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Maxwelton project helps wildlife habitat

Project workers move the first of two pieces of decking into place to construct the bridge over Maxwelton Creek.  - Photo courtesy of Nancy Waddell / Maxwelton Salmon Adventure
Project workers move the first of two pieces of decking into place to construct the bridge over Maxwelton Creek.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Nancy Waddell / Maxwelton Salmon Adventure

The Adopt-A-Stream Foundation spearheaded a multi-agency effort to open up wildlife habitat in and around Maxwelton Creek.

The project, which started on Monday and ended on Saturday, took place on Coyote Trail near Maxwelton Road.

Project managers removed a damaged culvert, a pipe that was too small and partially collapsed, and replaced it with a bridge that will give fish plenty of room to pass through.

"This is a huge start in opening up spawning areas," said Jan Holbrook, an ecologist and the project manager.

"And it's more than just for the health of the salmon, it's also for the health of the stream," Holbrook said.

She obtained a grant from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's "Landowner Incentive Program" to complete the project. It will open up five miles of upstream habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Holbrook was able to identify three at-risk species that would benefit from the project -- coho salmon, cutthroat trout and the pileated woodpecker. The fish Holbrook identified spend significant time in the streams, instead to migrating directly to the salt water environment, like chum or pink salmon, which migrate to the sea immediately after hatching.

"That makes it especially important to maintain/establish healthy year-round habitat," Holbrook said.

Holbrook said the pileated woodpecker will also benefit from this project because it will find habitat in some of the plantings that will occur around the site.

A number of agencies were involved with this restoration project, either through the contribution of grant matching funds, or working a specific area of expertise.

"I have a lot of partnerships to help out," said Holbrook. She said the resources are out there to complete a task like this, but "you have to be persistent to make it all come together."

Tom Slocum of the Whidbey Island Conservation District completed the project's technical design work.

"It's a great project," he said. "Maxwelton Creek is a very important creek for South Whidbey."

The Maxwelton watershed is the largest on Whidbey Island.

It has historically supported healthy runs of coho salmon and cutthroat trout. But only a small number of these fish remain in the system.

"The culvert was more or less blocking the passage of salmon," Slocum said. "Now that it's gone we hope to get more fish passing through."

Five culverts along Maxwelton Stream were cited as being problematic. Four of the five culverts are maintained by Island County and are in the planning stage for replacement.

This project is taking place on private land near three residences.

Steve and Nancy Scoles, the current landowners, have accepted a 30-year agreement to keep the property as-is.

Holbrook said before the current owners bought the property, a big truck went over the culvert and squished one side of it. The stream got backed up, and big pools formed on the sides of the culvert.

Salmon spawn during the first big rains of the season. The fish wait in the ocean until they sense it's time to go up into the streams.

Holbrook said when it rains hard, the water going through the damaged culvert is similar to what happens when a finger is placed over the opening of a hose. When the spawning rains come, usually in November, the water gets going so fast through the culvert that the fish couldn't get through.

"Coho salmon tend to swim as far upstream as they can," Holbrook said. "And this culvert is a blockage, and they just can't get up."

Holbrook said that not only are they taking away the bottleneck for salmon and trout, project workers are also planting trees and creating habitat for wildlife to use as a natural passageway.

The new habitat will increase the diversity of wildlife in the area. And the new vegetation along the stream will improve water quality downstream and decrease erosion along the stream bank.

INFO BOX:

Help create more salmon habitat

Maxwelton Salmon Adventure is coordinating three creek restoration projects on private land in October. Volunteers are needed to participate in half-day plantings from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, Oct. 8, 15 and 22.

No heavy labor involved; holes will already be dug. The main tasks are laying cardboard, planting and mulching. And MSA will furnish all planting equipment. Bring boots, gloves, and dress for the weather. Snacks will be provided, but bring a lunch if you want one.

Volunteers will meet at the Outdoor Classroom on Maxwelton Road in Clinton at 9:30 a.m. to get directions and carpool to the sites, because parking is limited.

Call 360-579-1272 or e-mail info@salmonadventure.org for more information and to sign up for one of the dates.

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