A day in the field, talking restoration with four new Green Jobs interns
On a cold coastal Friday morning, Columbia Land Trust stewards and four Green Jobs interns with the Forest Park Conservancy (FPC) filed out of their trucks along the Walluski River on the outskirts of Astoria, Oregon. The Green Jobs interns, Ahmed Yusuf, Jonathan Albarran, Joseph Justice, and Selena Gutierrez stepped into waders eager to spend the day planting willows and spruce trees and learning from stewards Austin Tomlinson and Emily Matson about the area’s ecosystem.
To everyone’s surprise, the sun started peeking through the clouds, teasing the crew with the prospect of a rare sunny February day. The smell of the mud, and maybe some looming rain, had everyone feeling uncertain but positive and hopeful for the day. The team unloaded the gear out of the truck, grabbed shovels, climbed into Tomlinson’s boat, and ventured off to different areas of the floodplain. The boat ride was smooth and short, as the Walluski doesn’t get too rough.
The Green Jobs Internship Program was developed by Forest Park Conservancy in partnership with Columbia Land Trust and other local organizations working to build a diverse conservation workforce in the Portland metro area. In 2020, Columbia Land Trust is partnering with FPC and West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District to provide one year of on-the-job training for the Green Jobs interns, focusing on habitat restoration, forestry, and other conservation practices. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to work on special projects with other organizations in the Portland-Metro area.
Rain started falling shortly after the crew arrived at the floodplain. They trekked through the mud, getting stuck every once in a while, eventually making it safely up the bank. Tomlinson gave a brief demonstration on how to properly plant each willow in order to give it its best chance for survival and help diversify the area’s vegetation.
The Walluski River is a small but important tributary of the greater Young’s Bay watershed. It is host to Endangered Species Act-listed chum salmon, coho salmon, Chinook, and steelhead while providing crucial habitat for migrating and rearing salmonids from the Columbia River basin. Columbia Land Trust’s conserved land along the Walluski was used for grazing long ago, but due to flooding, it was only marginally productive. In August of 2008, the Land Trust removed 100 feet of levee to reconnect a second channel and allow more natural circulation of water.
Our goal here is to provide a number of watershed benefits by restoring the functions that support water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and recover declining salmonid populations. By planting Hooker willow and Sitka spruce, the Land Trust hopes to decrease weed growth and let wildlife utilize the shading to the surrounding water channels, nesting points for birds, and the systems that support the salmon.
“Boating there was one of my favorite parts of the day,” said Gutierrez. “It’s rewarding to be able to go to different places throughout this internship and learn about all the different habitats.”
The crew spent hours planting willows along the dike, one by one, and sometimes two by two. In 2008, Columbia Land Trust planted 1,000 native shrubs along the remaining dike property to help create diversity along the edge of the river and tidal restoration area. However, while many of these plants survived, beaver activity and weeds reduced the overall riparian vegetation.
Albarran noted that so far, he’s learned how long it takes to restore land. “It is a lot of trial and error and trying things out,” he said. “I’m excited to learn more about the process of getting funding for the projects. I want to learn as much as I can in this field.”
After a few hours of planting willows in on-and-off rain, it was time for lunch. The crew sat along the bank, indulged in their meals, asked the stewards about the area, and learned a little more about each other.
Gutierrez said she’s only been in the environmental field for a year after participating in a program facilitated by Ecotrust where she was certified in environmental literacy. “That program was the kick-start for me and I stuck with it.”
In the blink of an eye, lunch was over and it was time to plant the Sitka spruce. Everyone was excited to get back to work and learn about another type of species important to the floodplain. The interns agreed that working in the field and learning about different plants was something they all enjoy and look forward to continuing over the course of their program.
“Fieldwork and the stewardship aspect was a big attraction to me at first,” said Justice. “It’s what got me wanting to work in the environmental field.”
As the last few spruce were planted, the tide began to come in and it was time to head back. The mud and dirt on everyone’s waders and gloves served as testaments to a successful planting. The crew hauled the gear and remaining plants into the boat and navigated back to where the day started, which seemed like a minute ago, but everyone was ready to head back home.
Together the crew planted 800 Hooker willow cuttings and 125 Sitka spruce seedlings in efforts to restore native vegetation along the river banks. The boat ride back was filled with questions about the connecting waters, like Young’s River, the typical workdays for the Land Trust stewards, and what makes the Walluski River area so unique.
In 2020, Columbia Land Trust restoration efforts will continue with more native trees and shrub plantings to help restore lost vegetation.
The acquisition of Walluski North stewardship area was funded by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The ongoing restoration project is made possible through generous support from people like you. Thank you!