With the help of contractors, local businesses, and volunteers, we're planting upwards of 200,000 trees over the next 14 months.
My wife and I were recently debating what type of tree to plant in our front yard. I lobbied for a native cascara, while my wife felt like a red alder would provide more of the privacy and shade we were after. The mighty but slow-growing Oregon white oak was an option too. As I sat, vexed by the process of planting a single tree, I wondered, How in the world does our stewardship staff go about planting trees throughout our 28,000 acres of conserved lands?
Columbia Land Trust works to restore lands across 13,000 square miles, 2 states, and 5 distinct ecoregions—and no two landscapes are the same. Tree planting is a common thread across nearly all our restoration projects, ranging from the tidal Sitka spruce swamps of the Columbia River Estuary to backyard habitats in the Portland metro area. This year, our stewardship team, led by Ian Sinks, will be embarking on an unprecedented spate of restoration efforts, including planting roughly 200,000 trees.
To accomplish this herculean feat, the stewardship staff will enlist support from both hired contractors and volunteers. In 2015, dedicated volunteers planted 6,000 trees across the region, in addition to the 14,000 trees and shrubs planted through the Backyard Habitat Certification Program.
The stewardship team develops site planting plans based on their best professional judgment of what should be growing according to available science and assessments of local conditions. “It’s an iterative process,” explained Sinks. “You just have to get the plants out there and then go back and learn from what thrived and what failed.”
Newly planted trees face numerous threats, which must be considered when deciding where, when, and how to plant. In the East Cascades, restoration sites often feature challenging growing conditions, such as dry, exposed ground with shallow, rocky soil. In these areas, planting in the fall is crucial, as well as employing techniques like using logs to shade plantings.
For trees that flourish, every year of growth tends to improve local habitat. The time necessary for achieving the desired habitat function varies depending on the ideal conditions for each site. Old-growth forests can take 150 to 250 years to develop, while willow trees can provide shade and riverbank stability within 10 years.
In addition to wildlife habitat, adding trees to the region’s landscapes and watersheds provides a wealth of ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, cleaner air, floodwater mitigation, erosion control, and viewsheds for adjacent recreation areas. The Land Trust also supports regional economies by sourcing trees from local nurseries and hiring local planting crews. All of these benefits unfurl one tree at a time, and they’re well worth both the wait and the work.—Jay Kosa
If you’d like to help plant trees on our lands, visit our volunteer page.
You can also help create native habitat in your own yard through the Backyard Habitat Certification Program, run in partnership with the Audubon Society of Portland.