OLYMPIA – Starting today, portions of the 175-acre Headquarters Unit of the Skagit Wildlife Area will be closed to public access as crews resume work on a major estuary-restoration project at the mouth of the Skagit River.
The closed areas include the public boat ramp and parking lot and the nearby loop trail, said Lora Leschner, regional wildlife manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The areas are scheduled to be closed through May.
Crews are beginning the second year of the restoration project, which includes finishing the construction of a new setback dike inland along the border of the wildlife area. Work on the setback dike began last year, along with the installation of a new, larger tidegate farther upstream on Wiley Slough.
“This project requires the use of a lot of heavy equipment and we don’t want to put visitors at risk,” Leschner said. “We expect to re-open the closed areas in June, but we will likely have to close the entire Headquarters Unit to public access again later this summer to complete the project.”
Work scheduled later this summer will include removing approximately 6,500 feet of dikes and levees, allowing tides and the river to reclaim the area south of the new setback dike.
WDFW owns and manages the entire 16,708-acre Skagit Wildlife Area to preserve habitat for fish and wildlife, and provide a site for outdoor recreation. Leschner suggests that boaters use the ramp in Conway off Fir Island Road as an alternative while work is under way on the restoration project.
First proposed in 2002 by the Skagit Watershed Council, the Wiley Slough project is designed to restore 160 acres of estuarine salmon habitat that was diked and drained to create farmland in 1962. The federal salmon recovery plan for Puget Sound identifies the project as an important step toward restoring chinook stocks in the Skagit River.
Partners in the project include WDFW, the Skagit River System Cooperative, Seattle City Light and the Skagit Watershed Council, with funding from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
State and federal agencies are providing $3.8 million for the restoration work and Seattle City Light contributed another $150,000 to the project.
“Our goal is to wrap up work before the general hunting season begins,” Leschner said. “We recognize that hunters, hikers, birdwatchers and others have come to depend on this area for outdoor recreation.”
To address concerns about lands lost to hunting, WDFW is working with a coalition of hunters, recreationists, farmers and other landowners to secure hunter access to private lands in the area. The 2008 Legislature provided $75,000 to support that effort.
In addition, the department agreed to improve the boat launch, maintain the nearby “island segment” for hunting and improve hiking trails in the Headquarters Unit of the wildlife area. Riparian vegetation will be planted to replace songbird habitat.
WDFW has already purchased 250 acres near Bayview on Padilla Bay that will eventually provide additional wildlife habitat and wildlife-viewing opportunities.
For more information on the Wiley Slough restoration project, see WDFW’s report to the 2008 Legislature at http://www.goskagit.com/pdf/wiley_slough_wg_report.pdf. Questions can also be directed to the WDFW Region 4 Office at (425) 775-1311.
Information on the Skagit Wildlife Area is available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/skagit/.