Smallest Residents of Watershed Key Indicators of Overall Watershed Health

CAPTION: Mya Fisher, a Hoh tribal member in the Quileute Tribe’s Youth Opportunity Program, scans a tub for macroinvertebrates sampled from Bear Creek. Photo: D. Preston.

SOURCE: Northwest Treaty Tribes. The 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington are leaders in efforts to protect and restore natural resources in the region. At the heart of those efforts are rights reserved by the tribes in treaties with the U.S. government. Tribes reserved rights to harvest fish, shellfish, wildlife and other natural resources in exchange for most of the land that makes up the region today.

The Quileute Tribe wants to know if two streams have improved since 2014 when biologists and volunteers gathered insects that provide a window into stream health.

Recently, a crew of Quileute natural resources staff, volunteers and biologists with several cooperating agencies sampled Bear Creek to gather all the water insects, or macroinvertebrates, in several sections of stream.

Macroinvertebrates are food for salmon and an indicator of the water quality health. Salmon require clean, cool water with diverse numbers of insects, along with adequate streamside shade.

The labor-intensive sampling involves vigorously digging a 1-square-foot sample area in the stream, allowing all bugs, dirt, and rocks to flow into an attached collection bag. The rocks are meticulously hand-scrubbed and water is swished around in the plastic tubs with the sample, then poured through a fine-meshed sieve to retain the insects. All the insects and some of the small organic matter are put in a sample jar to be identified by a taxonomist.

“Bear Creek was rated as ‘good’ in our first studies in 2013 and 2014,” said Nicole Rasmussen, water quality biologist for the Quileute Tribe. “We’re interested in seeing if there are any changes.” Bear Creek is part of the Quillayute River watershed that includes the Calawah, Bogachiel, Sol Duc and Dickey rivers. By sampling the insect life as well as monitoring temperature and other water quality indicators, the tribe is looking at how well the stream is supporting fish.

The tribe also surveys these same rivers for salmon redds (nests) and carcasses.

Volunteers and Youth Assist Sampling

The work is time-consuming and having many hands from volunteers and cooperating agencies allows the tribe to sample two sites each year. “We would love to get back to sampling all 14 of the sites every year, but we just don’t have the funding and staffing to do that right now,” Rasmussen said. “The two we do maintain have data sets beginning in the 1990s, so we want to continue to provide the data for those,” she said.

The crew includes two teens from the tribe’s Youth Opportunity Program, which allows tribal members from 13 to 18 years old to get paid to participate in a variety of different job experiences. Mya Fisher and Ruby Sheriff, both Hoh tribal members, have been sampling streams most of the summer with Quileute Natural Resources. Each of their fathers has worked in natural resources for the Hoh Tribe. They enjoy intently scrutinizing the gravel for insects, some smaller than a grain of rice. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s interesting,” Sheriff said.

The crew also includes a retired Quileute Tribe employee, a University of Washington Olympic Natural Resources Center employee, a Trout Unlimited volunteer and a biologist with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “It would be impossible to do all this by myself, so it’s so great to get this help from the community,” Rasmussen said.

“By tracking the changes in all of these stream indicators, it helps us know conditions that fish are returning to and gives us information to use in managing habitat,” said Frank Geyer, Natural Resources Director for the Quileute Tribe.