Long Live the Kings and Seattle City Light have been proud partners in salmon recovery since LLTK’s inception. Together, we power projects around our region that help salmon and steelhead overcome the many challenges they face. This most recent City Light project in Stossel Creek is just the type of work we want to see our private, public, and nonprofit partners coming together to accomplish.
In 2015, Seattle City Light purchased and is in the process of restoring a 154-acre property along Stossel Creek, a tributary to the Tolt River in eastern King County, Washington. City Light purchased the property as part of its proactive Endangered Species Act Land Program, which purchases property containing important habitat for endangered and threatened fish species. This program was established by the City of Seattle in 1999 under Resolution 29905 to help restore and protect habitat for fish protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Stossel Creek is a tributary in the Snohomish River watershed approximately 30 miles east of Seattle, which provides important habitat for ESA-threatened steelhead and coho salmon. The City Light property contains over 3,500 feet of Stossel Creek as well as an additional 1,300 feet of an unnamed creek and wetlands. Steelhead and coho spend a significant portion of their life as juveniles in streams, so protecting or improving the creek habitat on the property can improve the water quality of the creek as well as the river.
The previous owner logged portions of the Stossel Creek property in 2012, which had not been replanted at the time of purchase. Erosion from the logged areas and dirt access roads may contribute sediment to streams where it can smother steelhead and coho redds, killing the eggs, or get trapped in fish gills, impairing breathing. Thus, key objectives in purchasing the property were to protect the wetlands, soils, and streamside vegetation and to reforest logged portions of the site. Trees provide shade that maintains cool water temperatures in streams and associated wetlands, a critical need particularly in the summer months. Trees also provide habitat for insects that are a food source to both fish species.
City Light looked for outside funding to aid with replanting the site, and in doing so developed a unique partnership with Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, Northwest Natural Resource Group, and Seattle Public Utilities (the Partners), to apply for and receive a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as well as funds from Carter Subaru of King County. As the Partners planned the replanting of the Stossel Creek property with the objective of reforesting the site, they took the long view of how the climate will change as the site matures. As climate changes, so too will ecosystems that are shaped by it. The Partners in this project used this understanding to plan a forest restoration project that takes into account the expected changes in climate to ultimately result in a more complex and resilient forest structure by the end of the century. Rather than reforest in a traditional way, this Stossel Creek site was planted using a climate-adapted approach.
The Partners’ approach included planting tree seedlings from seed sources originating from southwestern Oregon and northern California, where the climate is similar to the warmer and drier summer climate expected at the Stossel Creek site during the mid to late 21st century. These seedlings were planted alongside locally sourced Douglas-fir and Western redcedar. A total of seven different tree species native to the Pacific Northwest, both deciduous and coniferous, were planted to provide relatively high species diversity. This method increases the functional redundancy of a forest – meaning, forest resilience that comes from multiple species from different taxonomic groups playing similar roles in the ecosystem. Plantings were located away from natural regeneration and grouped by associations suitable for local site conditions such as soil type and aspect. Trees were planted in a wider spacing than traditional methods to decrease the potential for competition during future droughts. These strategies were designed to increase the chances for long-term success of the forested landscape on the Stossel Creek property. Success will be determined through at least a decade of monitoring of tree health and survival within established monitoring plots.
The climate-adapted reforestation of the Stossel Creek property is a novel project designed to explore new replanting strategies that intentionally account for climate change. Through an innovative public-private partnership, this project demonstrates the use of new tools and approaches to restoring and conserving natural resources available today, with the ultimate goal of establishing a resilient forest into the foreseeable future and ameliorating expected climate impacts to aquatic habitat. Demonstrating and recognizing the role of these practices in creating more-resilient forests can help land managers plan and implement more comprehensive approaches to forest restoration and, in this case, fish habitat protection as the climate changes.
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