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News.bytes Extra, issue 511

Lower Yuba River 'stick garden' designed to help salmon

More than 1,000 cottonwood and willow cuttings were planted last month in a “stick garden” along the Lower Yuba River near Marysville in an attempt to re-establish a riparian forest.

More cuttings will be planted next year in the pilot project on land in the Goldfields managed by the BLM’s Mother Lode Field Office, to convert five acres of bare ground to a riparian forest. “Although, riparian restoration has been tried in other highly altered valley river systems, it is the first time that it has been attempted in the Lower Yuba,” said Peggy Cranston, biologist in the Mother Lode Field Office.

The project is designed to benefit salmon, which are a threatened species.  This portion of the river is used primarily by fall-run Chinook salmon.  However, spring-run Chinook and Central Valley steelhead also use the river. (text continues below)

a man places a metal pole in a deep hole in the ground
Denise Della Santina, SYRCL Project Manager, watches as a crew from MM Reforestation installs a piezometer to measure groundwater levels.

Riparian vegetation is important to salmon, trout and other fish using the Lower Yuba.  The vegetation provides shade, thus cooling the water.  Cold water is preferred by salmon and trout.  In addition, it provides branches that fall into the water.  These branches provide habitat for insects, which provide food for the fish, Cranston explained.

The project, called the “Hammon Bar Riparian Enhancement Pilot Project” was conceived, planned, spearheaded and carried out by South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), a non-profit organization based in Nevada City.  The project was funded by and permitting done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Anadromous Fish Restoration Project.  Western Aggregates, a private company in the Goldfields, provided the majority of the cuttings.

The riparian restoration currently looks like a colorful “stick garden” with the top of the cuttings painted different colors for each species and protruding about a foot above the ground.  Most of the “stick” is underground, anywhere from 2 to 10 feet underground depending on the groundwater level. 

The crews dig a hole to groundwater and place a dozen cuttings in a circular plot called a pod, with each species represented in the pod. They stabilize the cuttings by knocking sediment into the hole while other crew members in the hole hold the cuttings in place. Once the cuttings stand up, a backhoe is used to fill in the hole and the surface is smoothed out by hand. The cuttings are cut to about a foot above the ground, and the cuttings are painted to indicate the species planted.

The cottonwood is planted a little above the water level, because their roots will rot if submerged. Careful measurements were taken during collection and planting and the plantings will be monitored.

Because the river in this area has undergone extensive human modification, riparian vegetation has only re-established itself in a few small areas.  There are large areas with little or no vegetation.

Historic human activity in the area includes gold mining using dredges the size of ships, realigning the river channel to allow Daguerre Point Dam to catch debris from hydraulic mining in the river system, piling dredging materials to create huge “training” walls to keep the river in its new channel and building dams that unnaturally alter river flows. 

“Perhaps in a small way that may -- if the experiment goes well -- be expanded, we can begin to bring the Lower Yuba back to a more natural state that will benefit the fish, wildlife, and humans who use the river. Our ‘stick garden’ is hopefully only the beginning of something much larger,” Cranston said.

For more information regarding this project, contact her at (916) 941-3136 or pcransto@blm.gov   

a crew places large sticks in a deep hole
Alyssa Lindman, SYRCL On-site Project Supervisor, watches the crew place the cuttings in the hole.

color-tipped sticks in rocky ground
Photos of the finished project
close-up of colored sticks in the ground

 - David Christy, BLM Central California public affairs (12/8/11)

 BLM-California News.bytes, issue 511 -- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: mailto:Join-Newsbytes@List.ca.blm.gov OR visit our News.bytes subscription page.

Last updated: 12-14-2011