Gene Woodwick — Jesse Slough memories and cold weather ruminations


Curiosity, they say, killed the cat; but, it is certain that satisfaction brought it back.

While Byron Eager might have liked to go out and catch some lampreys recently, it was the subject of sloughs that really got to him — Jessie Slough in particular.

Water, water everywhere

Up here on the North Beach we are surrounded by water. Saltwater on the west, rivers and creeks run everywhere, sloughs are a huge piece of the area’s logging history, wetlands developed over 150 years, accretion creating swales, fog, rain and more rain falling from the sky create so much of the habitat the nature lovers, fishers and hunters enjoy.

Jessie Slough, named for an early day Quinault Indian logger, like other North Bay sloughs, was cut in half when the U.S. Army built the road from Ocean City to Hoquiam during World War II. But, its history and value today is unique. Like any highway or road changes topography, poor Jessie Slough, that so faithfully served the area from Indian days through logging days, is no longer a clear system from North Bay.

Jessie enters the land form from south Burrows Road, slides under SR109 to branch off the Humptulips River then slides northeast to again join the Humptulips near the old town of Tulips.

Gillnetters gone

The recent anti-gillnetting vote by the Washington Fish and Game Commission to ban gillnetters on the Columbia River brings Jessie Slough to mind as it was once the home-base for Grays Harbor gillnetters. They, like present day fishers, lost out to sports fishers. The float houses, boat sheds, and fishing boat builders no longer had a use for the area. Eager remembers when his dad’s gillnetter buddies congregated at the slough in the first part of July when the Bluebacks were running.

For a teenage boy and his friends, Jessie Slough was a place to hike along the old Northwest Mill Company rail line. Northwest Mill, like so many others with North Beach timber interests, used the sloughs and North Bay as log storage areas following the splash from the Humptulips River.

As a fishing aside, the old Northwest Mill company property was the site of the 1930s pilchard industry, whose time on the harbor also waned.

Critical habitats

Recently there was an update in the Federal Register dealing with the critical habitat for the American Green sturgeon. The habitat designation included Jessie Slough, along with 21 other Grays Harbor systems of tidally influenced waters. In the North Beach area, that includes Andrews Creek, Beaver Creek, Campbell Creek, Campbell Slough, Chenois Creek, Gillis Slough, Grass Creek, the Humptulips River and Jessie Slough.

Critical habitat boundaries in fresh water riverine areas include streams, channels and “a lateral extent defined by the ordinary high water line.” Critical habitat in bays and estuaries includes tidally influenced areas as defined by “elevation of mean higher high water.” Jessie Slough was part of a Wild Fish Conservancy NW fish use assessment study completed at the end of 2011 to monitor salmon abundance in shallow tidal marshes and blind channels.

The sampling was conducted from April through September using Fyke 1/8” trap nets across each channel during high slack tide. All fish were enumerated and identified, along with water quality that showed temperature and salinity was highest during August and September.

The study showed Chinook salmon, (some hatchery) present with a greater number of coho in the slough. Non-salmon species were, in the order of abundance, shiner perch, Staghorn sculpin, three-spine sticklebacks with a scattering of Speckled dade.

Other systems showed the presence of cutthroat and bull trout. Some estuaries, particularly on the south side of the harbor, contained anchovies and Pacific herring, especially near eelgrass beds.

Gone on the tide

Recent studies have shown a 22 percent decline in the tidal flats due to upland conversions at the mouth of the harbor and the northern channel.

Local businesses seem to be experiencing the tidal influence as well. Some of the Ocean Shores businesses that have gone out on the tide include The General Store and the Mustard Seed Bookstore; the last bookseller on the North Beach.

Milestones worth mention

Further up the beach, the incoming tide brought the first issue of the QIN OVATION MAGAZINE to many appreciative folks. The new official magazine for the nation is spectacular. This issue focused on the shifting ecosystem of the Nation.

Did you take a good look at the inauguration platform during the swearing in of President Obama’s second term? Those select grade Doug fir boards were direct from Grays Harbor — all 200,000 feet from Sierra Pacific Lumber. That is enough to build about 13 average size homes. And if that doesn’t give the sand pounders something to brag about, just remember this: This is the fourth such momentous occasion with lumber from Grays Harbor holding up some pretty famous people.

Brrr

The cold weather caused plenty of grousing up and down the beach. Dag nab it, here the state Department of Fish & Wildlife threw in another clam digging session and it’s been colder than cold. Rain is fine. Cold belongs in Canada.

Cold also means don’t let the cat outside, and watch out for little dogs. Coyotes have been seen taking down a squirrel or two. It’s quite unusual for them to be seen in daylight. Generally, their food are rats and mice, but they will make use of other food, such as garbage, outside dishes of dog food, compost and small pets. The more comfortable they are around people, the more likely they are to prey on pets. Better to take in the pet food and certainly do not make the mistake of feeding a coyote. Scare them off by putting your arms up in the air and yelling for them to get the heck out of the area. Just keep your language clean!

The little creatures must be hiding out during the cold snap, as the Burrows Road area abounds with peregrines and Red-tailed hawks perched in snags looking for prey.

It has been rather funny to see the big buck deer in the area skidding on the ice. Somehow those magnificent racks of horns do not offset the humor of observing their slippery situation.

Guess all the beachers need something to take their mind off the slough of cold winter despair. May as well join Byron Eager and think about your favorite slough.

You may contact Gene Woodwick at (360) 289-2805.