Streamkeepers are bugging out

— image credit:
Sequim Gazette

Sue Nattinger, Coleman Byrnes and their fellow Streamkeepers play with bugs.


It isn’t a game — it’s actually very scientific — but it sounds like fun.


Every fall volunteers with Clallam County Streamkeepers collect bugs along creeks and spend months sorting the samples to determine the health of the stream.


“Bugs are categorized to levels of tolerance to disturbance,” Nattinger said. “The more intolerant bugs present in our samples, the healthier the stream.”


Who knew bugs could be so telling?


Nattinger and Byrnes, “Bug-Sorting Team leaders” and recipients of the Clallam County Citizens of the Year award in 2010, know how telling bugs can be. That’s why they’re applying for a $5,000 grant to get new equipment with which to sort the bugs.
Marine lab partnership

Streamkeepers, a citizen-based watershed monitoring program through the Clallam County Department of Community Development, partners with the Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles to sort the bugs. The center has microscopes, forceps and other scientific tools for the volunteers to use. There’s just one problem — “They’re really old,” Byrnes said.


Some of the scopes on the equipment don’t stay in place when in use and while it is nice to be able to borrow it as needed, the Streamkeepers need equipment of their own, he said.


Over the past 10 years Streamkeepers have collected, sorted and identified about 1 million bugs, Streamkeepers program coordinator Ed Chadd said.


“We’re the first entity in Washington state to submit our bug data for stream-health reporting required under the federal Clean Water Act,” he said.
Data shows trouble in Sequim

The most recent data, through 2009, was released last week by the Streamkeepers. It shows several problem areas in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.


Johnson Creek is compromised, meaning it is somewhat degraded, with impacts to one or more salmonid life stages.


“Bell Creek is highly to critically impaired,” Nattinger said. The creek is highly adverse to salmon and unable to support a variety of once-native life forms.


Several creeks out toward Dungeness near the intersection of Woodcock Road and Sequim-Dungeness Way also are highly to critically impaired. Nattinger said heavy fertilization of golf courses paired with heavy use of weed killer and other pollutants can cause nearby creeks to suffer degradation.


The bug sorting and counting, along with monitoring other biological, chemical and physical health attributes, help identify trends in watershed conditions, track problem areas and determine watershed restoration priorities.


Nattinger said to restore a creek, efforts must be made to stop contamination, plant vegetation, add large pieces of woody debris and make natural meanders in streams that have been canalled.


The improved health of the stream will be evident when bug counts show a higher presence of intolerant bugs.


For more information about Streamkeepers go to keepers/


Reach Amanda Winters at


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