Rep. DelBene checks in on cattle ranch: Congresswoman gets up-close look at Lower Skykomish River project

United States Congresswoman Suzan DelBene stopped by Rivers End Cattle Ranch near Sultan last week, taking some time to tour the Lower Skykomish River Restoration Project. Meant to preserve agricultural land, establish conservation areas, restore fish habitat and re-establish shoreline riparian habitat, the phased project has been ongoing since 2006.

Rivers End Ranch owners Jerry and Stacy Labish hosted the tour at 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 10. Attendees included Snohomish County Conservation District Program Manager Bobbi Lindemulder and District Manager Monte Marti, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) Manager Ryan Williams, Washington Cattlemen's Association Executive Vice President Jack Field, Wiard and Jean Groeneveld and Mark Craven of Craven Farm in Snohomish.-á -á

Located primarily on agricultural land, the Lower Skykomish River Restoration Project was accomplished using an emerging land-restoration strategy, by which different agencies collaborate with willing landowners to achieve multiple benefits. The incentive-based conservation technique builds public-private partnerships between landowners and public agencies to help support and promote conservation activities on private property.

Spearheaded by Snohomish County Surface Water Management Senior Habitat Specialist Brett Gaddis, the multifaceted restoration project between Monroe and Sultan involved multiple agencies and a coordinated investment approach.

"It's important to have a wide variety of partners when you're looking at a big project like this,GÇ¥ Marti said. "And it takes federal funding, local funding, state funding and a willing landowner to make it happen.GÇ¥

Funding for the $915,000 project came from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE), the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) and Snohomish County.

Marti said the conservation district is currently working with tribal agencies, environmental organizations and the agricultural community to promote the coordinated investment concept.-á -á -á

Landowners involved in the project included Groeneveld Dairy Farm owners Wiard and Jean Groeneveld, Bahnmiller Berry Farm owner Al Bahnmiller and Jerry and Stacy Labish. Jerry Labish is a longtime member of the Snohomish County Agricultural Advisory Board, and he serves as the president of the Snohomish Cattleman's Association.

The Labishs have operated their beef farm since 1989. -á -á

The 2.8-mile Lower Skykomish River Restoration Project included enhanced in-stream fish habitat, 25 acres of invasive species treatment, 8.5 acres of streamside vegetation known as "riparian habitat,GÇ¥ one mile of flood fencing, 370 feet of in-stream wood placement and 370 feet of river bank rehabilitation.

Bank rehabilitation was important to Jerry, who had been watching his riverbank erode over time.

"I was worried about it going to the barn,GÇ¥ he said.

The bank rehabilitation portion of the project involved removing approximately 30 pieces of "riprap,GÇ¥ a traditional method of bank stabilization that incorporates the use of large boulders. Project engineers then worked to lessen the degree of the vertical slope at the bank's edge, transforming the abruptly angled bank into a gentler 3 to 1 gradient.

Once the bank had been re-established, restorative planting known as CREP planting took place across 6.5 acres of property located in the 100-foot buffer zone. With CREP, landowners are compensated with annual rent payments for allowing the establishment of fish and riparian habitat improvements on their land.

"The incentive helps bring people to the table,GÇ¥ Gaddis said.

Field said that with incentive-based conservation, the shared benefits extend beyond just the willing landowners. Everyone benefits from clean water, improved ecosystem functions and increased fish habitat. Largescale restoration projects like the Lower Skykomish River Restoration Project are all about collaboration ' the tribes want to see fisheries components, landowners want to see their agricultural land maintained and the conservation community wants to see improved habitat, Field said.

"It's a good opportunity to get some really good stuff done on the ground and to incentivize people to do the right thing,GÇ¥ Field said. "The public is helping to share in the expense; it's not placing the burden on the handful of private landowners that own property right along the crick or the stream.GÇ¥

Another element of the restoration project included an off-stream watering solution for Jerry Labish's livestock. Implementation of the solar-powered watering system has helped to reduce the negative impact that cows can have on the riverbank, by transferring river water to a drinking trough positioned directly in the field. CREP Manager Ryan Williams facilitated the installation of the watering system, which is nearing completion.

Jerry said that he was more than willing to collaborate on the watering solution.

"The Skykomish is one of the most picturesque rivers in the world,GÇ¥ he said. "We're willing to protect what we have, so we don't destroy that.GÇ¥

Jerry Labish told DelBene the process was prohibitive, in the sense that it took an extended period of time to obtain permits and secure the funding using the coordinated investment approach. By the time the project could begin, the bank erosion had increased from approximately 300 feet to 370 feet.

"The only issue I've got out here is it takes too long,GÇ¥ Jerry said. "We need to streamline things.GÇ¥

DelBene thanked the group for taking the time to walk her through the project.

"It's really helpful for me to see actual projects in action while we're talking about the legislation and the resources that are coming through,GÇ¥ DelBene said. "It makes a big difference.GÇ¥

Every October, Stacy and Jerry welcome guests from all around the state to Rivers End Ranch for the annual Sky Valley Farm Festival. Meant to celebrate the Sky Valley's rich farming heritage, this year's event will take place 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3. The festival features an inside look at several local farms, including Rivers End Ranch, Groeneveld's Dairy Farm and Johannsen's Farm, which is located nearby.

This year will mark the 100-year anniversary of the milking barn at Groeneveld's Dairy Farm. Guests of Groeneveld's are typically treated to many newborn calves during the festival, along with various tidbits about the farm's history.

Labish focuses on tractor-pulled wagon rides during the event, welcoming guests with a riverside adventure. This fall the river will be filled with spawning pink salmon, which only return during odd-numbered years. -á -á

For more information about the Lower Skykomish River Restoration Project, visit


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