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(Many Paths)
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Students help reclaim stretch of Tanwax Creek
by Nisqually Valley News
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The Nisqually Indian Tribe is helping a local landowner reclaim a stretch of Tanwax Creek for salmon.

Yelm Schools played a role in restoring the creek, volunteering student labor through mid-October.

McKenna Elementary and Fort Stevens Elementary students volunteered two hours each on Oct. 7. Prairie Elementary and Mill Pond Elementary students volunteered two hours each on Oct. 9. Mill Pond and Prairie returned Tuesday, Oct. 14. Yelm High School went out on Oct. 16.

Tribal technicians, volunteers and school groups are clearing a five-acre infestation of reed canary grass along the creek, allowing coho salmon to access important habitat on James Tucker’s property.

The volunteers and school groups are organized by the tribe’s Stream Stewards program, the Nisqually River Education Project and the Pierce Conservation District.

The tribe is using a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation paired with funds that Tucker is receiving from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to buy and plant native plants that will eventually out-compete the invasive grass.

The lower five miles of Tanwax Creek is infested with reed canary grass that blocks salmon migration and spawning. Imported to the area as cattle feed decades ago, reed canary infestation is a common obstacle for salmon in small streams.

When Tucker bought the property four years ago, he began immediately trying to remove the reed canary grass, but was never able to get a handle on the problem. “I wanted to try to restore the wetlands down there,” Tucker said.

“This is the property that I have; I might as well try to make it better.”

After initial mowing, volunteers will plant a variety of native trees and shrubs that will eventually prevent the grass from growing back. Tribal employees and volunteers will periodically visit Tucker’s property to check the plants and mow the area if needed.

Coho salmon will especially benefit from increased access to habitat in Tanwax Creek.

“Coho habitat is pretty limited in the Nisqually watershed,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the tribe. “Coho prefer these kinds of small tributaries to the main river, like Tanwax Creek.”

A similar project on nearby Muck Creek has kept a stretch of that creek free of reed canary grass for several years.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of salmon in Muck Creek, mostly because fish have been able to access habitat that had been blocked by this grass,” Troutt said.

“The more habitat we can bring back and protect for salmon, the more salmon we’re going to see coming back each year,” Troutt said.

“We’re glad when we can help a landowner make that happen.”

“It’s been excellent working with the tribe, they have a lot of capability and flexibility to get things done,” Tucker said.

“It seems like when they see something they want to get done, they go after it.”

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