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North Kitsap stream survey results 'shocking' | Ghost Streams

'Ghost Streams,' a North Kitsap Herald series.
— image credit: Logo designed Tad Sooter

—Part 2 in a series on stream mapping.

NORTH KITSAP — By now, the discovery of untyped streams no longer surprises Wild Fish Conservancy staff and their volunteers. The group has completed stream-typing work from Olympia to the San Juan Islands, wherever grant money is available.

Working in the Miller Bay and Kingston areas in the last two years, crews have found that state Department of Natural Resources maps routinely underestimate the scope of watersheds in North Kitsap.

“We found six or eight streams in Miller Bay that weren’t on the map,” said Frank Staller, a Fish Conservancy field technician and former state Fish and Wildlife employee. “That’s been pretty consistent.”

Cowling Creek was a good example. With cooperation from the Suquamish Tribe, Wild Fish Conservancy volunteers tramped through several square miles of forest between Widme Road and Miller Bay, tracking the creek and its tributaries. They documented eight miles of stream not listed on Natural Resources maps, more than doubling the scope of the watershed.

“We knew we were off by quite a bit,” Suquamish biologist Paul Dorn said, “but that’s a pretty shocking figure.”

Equally impressive was the variety of species uncovered. In the Carpenter Creek watershed, the crews netted coho salmon ranging from tiny juveniles to two-year-old fish. Each life stage has its own habitat requirements.

“It just points out the importance of preservation,” Dorn said.

Beyond updating the state’s maps, information gathered by the Fish Conservancy in North Kitsap will be a boon for restoration work, said Kathy Peters, who heads the West Sound Watershed Council and works through Kitsap's Department of Community Development.

State and local agencies are putting an emphasis on removing man-made barriers, including poorly constructed culverts. The Fish Conservancy’s maps will show where these barriers exist and how much habitat they’re stymieing.

Carpenter Creek is already the site of one restoration project already in progress. A culvert at the mouth of the estuary is being replaced by a 70-foot-long bridge. The wider passage will allow a more natural flow of water between the slough and the sound, improving marine habitat. Without supporting data, it’s just a theory, Peters said. But information gathered by the water-typing crews, combined with similar surveys along the shoreline, can be used to track improvement once the bridge is completed, she said.

“It’s really important to understand whether we are gaining value,” Peters said. “We can’t just assume that.”

A 'fish bearing' lawn

Staller and Jamie Glasgow of the Fish Conservancy wrap up their day in Hansville with a house call.

Earlier on Finn Creek they’d bumped into Dennis Cziske, who took an immediate interest in their work. As it turned out, state maps showed a salmon stream running through Cziske’s yard, but he was convinced it was just a stormwater drain. Glasgow and Staller agreed to take a look.

While the map could be wrong, it’s common for people to underestimate a stream’s fish-bearing potential, Glasgow said. Even streams that go dry part of the year can be used for spawning. Many times a homeowner apologetically tells a Fish Conservancy crew that their stream is just a ditch, only to watch a biologist net a healthy trout.

“That happens just about every week,” Glasgow said.

Cziske’s creek isn’t one of those cases. A shallow indent in his well-tended yard above Point No Point is the only suggestion of water flow. A drainage pipe underneath his yard is choked with dry grass. Even if it carries water part of the year, it looks unlikely to provide any habitat, Glasgow said. The stream will probably be degraded to a seasonal, non-fish bearing stretch when Fish Conservancy work resumes in the spring.

“It’s important for people to know that our work goes both ways,” Glasgow said.

The Fish Conservancy is done with its water typing in Kitsap for the year. Natural Resources only allows water-typing amendments to be documented from spring through late summer, with some exceptions allowed.

Glasgow and Staller are satisfied by their work on this afternoon. In about four hours, they’ve noted Finn Creek’s faulty location, charted a creek not found on the map and examined a fish-bearing stream not living up to its title.

“It’s been a good day,” Staller said.

 

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