Kneeling in a thicket of vegetation on the Skokomish estuary, Shannon Kirby combed her hands through the tall green grasses in front of her, calling out codes that identify them by size, type and abundance.
Kirby, then a biologist for the Skokomish Tribe, was studying the native freshwater and saltwater vegetation taking over the estuary after 100 years of being diked and dredged.
“The response in vegetation is very promising, as well as the diversity that’s out here,” Kirby said. “Estuarine plants are a huge source of food for animals, as well as doubling as a water filtration system, neutralizing pollutants and yet providing nutrients for plant growth. We’re right on target for where an estuary should be.”
The tribe found pickleweed, salt grass, sedges, rushes, sea arrow grass and Puget Sound gumweed.
Since 2010, every August, when everything is in full bloom, tribal staff visits 75 sites throughout the 1,000-acre estuary, looking at plant types, sizes, growth and soil composition.
The tribe began restoring the estuary at the mouth of the Skokomish River in 2007, through dike and culvert removal, large woody debris installation and native plant revegetation. Through three phases so far, the tribe has restored up to 1,000 acres of habitat for salmon and wildlife.
Currently in the third phase, the tribe is reconnecting historic tidal channels that were blocked or filled in over time, further allowing the tidelands to flow properly. In addition, fish-blocking culverts and tide gates are being removed or replaced with larger culverts and bridges.
Funding for the restoration of the Skokomish estuary includes Puget Sound Partnership funding through the Environmental Protection Agency.