WASHOUGAL, Wash. (KOIN) — After a century of environmental damage, it sometimes takes extreme measures to fix problems.
Deep in the forest of Southwest Washington, humans used heavy machinery to undo the damage done by humans with heavy machinery.
Miles up the Washougal River and farther into creeks called Bluebird and Silver — Brice Crayne is proud to show off what they look like now.
“Almost 10 years in the making to get this project done,” Crayne said.
The difference is clear compared to photos taken before summer 2018, showing dams made of trees created by loggers in the 1950s.
“Upstream from these dams, there was so much sediment blocked up that the whole stream went subterranean for a 100 yards or more and the fish couldn’t get downstream, because they would have to swim under gravel,” Crayne said.
Crayne’s non-profit, The Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, which is backed by state funding, did the difficult work of getting permits to allow heavy machinery in to undo the dams.
“These are big machines, 100,000-pound machines coming up through these canyons,” said Jeff Roberts with Mike Watters Excavation.
It was Roberts’ job to pull dams apart and rearrange the logs and boulders back in the river bed. This time in a strategic way to slow the river down without blocking it.
“When I first come into this field, I was kind of skeptical, coming from a logging background,” Roberts said. “We created a lot of pools for little fish, and we’ve taken out the barricades that have been in here for 60-70 years, the fish couldn’t get up here. That’s a good feeling.”
Removing the dams also allows sediment to flow downriver and that gravel is essential for fish.
“Most of the river was like this before with this really boney stuff,” Crayne said. “Very little spawning area out here. Steelhead can’t spawn in this.”
The completion of this last work means a total of four more miles of river are now open to fish, with steelhead returning farther and farther upstream every year.
“[In] 2015 and 2016 when we were working in here, we saw very few fish, any age class,” Crayne said. “[In] 2017, we came in here and they were everywhere. Schools of them.”
After the decade of work to get the project going, it only took a week for the excavators to do the major lifting to fix the river.
“This is already a successful project,” Crayne said.
The $344,000 project would have cost more but prison inmates were used to do a lot of the work.