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Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Monroe

Wood debris to offer shelter for rearing creek's steelhead

Times Snohomish County Bureau

As the excavator dug out the deep-rooted blackberries from the shoreline of Barr Creek last week, two men stepped down near the water, determining where to place the large, woody debris stacked nearby.

For more than 20 years, Trout Unlimited's Northshore Chapter has worked to enhance habitat along Barr Creek, a Skykomish River tributary near Monroe, and improve wild steelhead numbers.

The latest work is part of returning the creek to its natural state, which is now degraded because of the continual advance of invasive species such as canary reed grass and Himalayan blackberry.

Such encroachment near the mouth of the stream has left fish little shelter in times of heavy rain and flooding. To correct that, woody debris is being installed along the creek's confluence with the Skykomish and back about 500 yards.

The large, twisted tree trunks, 40 to 60 of them, will be anchored to help shore up the stream's bank and provide shade for fish needing a cooling-off spot. The wood also will break up the flow of the water through Barr Creek and prevent heavy flooding from washing out salmon.

In addition, new tree seedlings will be planted.

"This is an off-channel area of the Skykomish River and a great rearing area for fish," said Chris Tompkins of Trout Unlimited. "It's a great haven during flooding."

Similar work has been done in years past in areas farther upstream. Willow and cottonwoods planted several years ago now are more than 20 feet tall, providing needed shade and preventing invasive plants from rooting again.

Trout Unlimited's work with Barr Creek began in the mid-1970s, when it operated two smolt ponds attached to Barr Creek and also Kissey Creek, which parallels Barr Creek before the two meet near Barr's confluence with the Skykomish.

Under the project, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife has transported about 25,000 steelhead smolts annually to help the fish "imprint" the area so they will return naturally to spawn as adults.

Trout Unlimited feeds the fish for a few weeks, then releases them into the Skykomish. Trout Unlimited members who fish the Skykomish say they've caught some of those fish as adults, showing the imprinting project has had some success.

But for various reasons, including a reluctance to transport the fish by truck anymore, the pond imprinting at Barr Creek was stopped.

Not wanting to abandon the stream, members switched to enhancement projects. In past years, that has meant plantings of indigenous trees and shrubs and removal of invasives, along with work on the upper reaches of Barr Creek's shoreline.

"There's always been the potential to do so much more at Barr Creek," said Dave Steiner of the Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force. The task force is helping Trout Unlimited with the latest project because of its size, and Steiner is one of the project managers.

"This is critical main flood plain, and we're limited in our opportunities to work like this," Steiner said. "We know that Barr and Kissey creeks both get coho and steelhead runs, and we've seen good returns in past years."

The present work will cost about $10,000, not including the woody debris the two groups are using. That's compliments of the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD), which has collected the wood the past couple of years by fishing it out of Spada Lake at the Culmback Dam.

"The wood collects at the face of the dam, and in the past we gathered it up and burned it," said Keith Binkley, a PUD environmental coordinator. "Following some discussions, we started looking for better ways to use it."

In 2004, the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation took the wood to enhance Winter's Creek, a side channel that offers a respite for salmon fry eager to avoid the Sultan River's faster water.

This year, Trout Unlimited members said they would be glad to put it to use.

"We want to revitalize this creek," Tompkins said. "We have a chance to focus on restoration now."

Christopher Schwarzen: 425-783-0577 or cschwarzen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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