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Washington Trout Leads Chinook Rescue Effort on Tokul Creek

Washington Trout is leading an effort to return Threatened chinook salmon to upper Tokul Creek, the highest anadromous tributary of the Snoqualmie River, located between Fall City and Snoqualmie Falls. With the financial support and cooperation of the state Department of Transportation (DOT), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the Tulalip Tribes, and Weyerhaeuser, the project is capturing chinook in lower Tokul Creek and transporting them around an artificial barrier that has blocked fish migration for at least ten years.

Twin Problems
WDFW’s Tokul Creek Fish Hatchery has been located on the banks of lower Tokul Creek since the early 1900s. It has always drawn the water for its operation directly from the creek. The diversion dam that sends water into the hatchery ponds has completely blocked chinook and other salmon and trout species from reaching spawning and rearing habitat in upper Tokul Creek for at least ten years, when the dam’s fish ladder was irreparably damaged in a flood. It is doubtful whether the fish ladder had ever been adequate to allow year-round migration of all the salmon species in Tokul Creek.

Tokul Creek may have been one of the Snoqualmie River’s most important chinook-spawning tributaries. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, from 1974 to 1998 lower Tokul Creek exhibited the highest concentration of chinook spawning redds in the entire Snohomish Basin, averaging over twice the number of redds per mile as any other tributary in the system. However, the fish are crowded into less than half a mile of stream below the diversion dam. Their spawning success and the survival rate of the juvenile fish is compromised by the salmon’s inability to access the habitats above the dam.

The situation has been exacerbated in the last several years by a large landslide on the high bank opposite the hatchery. During the winter 99/00 incubation season, the slide impacted nearly all the available spawning habitat in the lower creek, delivering hundreds of cubic yards of fine sands and silts into this critical fall chinook spawning habitat, burying and destroying scores of chinook spawning redds. Studies conducted last winter by Washington Trout and the Tulalip

Tribes indicated that fine sediments deposited by the slide likely resulted in near-100% mortality of chinook eggs deposited in last fall’s spawning run.

Preliminary results from the sediment intrusion study at Tokul Creek demonstrated that fine sediments from the Tokul slide are present at 8 to 15 percent fines <0.85 mm – clearly detrimental to incubation success. The study measured fine sediment intrusion into artificial redds constructed to simulate steelhead redds downstream from the slide. The study’s conclusions are applicable to chinook incubation success as well; the dimensions and locations of steelhead redds in Tokul are almost identical to those of chinook redds, and similarly excessive amounts of fine sediments were observed in Tokul downstream from the slide in the fall as well as during the spring.

An Emergency Solution
The landslide also threatens Hwy 202 above Tokul Creek, and DOT has been examining options to stabilize the slide and protect the road. With pressure from Washington Trout, WDFW has also been working to resolve the fish-passage issues associated with the diversion dam. However, it was clear that neither issue would be resolved in time for this year’s chinook spawning season, which generally runs from mid-September through mid-November.

Without a temporary, emergency program to mitigate the problems on lower Tokul Creek, it was likely the events of the last spawning/incubation period would be repeated, resulting in the destruction of the majority of this year’s chinook eggs. Immediate action needed to be taken. Washington Trout developed and pressed for a plan to divert the fish away from areas where their nests would be damaged by the landslides’ effects, and move the salmon to the more productive habitats above the diversion dam.

On September 18, responding Washington Trout’s initiative, WDFW installed a temporary fish weir in Tokul Creek near its mouth. The weir diverts migrating chinook into the hatchery’s outlet stream. Blocked from moving up Tokul Creek, the fish make their way through the smaller outlet stream and into a holding tank/trap in the hatchery complex. Once a day, with Washington Trout staff and volunteers, hatchery personnel tag the salmon for identification, gather them into a tank truck, and transport them to a site well upstream of the diversion dam, where they are released back into the creek. The weir and trap are monitored around the clock, by hatchery personnel during the day and by Washington Trout staff after dark.

Both DOT and WDFW came forward in a timely manner to support the project and help in its implementation. The two-year project’s budget of $582,850 includes WDFW funding of a final resolution of the fish-passage barrier, but not before the end of the second project-year. First-year funding includes a commitment of $38,500 from DOT, in-kind contributions of labor, materials, and technical support from WDFW, and in-kind labor and technical support from the Tulalip Tribes and Weyerhaeuser Corporation. The project will be managed and coordinated by Washington Trout for both project-years 2000 and 2001.

The project will have direct benefits for this year’s and next year’s spawning runs, by increasing spawning success and protecting the chinook eggs from mortality caused by the landslide. It also presents an opportunity to collect data that biologists and managers can use to help preserve and restore Puget Sound chinook, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Removing the fish-passage barrier at the hatchery will be absolutely necessary to improve salmon production in Tokul Creek. Allowing fish to spawn in the unused habitats above the diversion dam will show how productive those habitats can be.

The Emergency Tokul Creek Chinook Passage Project is exactly that, an emergency effort, the type our salmon streams are subjected to too often. It is only the first, temporary step in improving conditions for wild fish in Tokul Creek.

"This project is an emergency-room procedure," said Kurt Beardslee, Washington Trout Executive Director. "It will help insure the success of this year’s spawning run. We applaud DOT and WDFW for stepping up to the plate, but this is by no means the solution to the problems facing Tokul Creek. The salmon and trout populations in Tokul Creek will continue to struggle until WDFW’s diversion dam is removed or replaced with one that allows fish passage."

The salmon are being released on a section of Tokul Creek surrounded by private property, owned by Weyerhaeuser and leased to the Snoqualmie Valley Rifle Club. Both Weyerhaeuser and the rifle club have granted access to the property, and volunteers from Weyerhaeuser are helping in the fish-transport operation. In the first seven days of operation, the project trapped and moved up top one dozen fish per day. The count per day is expected to increase as the run builds through October and November.