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Restoration in the Pacific Northwest  RSS feed

 
gardener
Posts: 827
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
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Hello all,

In some of my posts I have mentioned that my day job is running a environmental restoration program for a non-profit in four counties in the south Puget Sound. But I realized that I have never shared any pictures of what that looks like or much of my thoughts on restoration. I thought I would share a few pics and comments about my on going restoration projects. Before I do I want do dive into a discussion about ecological restoration.

So what is restoration? Well that is hard to define and even in the academic world of restoration ecology it is often heavily debated. There are two major schools of thought in the restoration community - these are restoration of structure and restoration of function. Structure refers to the plant/animal community that lives in a specific place. In this school of thought you aim to restore a degraded landscape to mimic a past state - often this past state is pre-settlement by people of European decent. Function refers to what a habitat does - provide a home for wildlife, clean the air and water, sequester carbon, build soil, etc. In this school of thought there is less emphasis put on restoring the exact plant/animal community that used to live in that place but instead focus on restoring the functions that were likely provided by the habitat before it was degraded. Sometimes instead of focusing on the past this school of thought will identify functions that are seen as lacking or missing and try to create those at the site - this is often referred to as enhancement instead of restoration.

In my view permaculture practitioners often fall within the function school of thought and a lot of the frustration with restoration ecology among some permaculturalists is due to the people in restoration ecology that are part of the structure school of thought. But in my own career working in restoration I have found that the majority of practicing restoration ecologists, like myself are fully within the function school of thought.

That being said both schools of thought generally limit ourselves to native plants only. However, recently there has been some exploration to using plants that are not strictly native but are located not very far away. So in my area (south Puget Sound in Washington State) we have looked at a few species from northern Oregon or southern Western WA. Very similar habitats but a few different species. Some of these species can better handle the drier conditions that are becoming more common in my area.

The function school of thought also allows for the creation of new plant communities using natives that were never naturally found in an area. For example when I have to restore a very dry, hot, exposed and also heavily degraded site I will select the native plants that are especially hardy and can handle the conditions. Likely, the resulting plant community would have not been found naturally in the past despite the plants being native.

But I do know some people in the structure school of thought that are nor happy with the type of projects I have outlined above.

Hope you all found that to be interesting and I welcome your thoughts. But now for the fun stuff - here are some of my past restoration projects.

The first two projects I want to share are both culvert removal projects. These culverts where blocking fish access to upstream habitat. Removal of these culverts opened up approximately a mile of stream habitat including a very large beaver wetland complex for salmon to use. The first culvert was replaced by a large 60ft steel bridge - the large bridge was chosen to maintain future access for fire trucks if a forest fire happened on the property. The second culvert was between a series of beaver dams and they had plugged it up. Due to this ongoing activity we decided to replace the culvert with a ford so we could retain access but also minimize the risk of complications from beaver activity.


Before and after picture showing the first culvert to be removed.


Culvert removed and replaced with a ford and small pedestrian bridge

The second project I want to share is a clear example of the function school of thought. The organization I work for bought a golf course on the Puget Sound and decided to restore it to a more natural state. This property had been so dramatically changed that really it was not possible to restore to the structure school of thought standards. There was also a earthen tidal dike blocking the tides from coming in and the stream flowing through the property had been restricted to one narrow channel.

The first thing we did was remove the tidal dike and install a series of new channels that the tide waters could flow into. We also installed a series of side channels on the stream to increase channel complexity and installed what we call an intertidal basin - essentially a side channel wetland off the main channel of the stream that is impacted daily by the tides. This creates a great mix of freshwater and saltwater.


The intertidal basin - used to be a putting green!


One of the new tidal channels - they fill with saltwater during high tides and the green in them is saltmarsh vegetation.

Young salmon love the new basin and tidal channels - we find a ton of them making use of these new features. These are examples of enhancements not pure restoration.


Small created off channel wetland providing habitat for insects, and amphibians. During high flow events this provides slower back water for young salmon to hide in.


One of the larger side channels with a large riparian planting area next to it - this planting area used to be a road with a golf cart storage building.

The final project I want to share is a permaculture inspired experiment. Often restoration projects rely on planting plants in a grid - I decided to go with what I'm calling a forest island. To do this I had large circles mulched and then we are planting native plants within the circles at a very high density. But we change what we plant depending on where in the circle the plants are. The outside edges are small shrubs and represent the early succession from the grasses found outside of the circles. Inside from these we planted some trees but mostly large shrubs which represent the next step in succession. Finally, in the middle we planted mostly large trees which represent the next step in succession.

The idea behind these forest islands is that as the big trees grow they will cast more shade which will push the bigger shrubs outward which will in turn push the smaller shrubs out into the grasses. Plus by concentrating our plants in these circles with a lot of mulch we can have a greater impact on the soils hopefully creating a good environment for fungi which will help us change the area from grasses to forest.


Drone shot showing the scale of the forest islands - you can just see a person standing on the edge of one of the circles near the water.

Hope you all have found this interesting - I love this work and I have been slowly trying to incorporate more and more permaculture ideas into my restoration work. The function school of thought may be winning the day but the structure side is not gone and still influences what people think is appropriate. This means earthworks are generally frowned on so I have not been able to design my projects the way I would love to... plus I have to meet the requirements of my funding sources which tend to be very conservative in what they allow. I also generally only have a couple years to do all the work before the funding runs out. After that I have minimal funding for ongoing work which means I have to get everything done very quickly.

All in all my restoration projects result in 40k ish plants planted every year. I'm very happy to be doing this work and I hope you all have enjoyed this post.
 
Daron Williams
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Posts: 827
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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A timely article just showed up in my work email box that really goes along great with what I was talking about. Here is a quote from the article:

Instead of trying to re-establish a checklist of plants and animals, as they might have in the past, some restoration practitioners are now focusing on ecosystem functions. For Campbell, that means worrying about pollinators, including birds, bats and insects, in the sky islands. Across the West, spring is thawing earlier and broiling into summer faster, and the region is getting hotter and drier overall, creating a mismatch between periods when pollinators need flowers and the times and places where those flowers are available. “How can I use various plant species in ways to ease that?” Campbell said.



And two sources for the article:

- http://nmpoliticalreport.com/857730/climate-change-is-making-it-harder-to-revive-damaged-land/
- https://www.hcn.org/issues/50.13/climate-change-climate-change-is-making-it-harder-to-revive-damaged-landscapes/

Another quote from the article:

Overall, Campbell’s goal is still to conserve as much biodiversity as possible in the sky islands, where each mountain range has its own unique combination of plants and animals. But she knows she can’t simply reassemble historic plant communities. “Certainly now, we (take) a forward view,” Campbell said. “How is this (species) going to be durable into an uncertain future, where there’s going to be larger, more intense wildfires, and more erosion, flooding, drought, all of those things?”

 
pollinator
Posts: 373
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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Thanks for your work and post Daron. I got some good ideas and am impressed by the scale of your projects. I. am working on a restoration/ food forest project at the College ofthe Redwoods in Crescent city down in the southern end of what I consider the northwest (Redwood coast).

Do you have any experience propagating red alder or suggestions for other native northwestern nitrogen-fixing trees? I think we are getting to the point of planting this fall, and am interested in expert opinions on revegetating a very wet in winter 1.25 acre site with natives as much as possible, though of course we are going to grow a lot of Eurasian fruits as well. Thanks again!
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 827
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
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Ben Zumeta wrote:Thanks for your work and post Daron. I got some good ideas and am impressed by the scale of your projects. I. am working on a restoration/ food forest project at the College ofthe Redwoods in Crescent city down in the southern end of what I consider the northwest (Redwood coast).

Do you have any experience propagating red alder or suggestions for other native northwestern nitrogen-fixing trees? I think we are getting to the point of planting this fall, and am interested in expert opinions on revegetating a very wet in winter 1.25 acre site with natives as much as possible, though of course we are going to grow a lot of Eurasian fruits as well. Thanks again!



Thank you for your kind comments. That sounds like a cool project that you are working on. In regards to red alder - I have propagated it by seed and as long as the soil is bare and the seeds are in good contact with the soil it seems to do great.

If you are planting it as transplants I have found it to always be very easy to plant. Just treat it like you would any other tree but it is very forgiving as long as you don't break its top.

If your soils get and stay saturated be careful what you plant. I have a site that is not doing so well because I underestimated just how wet it would stay over the winter. But I'm going to replant in the fall with a lot of willows, some cottonwood, and other species that do well in those conditions.

One nitrogen fixer that I'm going to try out at my own place in the fall is Sitka alder. It grows more as a big shrub but I think it can handle being coppiced which red alder can't - well if the red alder is under 7 years old and you only cut it once or twice you might be okay but after that it tends to die.

Sitka alder grows naturally at higher elevations and likes disturbed areas that keep getting disturbed. Sites like avalanche shoots. This is why I think it might take being coppiced. I also think it could be a great chop and drop species. I'm not sure how far south it's native range goes but you might want to check it out.

Otherwise as far as nitrogen fixers I would look into the ceanothus plants. California lilac is a great plant that I think is native to your area. I have a few growing on my property. I plant to get more and test its ability to be chopped and dropped. It's an evergreen so not the best for leaf mulch but grows fast and gets tall for a shrub. Bumblebees love it and I like it too with its blue flowers.

There are other ceanothus varieties but some I have not had much luck with and many of them rely on fire and love to grow on recently burned areas. So far California lilac is the most reliable one for me.

I would also recommend using lupine as much as possible. Obviously not a tree but great nitrogen fixing plant and there are several native types to your area. I'm using lupine all over on my property - so far three different varieties and looking to add two more - all native to my area.

I'm going to be testing them to see which handle being chopped and dropped the best. I would like to be able to do a two to three times a year chop and drop and still get flowers and seeds. I see them as a possible native alternative to comfrey if they can take the chop and drop. They don't have the medicinal qualities of comfrey but they are nitrogen fixing, get a big tap root, and some varieties produce a ton of biomass. Plus one of the native varieties here even spreads from root fragments ;)

I will still grow comfrey but after I have enough for any potential medicinal needs I think lupine has the potential to be more beneficial due to it potentially matching most of comfrey's benefits while being native and being a nitrogen fixer. But I still need to test the chip and drop ability of lupin.

Hope that helps - we really don't have a lot of nitrogen fixing trees that are also native to work with in our area. I'm starting to rely more on large shrubs and herbaceous plants instead for that role. Though Sitka alder may work out well - just need to test it.

I'm happy to keep chatting and answer any questions you have. Post some pics of your project too! :) I would love to see them.
 
Posts: 25
Location: South of the the headwaters to the tributary at the final bend of the Monongahela River
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Wow! You're doing some amazing work!
I'm from Pittsburgh, and our watersheds, infrastructure and stream based ecosystems are in shambles, because of repeated deforestation, old unregulated mining and now fracking. We get new landslides and major floods that ruin homes and block/collapse roadways several times a month. We need an army of green infrastructure engineers and permaculture specialists; doing the same  kind of work that you are.
Our city water and sewage authority is starting a green infrastructure certification program that seems very relevant. I'm networking with residents and local officials and the watershed associations to make some restoration projects happen, but it seems that I need help with credentials, certifications and actual experience, as well as access to funding to really move forward on anything.
Any advice on how to move forward to a series of payed gigs and longer term multi-year projects in the field of restoration ecology? The timing seems perfect to get permaculture ideas incorporated into Pittsburgh's long overdue environmental restoration.
 
Ben Zumeta
pollinator
Posts: 373
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
24
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Thanks for such an in depth reply, I will post pictures shortly!
 
Daron Williams
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Donald Johnson wrote:Wow! You're doing some amazing work!
I'm from Pittsburgh, and our watersheds, infrastructure and stream based ecosystems are in shambles, because of repeated deforestation, old unregulated mining and now fracking. We get new landslides and major floods that ruin homes and block/collapse roadways several times a month. We need an army of green infrastructure engineers and permaculture specialists; doing the same  kind of work that you are.
Our city water and sewage authority is starting a green infrastructure certification program that seems very relevant. I'm networking with residents and local officials and the watershed associations to make some restoration projects happen, but it seems that I need help with credentials, certifications and actual experience, as well as access to funding to really move forward on anything.
Any advice on how to move forward to a series of payed gigs and longer term multi-year projects in the field of restoration ecology? The timing seems perfect to get permaculture ideas incorporated into Pittsburgh's long overdue environmental restoration.



Thanks! I'm not very familiar with your area but I have talked to a few people doing restoration work in that area - seems like in addition to the struggles you mentioned they are also having a lot of issues with deer making it hard to get new plants established.

As far as getting experience goes... you might need to start out as a volunteer first. I know that kinda sucks and can be hard to do depending on what other sources of income you have but sometimes it is the only way forward. I would recommend looking into the land trust community. There is one just out side of Pittsburgh that looks like they have volunteer opportunities. https://alleghenylandtrust.org/

I work for a land trust and generally there are land trusts in most communities. Land Trusts are all different but tend to focus on conservation of land in one way or another. Often Land Trusts also focus on community engagement and some like mine provide public access to some of their preserves.

Another option depending on what you are looking for is to join an AmeriCorps program. I just hired a Restoration Coordinator through the AmeriCorps program. The person is coming from out of state to help me do restoration/stewardship and public access work. The program pays a monthly stipend and also provides an education reward at the end of the 10.5 month program that can be used for future schooling or student loans.

I started as an intern/volunteer while I was at community college and worked my way up to paid positions and eventually got a masters in environmental studies that led to my current position. But my current position running a large restoration program started as an unpaid intern with the same organisation - I have been with this land trust now for over 3 and a half years now. My role went from intern to coordinator to one manager position and then to my current manager position.

Hope that helps and good luck with your journey!
 
Donald Johnson
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Location: South of the the headwaters to the tributary at the final bend of the Monongahela River
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Thank you for that info!
I'll get in touch which them when things at work settle down.
I also saw a sign posted in Frick Park that was seeking volunteers for invasive vine removal, as well as a project to restore a natural spring fed water feature in South Park PA.
There is a local watershed association that is restarting as well, that I've been in touch with.
I'll follow up on all of these leads, and see what happens!
 
Daron Williams
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
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I'm excited because I finally got permission to start using more permaculture techniques in my restoration projects. Specifically things like swales, ponds, etc. Going down the enhancement path a bit more but should improve the projects a lot. The big motivator is trying to hold onto more water. Our summers are getting so hot and dry that we just can't keep up watering everything. So when framed in that light I finally got the go ahead

Going to create a series of ponds at one site this summer - just seasonal ones. I will plant willows around them later in the fall.

Since the site is wetter than we initially thought we are essentially establishing a large wetland with the ponds being the core elements with forested wetlands around them.
 
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