By Charly Kearns
It became abundantly clear to me early in my career in ecological restoration, flexibility and humor are essential to the success of any project. I’ve been reminded of this many times over the past few years, and I generally feel up to the challenge. However, both my patience and humor were tested by this winter’s weather, and Ohop Creek.
Two years ago, the Nisqually Land Trust acquired 202 acres in the Upper Ohop Valley at the upstream end of Ohop Lake. Much of the floodplain at this site already has mature native shrub cover, but there are 11 acres where reed canary grass has invaded.
I began planning the first season of floodplain restoration activities, designed to increase the forested buffer along the creek, in the spring of 2016. After controlling invasive reed canary grass, ordering plants and plant protectors, and scheduling Washington Conservation Corps and volunteer events, we were ready to begin the planting season. However, nature had other plans.
Here’s how the first week of planting went in early February:
• Day 1. A snowstorm dropped over a foot of snow on the site. We cancelled the first day, waiting for roads to clear up.
• Day 2. As we approached the site, road crews informed us that power lines were down on the road (our only access to the site), so we had to turn around.
• Day 3. We made it to the site, but there was still too much snow to plant. We got started by marking planting locations with wooden stakes.
• Day 4. Unfortunately, as the snow turned to heavy rains, the valley began filling with water. The site was under a foot of water, and many of our wooden stakes had been washed away. We had to walk extremely carefully to avoid swamping our muck boots.
We continued to work on this project throughout February, and I never knew what to expect as we approached the site. The rains continued for the rest of the month, and the floodplain (true to its name) continued to flood and recede day-by-day.
Much of the restoration area is on the east side of the creek, which required an inflatable raft for access. An unfortunately sharp bundle of stakes dealt a lethal blow to the raft as we were ferrying equipment across the creek, so I had to scramble to find a replacement. In addition, the road was closed on another day, due to multiple landslides along the steep western slope.
Bit by bit, we were able to start planting the 5,500 trees and shrubs that were planned for the site. I had only scheduled three weeks of time with the Washington Conservation Corps crew, and not surprisingly, it wasn’t enough. Fortunately, our dedicated volunteers came through and put in extra hours to help us get this project finished.
Everyone who participated in this project showed wonderful flexibility and good humor in the face of cold, wet conditions. I don’t think anyone lasted the month without swamping their boots.
I love planting trees. The act of planting something that will outlive me and provide food and shelter to wildlife is deeply rewarding. Not to mention the physical act of tree planting, which I find quite meditative.
However, I was very happy when we finally finished this project a few weeks ago. Everybody has their limit, and this winter pushed mine. I am excited to finally dry out my boots and start work on something new.
Charly Kearns is a land steward for Nisqually Land Trust. He wrote this article in April for the non-profit organization that acquires and manages land in the Nisqually River watershed to benefit water quality, wildlife and people.
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