Teanaway Community Forest fencing to help fish
The state Department of Natural Resources is putting up fence in parts of the Teanaway Community Forest to help protect sensitive riparian areas along rivers and streams.
The riparian areas are critical habitat for endangered steelhead populations, said Eric Winford, Teanaway Community Forest Coordinator with DNR. The fencing will go along the North Fork Teanaway River, the West Fork Teanaway River and Indian John Creek, with much of the work happening this summer. In some spots the fencing may be as far as 100 feet from the bank. The fencing is not meant to stop wild animals or people from accessing the river, but to keep cattle from hurting sensitive vegetation.
“What we’re trying to do is give those areas a chance to get a nice riparian buffer,” Winford said.
The fencing is in response to the water temperatures in the river being too high in the summer for fish to survive, he said. The Teanaway is an impaired river because of warm temperatures, and a healthy riparian area provides shade and habitat for the fish. The fencing will start going up in the most sensitive areas like the North Fork Teanaway River’s floodplain.
Right now DNR has three grazing contracts in the Teanaway, Winford said, and the agency wants to continue those contracts. The fencing will make things compatible for fish and livestock.
The fencing DNR is considering is about 4 feet high and is similar to cattle fencing used on ranches, he said. DNR can design the fencing so it can be laid down when it is not in use after cattle grazing season. The department also will install gates to allow people access to the river. Smooth wire on the top and bottom of the fence will make the streams and river accessible to wildlife.
He said there’s already a good amount of fencing in the Teanaway.
“It’s something you’d see out in any field to control cattle. Some people might have an image of one of those elk proof fences, 8 feet high and that’s not where we’re going,” Winford said.
Gary Fudacz, a local cattleman, said he isn’t worried about the fencing in the Teanaway Community Forest affecting the ability of his cattle to graze.
“The whole thing used to be fenced,” he said.
The fencing going up is on a portion of the forest far away from where his cattle will be, Fudacz said.
The department also still has to see if the fencing will be effective method to protect the riparian areas. The Teanaway Forest is a big area, close to 6,000 acres, and a little fencing won’t affect his cattle that much, he said.
“They are trying their best and if it works fine ... we’ll have to wait and see,” Fudacz said.
William Meyer, a habitat biologist with the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the Teanaway Community Forest is a vital watershed for endangered steelhead and chinook salmon populations. Repairing the Teanaway’s riparian area will help restore the floodplains and create better habitats for the fish.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has done studies on how cattle may be affecting riparian areas in floodplains, Meyer said, and fencing will protect fragile ecosystems.
The benefit of having a healthy riparian area in a floodplain is that it slows down river flows and spreads it out. This in turn will help reduce the chance of flooding downstream and benefit farmers as it will gradually release water into irrigation canals, he said.
Watersheds are like a sponge, but humans have done a lot of things to make that sponge not hold water, he said. Things like road networks and ditches have increased the efficiency of water running off of the floodplain. A floodplain with a little bit of roughness from a healthy riparian areas will cause the water to spread out more and slow down the flow.
“So it’s not just whooshing down,” he said.
Chinook salmon and steelhead have to travel 500 miles past nine dams to return to the Teanaway, he said. The Teanaway is only 200 square miles, but it gets a disproportionate number of steelhead returning to it opposed to other watersheds in the upper basin.
“So in other words, they seem to like it ... it seems to be important,” Meyers said.
Chinook salmon have already started returning to the Teanaway. The Yakama Nation has been capturing wild salmon in the Teanaway, rearing the eggs and fry and releasing them in into Indian John Creek so they imprint on that tributary. In 2003 there were three chinook nests in the Teanaway, now there are around 75 nests.
“What you are trying to do is amplify natural genetics,” he said.
The problem is if fish get up to the Teanaway with parasites or disease, the hot water will aggravate those problems, Meyer said. Parasites do better in warm water and it can kill the fish.
Without a healthy riparian area there aren’t as many places to hide, which makes fish more susceptible to being eaten by predators.