CREP Update

In September, King Conservation District representatives came to begin the stream restoration project for EEC Forest Stewardship and Leafhopper Farm. A few years ago I applied for this program and began fencing off the creek from our livestock- we never mob grazed in the creek, but to qualify for CREP, we had to put up hard boundaries to protect replanted trees and shrubs as part of the restoration for the stream and riparian buffer. To prep the space before planting, KDC used some herbicides on the landscape to get ahead of any blackberry and knot-weed, which is very difficult to fully eradicate without chemical use. This was a very controversial part of the agreement, as USDA will not fund restoration without first removing the invasive- using chemical warfare.

The chemicals were sprayed, which was a surprise to me, as I was originally told they would be injected to control application, but the contractors prefer spraying to save time and ensure full coverage of the invasive plants. Glyphosates were not employed, but other synthetic organic compounds were- and the organic word usage here refers to organic chemistry, not USDA Organic labeled food. This treatment involved the plant taking in the chemicals through it’s vegetation in the fall. During this time, a plant is storing up energy in it’s roots, and the herbicide goes right to those roots to work its destructive power. As you see in the pictures above, the blackberry is dying back, but so it the grass, and any other vegetation hit by the spray.

For EEC Forest Stewardship, chemical treatments of the land is extremely controversial, and the decision to use “organic” compounds was made only with the understanding that this is a requirement on a federal level to receive restorations status and long term success of establishing native plantings. In my own experiences with invasive, specifically knot-weed in Central Park, NYC- you’re not getting rid of it without a long fight and painful loss. At the park, there was an army of labor available, and lots of time. We used thick black plastic covering on the roots of plants for years to stave off growth. This technique was effective for a short time, but some roots would always survive, and the tenacity of invasive evolution won out each time.

With established canopy, invasive struggle to get a foothold. Once the trees and shrubs mature, no blackberry can return. Knot weed will still be a struggle, but the shade will deter it, and the stream will be better protected from runoff, erosion, and hot summer sun, which heats up the stream waters, killing many of the sensitive species which cannot survive in drastically changing temperatures. Cool shade is imperative for riparian landscapes. Without protection from the sun, waterways dry up, or at least heat up to an unbearable degree. This is a problem for rivers and streams all over the world where development has cut down the forests and cemented in the flow to control flooding.

common “river control” in cities like L.A., CA

City planning has come a long way, and collaborative restoration projects have begun addressing the need for habitat and green ways in urban areas. It is just as important to steward the upstream, less developed waterways too. For all water is connected, and the smallest stream will one day, find its way to the ocean. The dead water in the picture above is empty of life, with no habitat for any chance of thriving ecosystem. There is still a chance for change. At EEC, we’re supporting our neighbors down stream, and boosting the health of water before it reaches The Snoqualmie River. By restoring from the source, chances of restoration and success down stream strengthens.

In another part of Los Angeles, a river has found restorative support, and the community is thriving around this green space. Now, if the sources of these bigger rivers are compromised, there’s little gain in rescuing the polluted waters down stream. When I think of the effort my short term restorations will gain in larger participation further down river where the congestion of development and oppression of urban decay continues, I have hope for larger change, like the photo comparative above.

It’s hard to look at the landscape of wilted yellow die-back, caused by chemical components, which will be in the soil for years to come, and cause damage to many plants that should be on the landscape. It’s a short term struggle for a long term vision of restored forest and healthy ecology. There will be at least one more treatment of herbicides to make sure all the problem plants are gone. Then, the replanting will begin. I’ll see this change in my lifetime, but the full restoration of Weiss Creek might take many generations to complete. The greater salvation of our larger rivers, like The Snoqualmie, might be impossible, but through smaller steps of care, perhaps we can be the change we want to see, and further improve where we can.

mushroom logs of remediation and some native plantings in the CREP zone

So, next steps will happen in the spring. I’ve already ordered some under-story plantings from our Conservation plant sale, and an additional grant from KDC will add additional plantings, which means great diversity, in our under-story forest. Our enrollment in CREP means we do also get paid for our stewardship of the restoration area. USDA gives us a stipend each year of a few hundred dollars, for maintaining the stream buffer. We’re certainly not in it for the money, but the income and farm categorization through USDA and FSA is good for the farm, and our long term plan to put the whole property into agricultural conservation. We’ll also show the work as a centerpiece of restoration for other land owners to see and be inspired by.

Many farmers are hesitant to sign up for restoration projects, because it means giving up part of their income space to conservation. I cannot graze or produce commercial harvests from the stream buffer area. But, I can grow things in the buffer zone, including mushroom logs, berry bushes, and medicinal species for personal use. I’ve proposed that USDA look at mushroom production as a possible acceptable commercial income for farmers who do sign up for CREP. There has to be a good deal for the farmer to want to participate in conservation. Leafhopper Farm hopes to demonstrate a viable crop option with little to no negative impact on the riparian zone.

For EEC Forest Stewardship, the payoff from CREP participation is an intact forest and stream for the future. Generations down the road can look back at these early actions that helped to protect habitat and restore forest for the betterment of all living things. This is a priceless investment for any land steward to offer future generations. Note that working with government agencies is not always easy, but with the help of your local conservation district, the paperwork and timelines become manageable. Make sure to clarify your needs as a land owner, and fully understand the commitment you’ll be making. CREP contracts last for a decade or more, and can mean lifetime obligations to maintain restoration sites on the landscape. This is another way your conservation district can support you, by planning a clear set of care instructions, further management and upkeep needs, and funding to carry out the project.

As another dawn spreads out across the landscape, I’m writing these final words feeling like there’s good change happening all around. Winter birds are arriving, and the haunting trill of a swainson’s thrush echos through dark woods; it’s whisper calls us into unknown spaces, coaxing our imagination to stretch beyond comfort. Hope alights, pale blue on the horizon, slowly shifting into warm daylight once again. As the cycles of nature affirm, change is ever present, and our current actions determine the direction of fortune’s wheel. For land stewardship, restoration is as compelling as the thrush’s song.

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