Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Planting Trees, Saving Salmon

One weekend late in 2011, Jade and I decided to get our hands dirty on behalf of the local salmon. Then we welcomed them back home!

Many readers will have heard of, or even visited, Muir Woods National Monument, a spectacular stand of old growth redwoods a few short miles north of San Francisco. The forest is watered by Redwood Creek, which originates close by at the top of Mount Tamalpais, the dominant landmark of Marin County. The creek nourishes the Monument before completing its short, riffling journey to the Pacific Coast at Muir Beach.

Jade Digging

Redwood Creek is home to (locally endangered) Steelhead Trout and (federally endangered) Central Coast Coho Salmon. Just 25 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, this Northern California creek also bears the distinction of being the southernmost watershed in North America to host stable runs of these anadromous fishes. Most autumns, toward the end of the dry season, the connection between creek and ocean is severed at Muir Beach by a massive sandy berm. During this period, spawning salmon gather out in the bay, waiting for the first downpours to fill the creek, break through the berm, and re-establish access to their natal creek.

Over the past few decades, fewer and fewer salmon have arrived in the creek each year to spawn. Much of the problem has been mismanagement of the waterway near the ocean. The once extensive system of wetlands, lagoon, and dunes were heavily disturbed by agriculture, construction, and recreation. So the National Parks Service, with help from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, has undertaken a major multi-year, multi-million-dollar project to reclaim the original character of the creek, re-routing the waterway to make it more salmon friendly, removing nonnative plant species, and planting many thousands of native plants. Much of this work is being done by enthusiastic volunteers.

On this particular Saturday, Jade and I joined in on the fun, planting Elderberry and California Blackberry. Other volunteers that day were also planting California Wax Myrtle and Small-Fruited Bulrush. Each plant had been lovingly grown nearby at a native plant nursery. Literally hundreds of volunteer hours go into collecting the seeds and plants, sowing and transplanting the nascent plants, and then planting them in their new homes. It takes a community.

Jade with Deer Exclosure Completed: A Job Well Done

Jade and I were each given a name tag, gloves, and a digging tool. After a short orientation, we were then handed some seedlings and told where to plant them. Here’s the drill. Dig a hole deep just enough to cover the roots, remove the plant from its plastic protective casing, carefully place it in the hole, and fill the remainder with dirt. Make sure you level off the dirt at the end; a depression at the base of the plant traps too much water; a mound of dirt doesn’t allow enough water to reach the plant. After completing this process with seven or so seedlings in a small area, cover that area with a loose matrix of sticks to prevent deer from grazing away all your hard work (and that of the volunteers before you).

On that day over the span of a few hours, the volunteers planted 310 plants and made 35 deer “exclosures.” Thus far, project volunteers have planted almost 6000 of a total of 9000 plants targeted for volunteer groups, so a lot of work remains to be done. I can vouch from firsthand experience that the work is both fun and rewarding. I felt great getting my hands dirty restoring the watershed and helping to save the salmon. Jade loved it too, and we both look forward to more volunteer planting.

Ane Rovetta, Animated Storyteller

We topped that Saturday off by attending the “Welcome Back Salmon” event at Muir Beach. Festivities included a ceremonial campfire with members of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (living descendents of the Coast Miwok). There was also storytelling and native craft making under the capable and passionate direction of Ane Rovetta. Jade and I returned home late afternoon exhausted and exhilarated, with a deeper sense of place and an even stronger feeling that we need to help conserve, restore, and protect our place.

As indigenous peoples have shown us for generations, topophilia—a love of place—blossoms only if individuals spend abundant time outdoors, learn something of the workings of their native place, and work to take care of it. Only with this intertwined combination of firsthand knowledge, experience, and service can one nurture emotional attachments to local life and landscapes. And at this pivotal juncture in human history, there’s never been a greater need for a topophilia revolution. So think about your local opportunities to get outside and get connected. Oh, and don’t forget the kids!

Ceremonial Salmon Art

I’ve heard that the salmon did return to Redwood Creek, not in great numbers but they’re still making the upstream journey. I plan to take Jade out soon to try and find them. Traveling thousands of miles and then navigating their way back to their place of birth, these amazing fishes have much to teach us about possessing a true sense of place.