Restoring the Land, Restoring the Human Spirit
A partnership between the BLM and the Oregon Youth Authority benefits more than just streams and forests; it also helps youths at risk.
Since 2002, riparian lands alongside a number of streams in Oregon have looked far healthier to the many local hikers, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts who frequent them. Vegetation is dense and natural. Fish in the waterways are more plentiful. These areas have been transformed.
Has there been a change to the local ecology? Yes, but it's much more than that. There's been an overarching transformation in how this environment has been managed and nurtured.
A GROWING SOLUTION
There's a collaboration between the BLM, state and local governments, and private landowners to thank for this positive trend. Almost a decade ago, the Tillamook Riparian Restoration Partnership (Partnership) was formed. The BLM came together with members from State and local governments as well as property owners to identify some 400 miles of degraded streams and adjacent riparian areas on which to restore native plant growth. The group focused their efforts on the waterways that feed the lower Columbia River and northwest Oregon coastal bays.
The Partnership determined they could rejuvenate these areas by sowing native plants that were cleared from stream banks years ago. But this goal presented a unique two-part challenge. The Partnership had to first identify what native plants originally grew in each area. Then they had to find commercial quantities of these native plants.
When the Partnership realized there was a shortage of available coastal, locally-adapted plant stock, it became apparent they'd need to collect seed and cultivate the necessary plants. So if they needed a specific strain of vegetation? No problem. They'd grow it themselves. And soon they set up planting beds at several Tillamook County locations and at the BLM's Horning Seed Orchard in Colton, Oregon, and used private nurseries to establish a sustainable supply of local native plant material for their riparian restoration projects. The Partnership has cultivated around 25 different local native tree and shrub species. These plants provide new growth and restore the riparian areas around streams.
RESTORATION THRU EDUCATION
To plant the seeds of this project – both figuratively and literally – the Partnership focused on restoration through education. Without landowner cooperation this project would not be as successful. Thus not only were landowners given the opportunity to learn about the benefits of healthy riparian plant communities, but local volunteers were invited to attend classes and learn about native seed collection, extraction, storage, and vegetative growing techniques to rebuild local flora and foster healthy plant growth along streams.
After building a close relationship with local landowners, the Partnership pursued grant funding with the State of Oregon's Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to guarantee their planting and maintenance plan would be supported until native vegetation was established well enough to grow on its own. The long-term benefits from this Partnership will be recognized in a number of years. Locals are already beginning to see more developed riparian areas that provide more shade to cool stream temperatures and more natural cover to protect young fish from predators.
A GREEN RETURN
To date over 80,000 plants have been produced and planted annually reaching more than 200 miles of riparian lands. Further, 92 acres of wetlands have been restored while almost 250 educational sessions have connected with 7,000 local participants.
In honor of this progress, the Partnership has been recognized for numerous awards. In 2007 the American Fisheries Society awarded the team the national Western Divisions Riparian Challenge Award. And in November 2010 the Partnership was awarded the National Landscape Stewardship Award by the Public Lands Foundation. Tillamook BLM botanist Kurt Heckeroth accepted The Director's Excellence Through Stewardship Award for his key role.
The Partnership's success is the result of hard work by all its participants. And thanks to its many accomplishments, the Partnership is now used as a model by the BLM and the National Park Service to establish other partnerships in the Pacific Northwest.
And to all the local hikers, bird watchers, and neighbors who enjoy the streams and lands found in America's great outdoors? They may not be directly aware of this Partnership, but they're certainly ecstatic to see their favorite fishin' holes and trails returned to their original natural splendor.
Read more about Oregon's role with the National Riparian Service Team.