Long Partnership Between Ducks Unlimited, Yakama Nation Improves Wetlands

Project on Satus Wildlife Area highlights how partnerships between tribes and DU help fish and wildlife.

Workers install a diversion structure for water management on the Satus Wildlife Area.

© Ducks Unlimited

Workers install a diversion structure for water management on the Satus Wildlife Area.

Ducks Unlimited and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation have been partnering on wetland restoration and enhancement projects for over 20 years, and to-date have accomplished over 35 project deliveries, benefitting over 4,000 wetland acres and nearly 800 upland acres throughout Yakama Nation’s lands. Yakama Nation has a wetlands and riparian restoration program, with the objective to restore floodplain habitats along anadromous fish-bearing streams in the agricultural portion of the Yakama Nation Reservation. A Yakima Subbasin Assessment identified the loss of floodplain function in these watersheds as a critical factor limiting the production and survival of salmonids and wildlife populations. The protection and restoration of the floodplain habitats in these watersheds has been identified as high priority in the Fish and Wildlife Management Plan portions of the Yakima Subbasin Plan.

The Satus Wildlife Area is approximately 3,276 acres, and is a rare preserve of undeveloped native habitats surrounded by highly developed rural, urban, and agricultural areas in the Yakima River Basin, which is a multi-billion-dollar agricultural area. The Wildlife Area is adjacent to the Yakima River, and contains about 8 miles of meandering shoreline. It is open to the river which allows annual flooding, unlike many areas along the Yakima River where huge levees cut the floodplain off from the river. Natural resource values in the Satus Wildlife Area include nesting, feeding and wintering habitat for numerous wildlife, including breeding and migratory species of ducks, upland gamebirds, songbirds, herons, eagles, osprey, otter, beaver and deer. The vegetation communities comprising this habitat include moist meadow, riparian woodland, and floodplain loamy and alkaline shrub-steppe. Yakama Nation has been proactive in acquiring and managing lands for wildlife, fish, and people.

DU is performing engineering design, contract management, and construction management for a huge enhancement project at the Satus Wildlife Area. This project includes two phases: “interior” work to improve water management throughout the wildlife area itself, and “inlet” work – improving water delivery into the wildlife area through an irrigation drainage ditch called the North Drain. The interior phase of this project wrapped up in November 2022, and included the installation of over 20 water control structures, creation of new water delivery swales, cleaning of existing swales, moving and raising a road that was being eroded by the Yakima River, and other activities. The interior work enhances or influences nearly 500 acres of wetlands and additional riparian areas, and will improve management of the existing wetlands by improving water delivery capabilities, controlling invasive plant species and restoring native vegetation communities. By allowing for better management of flows through the wetland complex, the project will also improve passage of juvenile salmonids, and reductions in sediment and pollutants in water filtered through the wetlands will benefit steelhead and Coho and Chinook salmon in the Yakima River. The total project cost will be approximately $1.2 million and is funded through Yakama Nation, with funding from the Bonneville Power Administration and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

The second phase, the inlet work, is scheduled to begin in early 2023. This work includes the construction of a water control structure that will provide a reliable source of water to flood up wetlands in the fall for early-migrating waterfowl.

The Satus Wildlife Area contains several culturally important wetland plant species that are still gathered and used by Yakama People. In addition to allowing for traditional resource utilization by Yakama enrolled members, the wildlife area is open to non-members through a permit system for small game hunting (waterfowl, upland birds), wildlife watching, and educational purposes.

Article by Tina Blewett, Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist, tblewett@ducks.org, 509-828-7257

For more information, visit www.ducks.org, and be sure to Follow DU's Twitter feed – @DucksUnlimited and @DUConserve – to get the most up-to-date news from Ducks Unlimited.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org. 

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