As the plants in the garden come back to life, as the landscape fills with scent and color, the signals of longer warmer days tell us Spring is coming in warm. For the Habitat Restoration Team in the Environmental & Natural Resources Department (ENR), this signals the seasonal changing of tasks as well. As the salmonberries pink flowers come to bud, as the Bleeding Hearts and Trilliums start peeping their leaves from under cover, we tie up our loose ends and call an end to the planting season. Not because our job is done, or that there isn’t more reciprocity to lend to these landscapes, but because the seasons encourage our movement on to the next task. 

This year, ENR’s Habitat Restoration Team removed noxious weeds and planted native plants at 9 major sites, along with some smaller projects and other environmental upkeep throughout the winter as well. This article specifically focuses on the larger planting projects of this season. Five of these sites are in floodplains of salmon-bearing waters, working directly to benefit the fish, but not neglecting everything the salmon connect to. The other four sites are above Snoqualmie Falls, improving water before it becomes salmon habitat. Restoring the biodiversity and ecological function of upper watersheds not only improves the habitat for the local ecosystem, but has shown to have increased downstream benefits, literally and metaphorically. Our restoration efforts are hopefully starting ripples of positive impacts that will move through their local ecosystems for generations to come.  

Our restoration sites this season were mostly focused in 3 areas of the Snoqualmie River: the confluence of the Tolt & Snoqualmie River near Carnation, the confluence of the Raging & Snoqualmie River near Fall City, and above Snoqualmie Falls around the Three Forks Natural Area. Within these three regions, our Habitat Restoration Team worked at 9 different sites on over 20 total acres of land. After prepping an area for planting by removing noxious weeds (a topic we will revisit later in the blog) and considering what plants should and would be planted at each site, a total of ~9,600 native trees and shrubs were installed from October 2021 to March of 2022 

5 WCC Crew Members standing proudly in front of pots

Our 5 WCC Crew Members stand proud in front of the pile of pots they’ve planted over the winter.

A huge part of this action was taken on by ENR’s Washington Conservation Corps Crew (WCC), made up of 5 Americorps members and their Crew Leader, Carly Perez. Joining the WCC is a year-long education and ecological experience, a position which seeks to give experience to young professionals in the field of Natural Sciences. Some join the WCC with no experience, some with education only, and some with lots of both, but the goals to learn and grow are the same where ever the starting point may be. Back in October, on the first project of the planting season, ENR worked with the crew clearing weeds and planting 500 plants in a week’s time. By the start of 2022, it wasn’t unusual for the crew to be planting 500 plants a day.  

 

Faster planting doesn’t imply that quick work or higher planting numbers suggest a better connection to projects or more potential for restoration success, but it can point to the learning and opportunity to connect with specific ecologies when spending time with a place and the life present there. Along with planting numbers comes multiple forms of relationship building, learning the faces of plants in different seasons, recognizing the work birds and beavers put into these systems, and the pleasures and struggles of being outside all winter. 

I like to point to this educational or experience-based part of restoration (along with actual work on the ground) because it demonstrates some of the larger goals tied to these projects which seek to rehabilitate landscape ecologies. Yes, the plants installed to restructure forests and wetlands is probably the largest action we set in motion, but by itself, only really treats symptoms of ailing ecosystems. More trees can be good, but they aren’t the whole picture. Many other forms of life participate in a healthy, sustainable ecosystem. When people make personal connections with these places and systems, when communities get involved with protecting their wild spaces, that is a large part of making restoration projects successful and more resilient. Part of our project is getting those communities to show up, whether they are human, amphibian, predator-prey, or whatever role that community plays in the targeted ecosystem being restored. 

A small cedar tree being carefully planted

WCC Crew Member Alexandra plants a small Cedar tree with care at a restoration sites on the Snoqualmie River’s shore.

Carly, who has been leading WCC crews with the Snoqualmie Tribe’s Habitat Team for two years, puts this work in perspective well – “I see planting as small acts of kindness. When you add these small acts up over time, you are left with a large positive impact that will persist for hundreds of years.” 

Josh has worked with the WCC crew since October of 2020. Having a background in Social Studies and Spanish, they came to the job with different points of view than traditional ecologists might have had. On a recent Spring morning, under a mix of snow and sunshine, Josh shared this – “I grew up in nearby Sammamish, but never felt at home on the east side. These past two planting seasons partnering with the Snoqualmie Tribe through WCC have brought me closer to my home and the ancestral lands of the Snoqualmie people, and it has been an honor to serve their vision of environmental stewardship alongside ENR. 

When relationships start being built between people and places, when cultures develop around enjoying and restoring these places, giving and being given to, our jobs change from the strictly physical act of planting trees to an ecosystem approach, into one that takes the life interacting with these systems into account. Our team may spend most of our 40-hour work week at these projects, but those hours are small compared to the plant and animal populations working and living there 24/7.  So, as Spring arrives, and ENR changes tools, our projects change too. Flowers bloom and leaves unfold, pollinators start showing up again, herbivores change their diet, and growth goes on its own path. It’s a hard mission for 10 people to rebuild ecosystems working 9 to 5, probably impossible, but when they can rest and the cooperation continues, the ecosystems move from being treated to healing.  

If you are interested in getting involved in some of our restoration efforts, you’ll be happy to hear that the Snoqualmie Tribe’s ENR Department is resuming volunteer events starting this Friday, April 22nd. Details for our Earth Day event, hosted by the Mount Si High Green Team, can be found here. If you’d like to know about future events, you can be called on to volunteer by signing up here!

Happy Spring everyone.