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Washington

Making the Quinault River A Better Home for Salmon

What do salmon need in a river? Places to rest, places to hide, places to feed.

The Conservancy is supporting a pilot project by the Quinault Indian Nation to bring those critical places back to the Quinault River, to create habitat for the blueback sockeye, the lifeblood of their society and culture for thousands of years.

The blueback is so called because adults returning from the Pacific to spawn are a bluish color, rather than the usual sockeye salmon red. Though struggling, they still comprise the largest remaining wild sockeye salmon run in the lower 48 states. They are as unique as the river, the forests and the people that rely on them.

Learn more about our work on Washington’s coast.

The Quinault River valley has changed in the last 150 years. Early settlers cleared homesteads and industrial logging soon followed. By 1950, most of the massive trees in the lowland rainforest were gone. The river began to erode its banks and rapidly migrate back and forth across its floodplain. Without standing and fallen trees to protect the river banks, high winter flows destroy the Quinault’s side channels and spawning grounds for blueback sockeye, cutthroat, coho and steelhead. These conditions permeate downstream as piles of sediment and recurring floods that threaten valley residents.

Scientists now believe the river can no longer “self-heal” and that productive salmon spawning habitat must be restored. The floodplain must be rebuilt with carefully placed log jams that will create stable channels and help regrow forested islands.

Incredibly, the Quinault River valley still has all the key pieces needed for recovery – the river, the rainforest, a productive estuary, a committed tribal community and wild fish with a drive to survive. Committed action can build on the foresight of past generations and create a positive future for the next seven generations, before it’s too late or too expensive.

The Nature Conservancy is working with the Quinault Indian Nation to secure and restore remaining salmon spawning channels along the twelve miles of the river from Lake Quinault upstream to its border with Olympic National Park. The healing process has already begun with a pilot project using large trees to form new islands along three of the most critical spawning areas.

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