Gold Creek Valley Restoration Project Aims to Improve Floodplain Connectivity and Habitat Resiliency; Public Invited to Submit Comments

Snoqualmie Pass, WA — It’s a warm fall morning just east of Snoqualmie Pass where a group of fisheries biologists and conservation volunteers are pulling on hiking boots and waders, and gearing-up with buckets, nets and backpacks. They’re preparing to hike up the wide, rocky, creek bed of Gold Creek in search of juvenile bull trout awaiting rescue from the rapidly evaporating shallow pools of water. Fish rescue efforts such as this are helping these small bull trout hang on a while longer until habitat restorations projects, like the one the Forest Service is initiating in the Gold Creek Valley, can be implemented.

The Forest Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are working together, in cooperation with the Yakama Nation to initiate the formal environmental review process to determine which restoration strategies could work best for the Gold Creek Valley Restoration Project.

The shared goal is to restore and improve floodplain and habitat connectivity that support critical spawning and rearing habitat for bull trout and other native salmonids within the headwaters of the Yakima River system; and to provide a more sustainable and resilient conditions for generations to come.

“We’re in the earliest stages of developing a proposal for environmental review” said Cle Elum District Ranger Michelle Capp. “Our project team has formulated a number of restoration actions throughout the Gold Creek Valley, including Gold Creek Pond. The concepts developed to date will allow for the replacement of day-use recreation opportunities similar to what are currently available at the site,” said Capp. “Your engagement and comments during this initial project scoping process are crucial in helping craft this project based on what matters most to you about this vital habitat.”

Bull trout, which are culturally significant for the Yakama Nation, and have been a long-term concern for the tribe who have been leading efforts to restore and enhance bull trout habitat in partnership with the Forest Service, WDFW and other Yakima Basin Integrated Plan partners. This collaborative restoration project will improve habitat conditions at Gold Creek so that keystone species like bull trout can thrive, thereby improving the entire ecosystem.

Today the creek is still home to one of just four remaining populations of bull trout in the upper Yakima River Basin.

“Redd (nest) surveys indicate that bull trout populations have dropped to perilously low numbers and the time to act is now,” said William Meyer, Fish and Wildlife Biologist with WDFW. “The 2012 Yakima Bull Trout Action Plan identifies Gold Creek as a high priority and one of five action populations due to its low abundance,” said Meyer

Historic impacts that have contributed to bull trout decline include Keechelus dam construction for agricultural needs and logging the old growth forest along the creek.

“We’ve also found that one of the main culprits of stream dewatering in one reach of Gold Creek is one of its best-known features: Gold Creek Pond, which was a former gravel pit used during Interstate 90 expansion in the 1970’s,” said Meyer

“Although the man-made pond is scenic, the area was never fully hydro-logically restored to a healthy functioning wetland state. Current conditions cannot support the biodiversity that should live there. Studies indicate that construction of the pond and dike altered the way the water moves across the entire valley floor,” said Meyer.

“While the primary purpose of this effort is to restore the once thriving habitat especially for threatened bull trout, we also recognize the importance of maintaining the recreational, visual, and accessibility values that current visitors enjoy,” said Capp.

Proposed restoration action highlights:

  • Restoring Gold Creek by narrowing and stabilizing the creek channel, adding large wood and side channels, removing levees, and restoring native plant communities to increase habitat quality, quantity, and availability.
  • Reconnecting Gold Creek to its floodplain on the western, undeveloped side of the valley.
  • Reconfiguring the Gold Creek Pond site (a former gravel borrow pit) to reestablish wetlands and reconnect water flow into Gold Creek.
  • Redesigning and relocating recreation facilities around the Gold Creek Pond site impacted by bull trout recovery actions.

We invite your project specific comments to help us improve the restoration proposal. The Forest Service will offer a 30-day comment period on the proposal; comments must be submitted by April 12, 2020.

To submit comments, learn more about the project or sign-up for updates please visit the Forest Service's project planning page: fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57415

Due to public health and safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus, instead of an in-person public meeting we’re planning to hold a live-streamed online open house via the Okanogan-Wenatchee Facebook page .  More details will be available soon.

For more information contact Team Leader, Patty Garvey-Darda (509) 852-1029 or Public Affairs Specialist, Deborah Kelly (509) 664-9247. 

A draft environmental assessment (EA) should be available by fall 2020, and the final EA and draft decision are expected in the fall of 2021.

aerial view of Gold Creek pond

Aerial view of lower Gold Creek Valley and Gold Creek Pond looking south towards the upper end of the Keechelus Lake reservoir where Interstate 90 crosses over the creek. Credit: Kittitas Conservation Trust

 


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https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/okawen/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD711583