DNR, and the U.S. Forest Service also have roles in the project.
Other areas scheduled for restoration include one mile of Lick Creek near the North Fork Teanaway River, one mile of lower Swauk Creek near Cle Elum, the lower eight miles of North Fork Manastash Creek west of Ellensburg and three miles of Satus Creek on the Yakama Nation Reservation.