Stream Buffer Replanting

In less than 4 hours, a busy team of contracted tree planters came to EEC Forest Stewardship as part of our stream buffer restoration project. Thousands of native plants- from Western Red Cedar to Mock Orange was systematically planted from root stalk across the landscape. Tall protection fence sleeves guard young evergreen trees from deer browsing. Other less appetizing greens, like cascara and red elder were left in the open following a grid structure to keep the planting well spaced and easy to monitor. It’s been almost three years since this project began, with a little fencing and some long hours of alder thinning and firewood hauling to boot. After site prep, site check, and two treatments of herbicide to knock back the blackberry overnight, the new plantings are finally in, giving this landscape a new lease on recovery.

The abundant numbers of new plantings, along with a well prepped site to establish, gives these new allies to the forest a chance at establishing a native under-story. Only a quarter of the root stalks will survive, luckily, the springs rains are here to give a good watering to all. Many of the young plants are already leafing out, like the Cascara pictured above. There is little of it’s kind already established on the land at this forest site, but the tree is a crucial part of native forests in Western Washington. It’s great habitat for wildlife, and an important forage for species like band-tailed pigeons. Because it is not a great commercial wood, Cascara is not found in timber operations. It was therefor not often selected in replanting projects until more recent decades, once it became accepted that mono-culture forests were not ecologically stable or productive.

Stream buffer replanting is an important part of restoring the environment, especially for private land owners who might have land that was cleared before water protection laws came into effect. At EEC, our stream had a minimal 25 foot setback, which is the minimal requirement for a class S2 stream (meaning salmon bearing). This minimal buffer is not sufficient to support the larger ecological success of the stream, being little barrier to agricultural runoff, erosion, or forest restoration with any real wildlife habitat. By adding about 100 feet of extra protection on both sides of the creek, we volunteered to make the buffer 4x the minimal size on each bank. This generous strip, running right through the middle of the property, now offers a large wildlife corridor to documented species like bear, deer, coyote, bobcat, and all the smaller critters like insects, birds, and all that make use of the stream too.

Moments like this, when the land gets a big boost in biomass, invites long term vision. This living matter, which will continue to grow and expand into what will one day become an intact forest, protecting the stream and creating abundant habitat for all. I can see it as a gaze across the fields with a grid of little sticks poking up out of the grass. This space, which was once a muddy field where little was happening, will now transform back into a rich forest of thriving bio-diversity. If nothing else, this replanted buffer will last as a testimony to restoration long after my death. For now, I steward these young plants, and tend the start of a healthy forest.

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