Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How fish affect repairs of the Suiattle River Road

By Kim Brown, Public Lands Intern

Downey Creek bridge, June 2004.
It’s not likely you resisted a visit to see the odd-looking Boundary Bridge after the last blog about the repairs of the Suiattle River Road.  As promised, it’s time to talk about fish.
All federal projects are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to ensure compliance with environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act (CWA), Section 404 of the CWA (wetlands), and the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  Additional local considerations for the Suiattle Road project include tribal rights, the Northwest Forest Plan, and the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest Management Plan.

Fish and fish habitat are a consideration in each of these laws and policies, and can drive decisions to repair or close a road, dictate bridge design features, and affect project costs.
The Suiattle Road project requires consideration for threatened or endangered (listed) as well as non-listed fish:
·         Endangered Species Act (ESA) , Section 7 requires Federal agencies to consult with National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FSW) when a project might adversely impact a listed species or their designated habitat.  NMFS manages for listed anadromous fish (salmon), and FWS manages for listed freshwater fish. The Suiattle River contains listed and non-listed salmon, and Downey Creek provides important spawning, and rearing habitat for Suiattle spring Chinook (anadromous) as well as bull trout (freshwater).  
·         The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act  is administered by NMFS, and addresses the sustainability of commercial economics and private recreation that coastal fishing provides. Magnuson-Stevens considerations are triggered when a Federal project may adversely impact habitat areas designated under the Act. The Suiattle watershed has been designated essential fish habitat for several non-listed salmon species, and habitat protection is considered in the design of the road repair.
The funding source for the repair, Emergency Repair for Federally Owned Roads originally proposed an in-kind replacement –i.e. re-building the bridge site as it was before October 2003. However, the Forest Service saw the opportunity for a design that better addresses the needs of listed fish species, meaning the Forest Service was on their own to obtain funding for the Downey Creek crossing.    
In December 2011, Skagit River Cooperative, which provides fisheries consultation and studies for local tribes, submitted a grant proposal with Washington State’s Salmon Recovery Board approved a grant for the design of an improved Downey Creek bridge.  The grant was approved in December, 2011.  The proposed bridge will be longer, in order to give Downey Creek sufficient room to roam on the alluvial fan through which it flows into the Suiattle River.

The Darrington District of Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has struggled with the repair of the Suiattle Road. The multiple floods and environmental concerns on the District have been good for the aspirin industry, but according to Phyllis Reed, MBS Biologist, there are some happy fish at Downey Creek. “The river shifted to the south side of the river channel following the 2006/2007 high flows,” Reed says. “This allows Downey Creek to flow a longer distance in the river channel as a clear stream (attractive to spawning fish) before joining the Suiattle River,  which, during much of the year,  has a higher sediment load from glacial input than Downey Creek.”
We’re looking forward to the upcoming Environmental Assessment on the repair of the Suiattle River Road, expected to be published on this link after March 16.

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