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Dairy farmer, Wiard Greoneveld, standing on a porous weir constructed to meter flows through his slough. The weir helps provide flood control and new habitat for salmon.

Main channel of Groeneveld Slough from porous weir

Porous weir

Groeneveld Farm Project Grows Partnerships for Farmers and Fish
Text and photos by Patricia Chambers


The threat of development caused Washington's
Skykomish River to be listed among America's Most
Endangered Rivers of 2005. This image shows the
Skykomish as it flows through the towns of Gold Bar
and Sultan, with Puget Sound in the background.
Photo credit: American Rivers;
image by Commenspace,

They met regularly at the Dutch Cup Restaurant in Sultan, Washington connected by more than casual conversation. They were connected as a band of farmers and landowners who shared a valley, as families who lived and worked beside a productive and vigorous river and as a community that was coming to realize that their long-established way of life was in danger of disappearing.

Table-talk included observations on the impact of encroaching development: the ever-expanding clusters of condos and building complexes, the rising value of real estate, and the noticeable loss of once open lands. Urban expansion seemed to be efficiently rewriting their history, threatening to replace their local active agriculture and to adversely alter fish and wildlife habitat in a river system that ran right through the heart of their livelihoods and community.

For dairy farmer Wiard Groeneveld (pronounced Vee-ard), and six other neighbors who farmed along the Lower Skykomish, it seemed imperative that something be done to not only keep farmers on the land, but also to help salmon recover and preserve habitat along the river corridor. Ranked as one of the top three salmon producing rivers in the Puget Sound, and home to 15-20% of the remaining wild Chinook in the region, they recognized a real urgency to the task.

Accustomed to facing many challenges, Groeneveld and the other farmers set out with gritty determination to accomplish a more sustainable future for both fish and farmers. They formed a non-profit organization, called the Lower Skykomish River Habitat Conservation Group (LSRHCG) and eventually developed an agricultural habitat conservation plan (HCP) that could be applied to farms along the lower stretch of the Skykomish River. Their efforts would lead the way for habitat restoration projects in the Valley, including Groeneveld Slough.

Groeneveld Farm

Four cows equals one acre of land. That’s a significant relationship for a dairy farmer who runs a 400-acre farm and lives beside a river that is prone to flood portions of his fields, leaving behind a jumble of scattered wood and other debris. With forces like that at work, it’s not surprising that the Groeneveld Slough Restoration Project was designed to emphasize subtle and simple enhancements‑‑restoration that lets the river do all the work.

The comprehensive project was designed to draw upon a variety of restoration techniques using the natural terrain and other available resources on the land to the best advantage. The combined effect of the construction work: flood control while also adding salmon habitat.

According to Bob Aldrich, Principal Watershed Steward for Snohomish County and one of the consultants on the Project, “We’re dealing with what’s here, what’s functioning in the system and working with it.”

One important feature of the slough enhancement includes the construction of a porous weir to help meter the flows of the river. Rather than the more customary approach of hauling in rocks and mounding up the broken stone, Groeneveld chose to use cotton wood trees and other silva culture already present on his property. The process includes hand-selecting the trees, which are nearby the slough, carefully ‘releasing’ them and then stacking them at the head of the slough into something that resembles a large beaver dam.

Innovative approaches like this seem to be first-nature for Groeneveld. John Sayre, general manager of the project and director of Northwest Chinook Recovery, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting farmer and landowner interests in regards to salmon enhancement and habitat restoration, says of Groeneveld, “Wiard and other farmers in the Valley are responsible for helping to change the way things are conducted.” It’s a good thing, says Sayre, “Without landowners getting involved, salmon recovery won’t work.”

Sayre’s point is underscored by the critical function Groeneveld Slough provides for juvenile salmon in the Lower Skykomish. Situated on the mainstem of the Skykomish River, the slough serves as the first way station for fish just downstream from the confluence of the Sultan River and the nearby salmon hatchery in Wallace.

According to Aldrich, the Groeneveld slough enhancement will create one of the biggest rearing areas for juvenile salmon in the lower Skykomish. “By providing a place for juveniles to delay their travel down the river,” says Aldrich, “The Groeneveld slough will allow the small fish to grow bigger, stronger and smarter.”

A Partnership for Fish and Farmers

Funded in part by a Pioneers in Conservation Grant, the Groeneveld Slough Restoration project reaches completion this fall. It will accomplish the sort of scenario the LSRHCG was originally envisioning—a shared benefit for fish and farms. For the Groeneveld farm, the project reduces erosion and loss of fields and for salmon, it removes a fish barrier, improves habitat by removing an infestation of knotweed, and creates an important side channel rearing and refuge along the mainstem Skykomish River.

Between the six Skykomish Valley farmers who first came together to form a conservation group and lead the development of the HCP, they collectively own 1,500 acres and actively farm along 15 miles of the Skykomish River between Sultan and the confluence with the Snoqualmie River. Though the group represents a significant potential impact to salmon recovery, their influence extends even further than that.

Shortly after the concept for the HCP was born, the group hired Sayre to be their executive manager and joined forces with the Tulalip Tribes, conservation groups and sports anglers in drafting up the plan, which was finalized in 2001. Several years later, the plan expanded to include the Snoqualmie River Watershed.

The collaborative process developed positive relationships with the Tulalip Tribes, landowners and other farmers, says Groeneveld. “I think the plan brought a lot of people with different interests together and showed that support for habitat and Chinook salmon, also meant support for farmers.”

Sayre adamantly agrees, “If you don’t save farms you don’t save habitat.” It’s the sort of motto that the group hopes catches on and spreads to other groups working to protect farms and fish. According to Sayre this is already happening in part due to the success of their efforts: the Senate Agricultural Committee proposed that Sky Valley become the example of how to resolve conflicts between landowners, agencies, tribes, and environmentalists and that the development of their HCP serve as a template for Western Washington farmers and state and county interactions.

Sayre admits getting people from different backgrounds and interests to work together isn’t easy. As he sees it, it’s a lesson in learning how to listen, to build trust, and to understand opposing views. For Groeneveld, this coming together of opposing views seems to represent one of the crowning highlights of the restoration work being done on his farm.

“We’re building habitat,” he says smiling, “But we’re also building relationships with people. Its taken time but it’s been great to see it develop.”

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