Freeing a creek: Adventures in watershed restoration
Note: This is the first of a series of posts and watershed restoration. Writer The Zetetic and her husband are attempting to restore a creek, and sharing their adventures.
There’s a creek in our back pasture, hidden under a tangle of blackberries and thickly carpeted with reed canarygrass. Our mission: liberate the creek and restore the riparian area habitats.
This is no Saturday afternoon project. Reed canarygrass is a tough, wetlands-loving grass that can grow up to 8 feet high, then collapses to form an impenetrable mat of stems and leaves. Himalayan blackberries have canes as thick as my thumb and tangle into thickets that can smother more timid plants.
This creek is fortified like Cinderella’s castle.
My husband and I want to restore about a thousand feet of this Cinderella creek, enhance fish and wildlife habitat and restore streamside vegetation. It’s going to take months of work and lots of blogs.
Step One: Plan the project (or how I came to realize we really do need a tractor).
According to a new publication from OSU Extension, it’s important to know your watershed and your site in order to make a workable restoration plan. Our watershed is a swampy side channel of the Willamette River and our site lies along a small creek engulfed by old-growth blackberries.
Armed with machetes and jungle-grade loppers, we hacked into this thorny tangle and discovered: a decaying cookstove, two ancient steel water tanks, snarled barbed wire fencing, and a disassembled Schwinn from the 1950s. We also found a few tenacious willows and wild roses holding their own against the stickerbrush.
“Restore functions, not just vegetation,” the Extension foresters say. I think that means that our goal should not be to reconstruct a scene from the 1700s but rather to restore a stretch of creek where fish from the nearby Willamette can find shelter during floods and where trees provide summer shade. I think that means that the willows and roses are good to keep, and maybe some of the blackberries. But the Schwinn has got to go.
Part of knowing our watershed is letting others in our watershed know what we’re up to. So we contacted the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the state agencies of forestry (ODF) and fish and wildlife (ODFW). All three agencies sent out representatives who walked the land with us and offered their professional guidance. A summary of their advice? Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Using soil maps that we got from the NRCS, habitat descriptions from ODFW, and an aerial photograph of the creek from the county planning office, we drew up our plans and strategies. On paper spread across the table in the coziness of our kitchen, we outlined each step we’d take to liberate our Cinderella creek and make it a safe haven for fish and wildlife at the edge of the Willamette River.
That’s the first step.
Coming soon, Step Two: Select Plant Materials (or, how I fell in love with native plant catalogues)
For expert information, see: A guide to riparian tree and shrub planting in the Willamette Valley: Steps to success