The mission of the Snoqualmie Tribe’s Environmental & Natural Resources (ENR) Department is to protect, preserve, and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the Snoqualmie Reservation and traditional tribal lands for the benefit of current and future generations. This mission is carried out in many ways. To name a few, ENR monitors water quality, advocates for more ecologically sound legislation, maintains native gardens, monitors wildlife, and provides greater access to culturally significant foods and resources. Similar to the asks of the Snoqualmie Tribe’s Ancestral Lands Movement, the goal is to continue a relationship with the land, to protect, respect, and restore the gifts offered there.

One of the most direct ways this mission is accomplished is through the Habitat Restoration Team, which works to restore ecosystem health and resilience on sites throughout the ancestral lands of the Snoqualmie Tribe. By removing noxious weeds, installing native plants, and monitoring for signs of ecosystem changes, the Habitat Restoration Team seeks to improve access to natural resources for all. This work provides more stable food and shelter for wildlife, but also lessens impacts of flooding, filters out pollutants in water, and builds more resilient ecological systems. The connections and benefits of healthy ecosystems are almost immeasurable. The landscape around us has been significantly disturbed, especially in the very recent past, and ENR’s ecological restoration projects seek to bring back some of those historical ecological conditions. But the Habitat Team doesn’t complete these projects alone.

drone photography of a volunteer event, volunteers spread mulch at a site in the Three Forks Natural Area

At a summer event, volunteers spread mulch at a restoration site in the Three Forks Natural Area.

 

While each program in ENR works towards their own individual goals, much of their work couldn’t be at the scale it is or have the impact it does without help from people outside our staff. Volunteers provide so much for our projects. Whether they are regulars or attending for the first time, a service project group or a single person from the community, the amount of work volunteers have contributed this year has been incredible.

If you haven’t been to an event, a general description might help you picture the scene. We set up some canopies and tables next to the site, usually in a place that’s easy to find, not too far of a walk, and has a nice view of the site we’ll be working at for the day. The tools are laid out, gloves are available, and probably most importantly, there’s a table full of snacks – hot coffee and tea, fresh made donuts, fruit, and granola bars galore. A couple members of the ENR staff are also there to help guide and check everyone in. As the volunteers arrive, they should feel free to explore the area, check out what we’ll be planting, what’s already there, and take a chance to listen to the river, hear what the birds are saying, or see them fly overhead. Many of our events are regularly attended by members of the local Wilderness Awareness School, EPA staff, and other Snoqualmie Tribe staff, so you never know what other perspectives and expertise you might find in conversation.

After most people have checked in, before the real event starts, we all circle up and introduce the place. We talk about where we are, how its connected to the landscape, and what the goal for the day is. We talk about the Snoqualmie Tribe’s connection to place and how we as the public can continue to act as stewards to the land through the upcoming planting and beyond. We talk about the salmon, elk, eagles, and beavers that call this place home. There’s also a planting demonstration, so everyone can see what we’re asking for. We answer questions, make sure everyone knows what the goals of the day are, and then we get going!

A volunteer event is beginning, people stand under a tent with a sign from the Snoqualmie Tribe in front that reads "Habitat Restoration Event."

Snacks, signs, and a crowd signal something special happening, inviting others to join in some natural fun.

For those of you that have specific memories of everything described there, you know we’ve done a lot of work this year! Since starting our volunteer program back up in early 2022, we’ve hosted 11 events at our restoration sites, mostly between Issaquah, Carnation, and North Bend. We usually plant native trees and shrubs at these events, but we’ve also done a lot of mulching and pulled a lot of invasive evergreen blackberry (Rubus bifrons), one of the worst noxious weeds in our region.

With over 350 volunteers this year alone, over the course of those 11 events, volunteers have contributed about 1,120 hours of labor to the Snoqualmie Tribe’s restoration projects. On average, volunteers donated a total of about 101 hours at each event this year. This includes about 200 hours of mulching recent plantings – a much needed contribution after some of the driest and warmest months on record for King County. Volunteers also spent about 130 hours removing blackberry by hand at some of our sites in Carnation, with an added bonus of enjoying a summer picnic by the Snoqualmie River when we were done. But, by far, most of time people graciously donated was at our recent series of Fall Planting Events.  

Over the course of our last 5 Fall events, as well as our Spring Earth Day Event (co-hosted with the Mt. Si High Green Team), volunteers have planted about 2,250 plants and donated about 750 hours of labor. Most of that time was spent directly planting trees and shrubs, but this also includes time from volunteers who stuck around to help us pack up post-event, clean shovels, double check sites to make sure plantings were complete and tools weren’t left behind, and all the background efforts that go into these events.

This stat is impressive by itself, but all the more impressive because all our events ended early. We tended to have everything planted ahead of schedule. The help is too good! Most recently, our Tibbetts Creek event ended early when 40 volunteers made quick work of over 400 plants, completing a quality planting in about an hour and a half! We noticed this trend happening throughout the early events and tried to correct it in later events. Volunteers continued to exceed our expectations. In late November, we set out ~1000 trees and shrubs at the Fall City Floodplain Restoration Project expecting our own Restoration Team to finish planting leftovers after the event. Our team spent an afternoon planting the first hundred so volunteers wouldn’t be overwhelmed. The volunteer event was hosted the following Saturday, and planting the remaining 900 plants was a quick 2-hour task for the 70 volunteers that showed up that day.

All in all, the efforts from the combined 34 hours of events are equivalent to have a full time staff member devoted to these projects 40 hours per week for 6 months. The thank you’s cannot be stated too many times or with enough enthusiasm.

If this has you feeling inspired or eagerly awaiting the next event, more volunteer opportunities will be posted in January of 2023 for the late winter & early spring planting season. Keep an eye on our calendar for updates, or if you’d like to be notified when the events go up, join our mailing list! If you have a large group you’d like to volunteer with, let us know and we’ll work with you and the sites we’re already working on for your own event. We appreciate the support offered by every one of our volunteers, and are happy to share the joys of the field with you all! Thanks for a great season!

 

Volunteers helped us plant this Three Forks Natural Area site in 2019. The inset “before restoration” photo shows blackberry and reed canary grass smothering native plants along the creek side. Three years later, native plants are creating a healthier habitat in this Snoqualmie River headwaters stream.