Where is the project located?

The Riverbend Ranch restoration project is located along the Skookumchuck River near the town of Bucoda, Washington.

Why are we focusing restoration efforts here?

Since 2014, the Jensen family of Riverbend Ranch has been working with Thurston Conservation District on meeting their land and farm management goals. They are dedicated stewards of our shared resources and are voluntarily participating in this project. The project has been designed from the ground up with the Jensen family to ensure their wants and needs are being met. Riverbend Ranch also has important salmon habitat (and other aquatic organisms) in the river. This site has significant problems and/or impairments to river health and its natural processes which makes it a great candidate for a restoration project.

Who is funding the project, and why?

This project is being funded by the Chehalis Basin Strategy Aquatic Species Restoration Plan (ASRP). The Chehalis Basin Strategy is a collaborative effort directed by a board of local and state stakeholders to reduce flood damage and improve aquatic species habitat. This project is being funded because it is in a high-priority area due to the number of salmonid species (chinook, coho, steelhead, chum) that will benefit, and the high potential for habitat uplift. Since all ASRP projects are voluntary, having willing landowners is a big factor in why this project is being funded.

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Will the river be closed during construction?

The river will NOT BE CLOSED during construction. However, signage will be placed upstream and downstream of the project to alert river users of heavy equipment, new log structures, and temporary crossings in the project area.

I live near the project site. What can I expect during construction?

During the spring and summer of 2024 and 2025 you might see large trucks or machinery coming and going in the project vicinity. Materials and equipment will be delivered to the site. If you live very near the project site, it’s also possible you may hear some construction noise during daylight hours.

What is the problem?

Lack of diverse and complex aquatic habitat.

Due to the lack of stable large wood, from a fish perspective, this stretch of the Skookumchuck River is very simplified. There are very few places to hide from predators, few deep pools formed by wood scour, and a lack of flow velocity diversity. This stretch of the river acts more like a highway for fish, rather than a place for fish to rest, grab a bite to eat, and hang out with other fish.

Disconnected floodplain.

Flood vulnerability is a problem for many of us. Due to legacy impacts such as diking, damming, log jam removal, and removal of trees and shrubs from the rivers edges, this stretch of the river has lost the components that naturally keep it healthy and flood-resilient. In a flood-resilient river, high-flow waters are slowed down and allowed to spread out in natural or farmland areas that will not be damaged. Instead, legacy practices have led to events where large pulses of water shoot down the river like a fire-hose, eroding banks, and threatening infrastructure, homes, and businesses.

Degraded riparian forests.

Invasive plants, such as Himalayan blackberry and reed canary grass, prevent natural native trees and shrubs from re-establishing along streams and rivers following disturbance. These areas are called riparian buffers. Both natural and human-made disturbances give invasive species a chance to establish quickly. Invasive species do not provide the same important functions as our native trees and shrubs, which leads to degradation of the health of the entire river system. Native plants are necessary for forming deep roots to stabilize banks and provide wildlife food and shelter throughout the whole year.

Lack of large native trees.

The rich lands of the Skookumchuck Valley historically have supported large, old-growth native trees. These trees shaded the river, reduced erosion with their extensive deep root systems, and when they did fall into the river, they provided ideal stable large wood habitat for fish. This reach of the river has areas of forested floodplain, but it takes time for these trees to reach the size where they function as well as the historic old-growth trees. Current rapid erosion rates, historic faming practices and lack of native conifer trees has reduced the natural ability of the large old trees to re-establish in this reach.

Over extended agricultural landowners.

Agricultural landowners and business owners shoulder a lot of responsibility to feed our community, maintain their bottom line, navigate complex rules and regulations, and steward our shared natural resources, such as water quality and fish habitat. The Jensen’s have been working for the past decade to modernize the operations of Riverbend Ranch to improve water quality and fish habitat, and have made outstanding progress. However, there is more work to be done than they can achieve on their own. Including agricultural infrastructure that helps support farmers to be good stewards, such as fencing, off-river watering facilities, and heavy-use areas is vitally important.

Is erosion good or bad?

Neither! Erosion along rivers and streams is a natural process that contributes to the health and diversity of aquatic habitat. When trees fall in, they provide habitat for fish, create deep pools, capture small wood, and capture sediment. When sediment and gravels are eroded from an upstream location, they deposit downstream to create floodplain soils and spawning gravels. The rich soils and spawning gravels of our rivers and streams are a result of the interplay and balance between erosion, flooding, soil development, and native trees/shrubs. Removing erosion completely, or high rates of erosion, can put that equilibrium out of balance.

High-flow channel creation.

This project involves the excavation of three new high-flow channels that will help reconnect the floodplain. These channels will help take some of the pressure and volume of water out of the main channel, like a pressure relief valve venting. These high-flow channels will be placed in areas with evidence of historical floodplain connection (swales, wetlands, and side channels) that have been disconnected over time. These channels are designed to be compatible with continued farming practices, and are designed to be full of water during high-flow events in the wet season.

Strategically placed large wood.

This project involves the installation of 75 engineered log jams (ELJs) strategically placed throughout this portion of the river. This restoration tool can reduce erosion, increase important habitat features like deep holding pools, riffles and gravel bars, seasonally reconnect floodplain areas, and protect existing side channels.

Riparian forest planting.

This project will include about 64 acres of riparian forest planting. Types of planting areas include: conifer succession planting in areas where new conifers are not naturally re-generating, new riparian forest planting in areas where historic agricultural practices have degraded the riparian corridor, and seasonally wet plantings in areas where the project aims to reconnect the floodplain. The goal of this work is to re-establish robust, healthy riparian and floodplain forests that stabilize banks and provide fish and wildlife habitat. Due to pressure from non-native grasses, and Himalayan blackberry, site preparation and 2 to 3 years of maintenance will be necessary to ensure success. Plantings will be protected from livestock damage with a combination of permanent and temporary fencing.


In areas with existing fenced riparian buffers, an innovative working buffer practice called silvopasture will provide important benefits to both Riverbend Ranch and the river. Approximately 60 acres of silvopasture will be planted with circles of native trees, with pasture in between. The trees will eventually provide critical shade to cattle and improve the growth rate of the surrounding pasture grasses during the dry grazing season. This balances the current ag production goals of the landowner and the project’s goals of re-establishing native riparian trees and shrubs.

Invasive plant treatment.

To re-establish healthy and self-sustaining riparian forests, invasive plant treatment is a vital project action. Treatment will include:

  • Himalayan Blackberry: Effective control requires multiple rounds of treatment using different methods. First our crews mow, clear, and grub blackberry brambles to remove vines and roots. Next, the new re-growth is treated with herbicide during the growing season. After this, native plants have room to establish.
  • Reed Canary Grass: Mowing and clearing before native plantings is necessary. In these areas, we will install 6-10 ft. long cottonwood and willow stakes which will outcompete the grass more quickly than other native plants.

How are plant species selected?

Using what we know from past planting projects within this reach, and recent projects upriver, planting prescriptions are customized to the site using trees and shrubs native to the Chehalis Basin.

We’re improving it!

This project has been designed to achieve the goals of restoring fish habitat and floodplain resiliency, while also improving the agricultural business of the landowners involved. The landowners are the ultimate stewards of this property and project, and their needs, goals, and concerns have been baked into the design of this project from the ground up. Actions such as creating a hardened heavy-use area for slaughter addresses water quality and mud issues. Exclusion and cross-fencing protect new plantings from livestock damage while allowing for efficient and optimized rotational grazing. Improving access reduces the water quality impact of livestock in the river while allowing for continued seasonal grazing.

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Will the project increase flood levels?

The project is not designed to increase flood level. Permitting for the project involves a no-rise floodplain permit from Thurston County, and FEMA will not allow projects that increase flood levels. The project is designed to increase floodplain connection within Riverbend Ranch in areas of seasonal wetlands, and historic swales due to the benefits this will provide to aquatic species and flood resiliency.

Are the wood structures safe for river users?

The engineered log jams (ELJs) are designed so that river users have a clear line of sight when moving up or down the river. However, with or without wood, floating or boating on the river comes with inherent risks. Signage about ELJs in the river will be placed at both upstream and downstream public boat launches.

Why are the engineered log jams being buried?

In order to comply with FEMA and Thurston County regulations that prohibit flood level increases in the floodplain. Partially burying structures avoids additional material volume (‘fill’) in the floodplain

Won’t the structures just wash away during floods?

The engineered log jams (ELJs) are designed by an engineer licensed in the state of Washington to hold up to the forces of a 100 year flood (with a factor of safety). The structures are supported by piles driven deep below the riverbed so that the river cannot scour out the structure. The root wads and other logs that are part of the ELJs are securely fixed to the piles with chain and bolts to counteract the natural buoyancy of wood.

What species will benefit from the project?

This project is designed to improve short term and long term habitat conditions for salmonids such as steelhead, coho, chum, and chinook. The diversity of habitat created and sustained by this project will also benefit waterfowl, amphibians, and native plants. Humans will also be primary beneficiaries due to decreased erosion, decreased risk to farmland, homes, and infrastructure, and improved fishing opportunities.

Will herbicides be used to treat invasive plants?

Yes, herbicides will be used to treat some of the invasive plants. The District’s field crew members are certified applicators of noxious weed herbicides and have been trained in proper and safe application of herbicides. Our philosophy of herbicide use is to use it as sparingly as possible in the first few years of a project so as to provide the best conditions for native trees and shrubs to get established. Once native plants gain the competitive advantage, herbicide treatment is usually not needed.