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Empathy and Patience Open Access for Salmon

Skagit County: Perry Welch probably never expected to be a social services provider as a Project Manager for the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group (SFEG). Yet that’s just what he did do last summer to make it possible to open fish access to good upstream habitat on Shoeshel Creek in Sedro Wooley.

An old chimney stove pipe, pretending to be a culvert, lay in the creek beneath a driveway shared by two homes. Not only was this so-called culvert undersized, but there was also a two-foot drop from it to the creek, making salmon passage all but impossible. To replace the stove pipe meant shutting off water and cutting off access to the two houses for the two weeks it would take to do the work.

The owner of the driveway quickly saw the value of correcting this situation. Her neighbor, however, balked and for good reason. Her house is a 24-hour home care facility for six to eight elderly people. She feared that displacing her clients for even as short a time as two weeks would be confusing and distressing for them.

“She was worried that she would lose some of her clients,” Welch said. “So we delayed the project until we could figure out what to do.”

In fact, the project waited a year while Welch and his staff searched for an alternate route to get to the house so they could avoid having to dislocate anyone. There just wasn’t one. Meanwhile, a SFEG volunteer paid regular visits to the elderly care home and slowly gained the owner’s trust. She came to appreciate the value of the project and to recognize its inevitability.

In the hopes of finding one place for all the elderly residents to stay, Welch explored local Bed and Breakfast’s and hotels, but none were really suitable. Ultimately, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) stepped in and found temporary homes for each resident.

SFEG used some of their project funds to defray the cost of the move, expenses and loss of caretaker fees.

So that took care of the people, but there were chickens too that needed daily feeding and watering. To accommodate this need, Welch and his crew built a walking trail and rigged up a 40-gallon water tank. They even helped haul water to the tank.

Was it worth it? Well, today there is a twelve-foot diameter wide culvert assembled from about 140 aluminum structural plates, each weighing 135 pounds. This type of culvert was recommended because of its longevity and it will open passage to a half-mile of habitat leading to Bottomless Lake. Unfortunately, before salmon could take advantage of this new opening, the two storm events in the fall of 2003 wiped out many of the spawning coho in the creek.

“Before the storms, coho were seen just a hundred feet below the culvert,” Welch says. “But the landowners are committed now and have been trained to conduct spawner surveys to count salmon making their way through the culvert this year.”

As for the elderly residents, they did just fine for those two weeks and are happy to be back to their former routine.

Contact: Perry Welch at


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