October 25, 2009

Fall Comes to the Nisqually Watershed

When fall comes to the Nisqually watershed it's no more shy of color than it is shy of water when visited by floods in winter. The lower portions of the watershed are protected by Alder Dam. Above the dam Mt. Rainier Park and the like have felt the river's force and witnessed it's course shift at will. Standard mountain snow melt carries with it significant levels of debris; silt, rock and trees. With a changing climate and receding glaciers, the volume of water and debris appears to be changing as well.

The image on the left at the bottom was taken at Longmire from the community building parking lot looking toward the river bed and bridge. This area hasn't been accessible for quite awhile due to damage done by flooding. A short distance downstream a once popular camp ground belongs to the river once more. Two images up is a rock faced ridge seen from the same spot. The massive amount of rock carried and deposited by flood waters in contrast to the beauty of the land, plant life and orange/red color tucked into the bluff is riveting from that spot.

Other images show views of the Ashford/Elbe areas along with Ohop valley, further down the road. A project is afoot on the Ohop. Around the turn of of the last century another of the Army Corp of Engineers channelization projects focused on the Ohop valley and its waters. The intent was water control and exposing more rich farm land. And it is, rich and beautiful farm land. Of course the side effect of that action changed the speed the water traveled, (now channeled instead of meandering) which changed its temperature, the health of the nutrients it carried and left little chance for fish to make it upstream and spawn. The full project will return miles of this water course back to it's natural crookedness. The first phase is nearing completion. After natural plantings and support work are done, it will be left to settle in over winter. Next year the channel will be opened to this newly naturalized section. More sections will follow.

This Ohop undertaking is possible due to the collaboration of a multitude of people working together over time. The Nisqually Land Trust, The Nisqually Tribe, property owners, jurisdictions, agencies, the Watershed Council and more supported the idea of taking action on a BIG dream.

Standing alone in the Ohop Valley last week, looking at this amazing project, I was once again reminded of what a great time it is to be alive. We humans have misused our planet in untold ways, evidence is everywhere. BUT...evidence of healthy, successful change exists as well and needs to be given voice. Not only to educate the folks not paying attention, but to support those who work daily to protect and steward our futures. There are many important BIG dreams. We need to encourage those who dream while making the dreams real through funding. If we don't, we will wear down the dreamers who are usually the doers as well.

Clear as mud right? Well probably not. The catalyst? I listened to a friend speak at a meeting (that Nisqually morning) about the overwhelming reality he faces as the Land Trust director knowing that the few thousand acres of land acquired to date is a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be protected to offset tree loss projections. His vision of protection jumped from a few thousand to forty thousand acres. He and others have been tireless and inventive in acquiring funds for existing Land Trust lands. It takes that. Being tireless and inventive. And a strong, caring, enthusiastic spirit. He definitely has that. Throwing in ample doses of humor and sarcasm will give you his full recipe for success. But...the numbers, projections, studies, stories and economy paint a picture he is struggling with.

That looming 40,000 acre number didn't just fall from the sky. It is a direct result of the economic challenges that are toppling some of the timber companies in that area. As a result, they are selling their lands in sections to developers. Today timber companies manage and rotate crops the way farmers do. Their harvest practices have improved immensely through the years. They make pretty good environmental neighbors when following the rules. Plus those rules and practices yield more healthy wood stocks. A win win. However, when business fails they under the gun to divest. And my friend, a dreamer and doer, found himself low of spirit and overwhelmed with reality; the speed of what's coming and how to stop it.

So why is this a great time to be alive? To be encouraged that people are worried? Because concern initiates action. Help people like my friend, the dreamer and DOER, restore the planets health acre by acre, project by project, plant by plant, fish by fish. Pick your species, they all need help. I hope you'll join with me in taking action today! And if you are so inclined, here is a link to the Nisqually Land Trust.

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