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Chimacum Creek History

Some people think that Chimacum Creek's headwaters are in the Olympic Mountains, but in actuality they are within the hills around Beaver Valley (East Fork Chimacum Creek) and West Valley near Eaglemount Road--Peterson and Delanty Lakes. It is all local rain fall and other precipitation that feeds the creek system, running directly into the creeks in the wet months or slowly filtering through the soil, which feeds Chimacum Creek year round even in the dry months.

In the 1800's Chimacum Creek (48° 00.706 N, 122° 46.488 W) was a healthy, vibrant, meandering creek (figure 1). Chimacum Creek had all the levels of a forest, canopy, understory, shrub layer, and litter layer. The water had a complexity of woody debris, there were many nurse logs nearby, the air was cool and the water had high levels of oxygen.

When the dairy farmers moved into the Chimacum Valley they needed a more efficient way to access the creek water. What they did was straighten Chimacum Creek (figure 2), they channelized the stream. By straightening the creek and removing the forests, the water moved too fast for young fry to survive. The temperature also increased thereby decreasing the amount of dissolved oxygen. By the 1960's 90% of the salmon population was gone. The chum salmon population was wiped out by the 1980's. So in the 1990's it was decided that something needed to be done to restore the salmon to our watershed.

What the North Olympic Salmon Coalition (NOSC) is currently doing is trying to get Chimacum Creek back to its pristine state so that the chum salmon that was reintroduced will survive and thrive. By the 2000's salmon are in the creek again but there is still more work to do. Efforts include planting trees to regain the tree cover (which entails getting rid of the canary grass that infiltrated the area), and to re-meander the creek. Students here at Chimacum Middle School are helping test the water quality and monitor the creek as it passes through our school to ensure that the water is healthy enough to support the chum salmon on its own (not needing to hatch them at a hatchery).

Figure 1. A meandering stream or creek. (This is not a picture of Chimacum Creek, merely a representation of any creek.)

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Figure 2. Straightened creek. (This is not a picture of Chimacum Creek, merely a representation of any creek.)

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Here are some notes that Audrey Miles A. Cherney, a NOSC  Restoration Steward, sent me from what she taught our 6th graders:

Chimacum Creek
Chimacum Creek is home to at least three types of fish who belong to the salmon family (called salmonids). Summer chum (also called dog salmon), coho (also knows as silver salmon), and cutthroat trout are the three confirmed salmonid species in Chimacum Creek. The original salmon habitat was spruce-cedar bog conditions with beaver ponds, vast forests, wetlands, and side channels, but 90% of that is now gone. In the valley, the forest was cleared and the creek was ditched and straightened to drain the land and increase the available area and productivity for agriculture.
Straightening a stream channel and removing large woody debris, such as fallen trees, large limbs, and root wads, reduces the amount of space for the fish to live (habitat), and the habitat that remains is of lesser quality. Large woody debris (LWD) increases channel complexity, habitat diversity, and provides better place for all kinds of fish, including salmon, to grow and thrive. Riparian vegetation keeps the stream water shaded and cooler, a necessary condition for salmonids, and it keeps many weeds out of the stream channel. Shaded gravel riffles and pools make betters sites for fish to make their nests (called a redd, pronounced like the color “red”) where they lay their eggs to grow and hatch. Pools and back eddies created around LWD are necessary features for young fish to escape the faster stream currents, so that they can rest when they get tired. Streams that do not have weeds in the channel and have more trees to shade the water have lower water temperatures and typically more dissolved oxygen, which are essential for salmon to thrive. In addition to providing shade, woody plants (shrubs and trees) stabilize banks and help slow the release of water into a stream—which help prevent destructive floods and prevent the bank from washing away (erosion), as well as acting as a filter to keep pollutants from tainting the water, which can kill vulnerable eggs and young fish. Leafy debris from trees and shrubs are also an important food source for the macroinvertebrates (insect-like organisms) that salmon eat.
In the mid-1980’s, the Irondale Road culvert in Chimacum Creek washed out of place during a big storm, which happened at a critical egg-laying (spawing) time for the summer chum salmon, which were in serious decline already. The road fill and sediment buried their spawning grounds and effectively wiped out the last of the local population. In the mid-1990’s, Wild Olympic Salmon and NOSC began a brood stock program which released a new generation of summer chum, effectively reinstating the summer chum population. Today, NOSC and its partners are continuing their efforts to save, protect, and restore native salmon populations and their habitat in Chimacum Creek and many, many other streams within the North Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
Thank you Chimacum School, and Mr. Gonzalez’ 6th grade science classes for your efforts and support to understand Chimacum Creek’s conditions!