Restoration of Freshwater Intertidal Habitat Functions at Spencer Island, Everett, Washington


Address correspondence to C. D. Tanner,


In November 1994 dikes were breached around Spencer Island, restoring tidal inundation and connections to the Snohomish River estuary, Washington. Approximately 23.7 ha (58.5 ac) of palustrine wetlands previously dominated by Phalaris arundinacea (reed canarygrass) now experience diurnal tides and are in the process of transition to a freshwater tidal system. It was expected that brackish water would accompany the return of tidal influence to the site, but post-project monitoring has revealed little evidence of salinity. Pre- and post-project monitoring of changes in habitat function included aerial photography, vegetation and fish sampling, and benthic prey studies. To date site changes include (1) die back of pre-project vegetation, development of tidal mudflat, and emergent wetland habitats, with recruitment of vegetation typical of freshwater tidal wetlands; (2) presence of juvenile coho, chum, and chinook salmon that feed on invertebrate prey typical of the site; (3) presence of three distinct benthic invertebrate assemblages in the project area; and (4) some invasion by Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife). The unexpected freshwater conditions, the lack of published information about tidal oligohaline marshes in the Pacific Northwest, the use of the site by endangered salmonid species, and the invasion by an undesired plant species underscore the importance of long-term monitoring at the site.