Whitewater Reach: High-Quality Shoreline Habitat

The Land Trust has purchased 13 acres of exceptionally high-quality shoreline habitat in the Whitewater Reach of the Nisqually River, near Yelm, which is rated highest priority for recovery of threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

The property is undeveloped and contains the most intact riparian forest in our 237-acre Yelm Shoreline Protected Area. The land was acquired from the estate of the late Barb Wood and Jim Park, who had long managed it to enhance its wildlife values.

About half of the property’s $125,000 acquisition cost was funded by a state Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant. The remainder had been proposed for funding in Thurston County’s 2017 Conservation Futures round, but the county has frozen the program while it negotiates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over Mazama pocket gopher protection.

“This property’s a jewel,” said Executive Director Joe Kane. “We simply couldn’t lose it. We were able to divert other funding, and that might hurt us down the road. But you have to go for it.”

Permanently protecting the property also keeps alive the vision of a shoreline trail along the Whitewater Reach. “This property would be in the heart of that trail,” said Kane.

Jump-Starting Habitat Restoration

Engineered logjams, or ELJs, are a technique for jump-starting habitat restoration in salmon-producing rivers where the natural supply of timber has been depleted: Logs are piled up to change the river’s hydraulics, which immediately increases the complexity of pools and riffles and provides sheltered alcoves for juvenile fish until replanted forests mature and take over.

Since 2004, over a hundred ELJs have been completed on the Mashel River, the largest tributary to the Nisqually River and host to all five species of native Nisqually salmonids, including threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. That work continued this summer, with the first of two intensive habitat restoration seasons at the confluence of the Mashel and the Little Mashel, near Eatonville.

All told, this project will install nine more ELJs on properties owned by the Land Trust and the Town of Eatonville. Four were completed this summer. With the early start to the fall rains, river flows have increased and returning Chinook have already been spotted nearby.

Project Manager Brian Coombs of the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group has been coordinating a team that includes Herrera Environmental engineers; an RV Associates construction crew; the Nisqually Indian Tribe, which is the Nisqually Watershed’s lead entity for salmon recovery; and the Land Trust, Eatonville, and local, state, and federal agencies.

The project will also enhance two existing side-channels to provide year-round habitat. Once construction is complete, the shoreline will be planted with native trees and shrubs.

Funding for this project is being provided by the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, via the Nisqually Indian Tribe and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Carbon Credits To Fund Restoration Of Nisqually Land Trust Via California Exchange

Microsoft is helping to preserve forests at the foot of Mount Rainier by investing in the potential of trees and restored forests to soak up carbon pollution. The value of absorbed greenhouse gas emissions will be set through California’s cap-and-trade exchange and the income used to grow the asset, through new plantings and road removals. Listen to audio and read more here…

Pacific Ninebark: A Restoration Favorite, and Beautiful Bee and Butterfly Food

Pacific Ninebark is one of our favorite native plants to use in restoration projects. It has long trailing branches that create shady nooks along shorelines and in upland forests. Like many species of the Rosaceae family, it has fibrous roots that help stabilize slopes and streambanks. It’s a great nectar source for many insects, including bees and butterflies. And since the bark isn’t very palatable, deer and elk rarely damage it.

It’s also attractive. The blooming season is fairly short – often mid-May to mid-June – but the dome-shaped clusters of small white flowers catch the eye every spring. The flowers develop into papery red fruit with shiny yellow seeds that are released in the fall.

Pacific Ninebark may not grow as fast as the native willows, but it does tolerate a wide variety of conditions. It grows well in sun and shade; and while it grows best in places where soils are moist for part of the year, it tolerates sites that dry out during the summer. Since a mature Pacific ninebark bush may get to be 15 feet tall and 15 feet across, a patch of these shrubs can form a wonderfully dense thicket that provides excellent nesting sites for native birds and shelter for many species.

A Look Back to 1992: A River with a Plan of Its Own

by Kim Bredensteiner, Nisqually Land Trust Associate Director

When I think of the Middle Reach of the Nisqually River, just upstream of Yelm, I think power and mystery: steep, forested bluffs, wide gravel bars littered with cobbles, river islands that change shape year by year, hidden side channels and expansive floodplain.

The Nisqually Land Trust’s Thurston Ridge Protected Area includes 155 acres and two miles of shoreline along this part of the Nisqually. It protects high-quality salmon habitat, tall bluffs covered with Douglas-fir, side channels where industrious beaver make their homes, and young floodplain forests dominated by red alder and cottonwood.

Twenty-five years ago, landowners who’d planned to build cabins along this stretch of the river found that the river had other plans. The Nisqually migrates powerfully through this area, and what was once the main channel suddenly became a side-channel along the toe of the bluff.

Shortly thereafter, we acquired two properties in the Thurston Ridge Protected Area – one purchased, one donated. Both are in the river’s floodplain and are sometimes underwater during high flows. Over time it is likely that the river will move back across the floodplain and reoccupy that side-channel. Protecting these properties, and the rest of the Thurston Ridge Protected Area, ensures that this natural channel-migration process can happen.

Our thanks to the supporters who helped fund these early protection projects and the landowners who partnered with the Land Trust. Twenty-five years later, we see the fruits of those efforts in a natural, free-flowing river. And the Nisqually Land Trust continues to focus on protection of the Nisqually River floodplain.



Dan Miszewski, Hard-working Site Steward

By Katie Kirdahy, Volunteer Coordinator

Dan Miszewski was at Yelm Cinemas one day in 2015 when he saw
an ad for the Nisqually Land Trust. He’d been a longtime volunteer with the
Washington Trails Association and Mount Rainier National Park Associates, but he was looking for something closer to home. He began coming to our weekly work parties, and after a few months he joined our Site Steward program and “adopted” our Lower Reach Protected Area, on the Nisqually River near Yelm.

The Lower Reach hasn’t been the same since.

Dan turned out to be hardworking and a bunch of fun. Site stewards are responsible mainly for monitoring their properties, but Dan has gone well beyond that. He’s accelerated habitat restoration, spending over sixty hours caring for his site last year alone.

The Lower Reach has long had issues with dumping, camping, vehicle trespass, firewood robbery, and Scotch broom infestation. Dan tackled them head on. He cleaned up dumpsites and planted ferns and scattered logs to disguise and obstruct old four-wheeling paths. Over the winter, he also planted more than one hundred salvaged trees.

When Dan isn’t planting he’s pulling Scotch broom and generally keeping a watchful eye on this riparian forest and its shoreline, which provides high-quality habitat for all five species of native Pacific salmon. And Dan’s site-visit reports are funny and positive, showing his connection to the outdoors: “Nature is very much reclaiming the place, the two side roads are just covered with wild grass and flowers.”

Thanks to Dan for all he’s done for the Land Trust. His work has been invaluable and we hope he sticks around for a while!

Creating a Nisqually Home for Western Bluebirds

by Charly Kearns, Land Steward

Western bluebirds are now a common sight at the Land Trust’s Powell Creek Pastures property, along the Nisqually River. It’s always a joy to see them hunting for insects or perched on fence posts. They are a cavity-nesting species but are unable to create their own nests, so they rely on woodpeckers, tree rot, and humans to create safe places to lay eggs. Volunteers have helped us install dozens of birdhouses throughout the Pastures property, and we have watched bluebirds successfully fledge multiple generations of young.

Bluebirds prefer open woodlands, like the Pastures, but are found in different habitats throughout the western United States. In summer, they primarily eat terrestrial insects, like caterpillars, pill bugs, and grasshoppers. In winter, they largely depend on seeds and hard berries. And, though stable, Western bluebird populations do face risks: habitat loss from development and extensive logging, loss of openings due to fire suppression, removal of dead trees, and invasive species, such as European starlings and feral cats.

Bluebirds have a fascinating and unusual family dynamic. Nesting pairs may allow some sons to remain within their defended territory but will cast out most daughters. The stay-at-home sons may try to mate with outcast daughters from neighboring territories and eventually create their own territory. However, some sons may not mate at all, and instead stay within their parents’ domain and help care for offspring. This cooperative breeding strategy significantly increases the survival rate of fledglings.

Henry David Thoreau wrote that “the bluebird carries the sky on his back.” This is actually closer to the truth than you might think. The color blue is rare in nature, especially in the animal world. In fact, the only vertebrate known to actually produce a blue pigment is a group of fish. All other blue-colored vertebrates get their color from structural elements. In bluebirds (and most blue feathers), this is accomplished by tiny air pockets within the barbs of feathers, which scatter light, reflecting only blue wavelengths.

These somewhat common birds are anything but ordinary, and we love providing them with a home!