OLYMPIA - Beginning July 15, 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 area includes the public boat ramp and the dike-top trails along the Skagit River and Wiley Slough.
Crews will be removing approximately 6,500 feet of dikes and levees, allowing tides and the river to reclaim the area south of a newly constructed setback dike that was completed earlier this year. The restoration project began in 2008, when crews installed a new, larger tidegate farther upstream on Wiley Slough.
Lora Leschner, regional wildlife program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the work is scheduled to be completed in early September, when the Headquarters Unit will re-open to the public.
"Once we remove the old dikes and levees, the major work on this restoration project will be completed," Leschner said.
WDFW owns and manages the entire 16,708-acre Skagit Wildlife Area to preserve habitat for fish and wildlife, while also providing 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.
"After work is completed in September, the Headquarters Unit will no longer be suitable for pheasant releases," said Leschner. "But we are looking at several alternative sites where we might be able to relocate our pheasant release operations."
Leschner said potential pheasant release sites were discussed at a public meeting earlier this year and that the department plans to schedule another public meeting later this summer.
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.
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/.