8 December 2004
Environmental Studies Internship
Tri-State Steelheaders Internship
My internship with the Tri-State Steelheaders (TSS) has taught me the full cycle of restoration work—from money acquisition, research, and planning to volunteer organization and physical stream restoration. From this experience, I have a greater appreciation for the large amounts of work that non-profit conservation groups do in their efforts to make environmental changes. My internship dealt with all of the above mentioned steps of planning stream restoration, except for grant writing, and this new knowledge will help me in future restoration work with TSS and other organizations.
In the beginning of September, I met Susie Carlin, Executive Director of TSS, regarding the details of my internship. During the meeting, we decided to focus my work toward planning one or more restoration work days in November. For the next month, the location for my restoration work changed multiple times, although by early October we finalized the work site to be at an area in a conservation easement along South Fork Coppei Creek, a local tributary to the Walla Walla River and native habitat for the steelhead trout. After initially familiarizing myself with the goals of the TSS, its projects, and various government programs associated with its work (i.e. RFEG, CREP), I was able to start focusing on the specific work planned for South Fork Coppei Creek. The first location we discussed was parcel four of the conservation easement. Susie Carlin, Brian Burns (Project Manager for TSS), and I decided that the primary need of the area was revegetation. Earlier that year, a log jam had been constructed along the creek in order to redirect the water flow away from other restoration efforts. While the construction left very few signs of damage, a large unvegetated section of soil still remained immediately around the log jam. Under the easement contract, TSS must provide erosion control and habitable stream banks within the next few years, most easily done through revegetation. We determined that cottonwood, alder, and willow would be the best plants for this riparian area. Due to the large number of plants required for this project, the live stake method of planting was the most economical and least labor intensive. This method involves taking freshly cut tree branches and burying them 4/5 of their length in the ground in a riparian area with sufficient water. The following spring they root and leaf, becoming new trees. The restoration work parties were scheduled for October 30 th and November 13 th .
While searching for restoration volunteers, I was pleasantly surprised to find strong support from Whitman students. I was able to get over 40 names of interested people (some for both work parties) from many different campus groups, like the introduction to environmental studies class, the conservation biology class, Campus Greens, and Delta Gamma, in addition to the general student body. While the majority of people showed interest in the second work day, we still got a strong group of about twenty people originally signed up for the first work party. With this in mind, Susie, Brian, and I went down to parcel four multiple times to survey the area, determine the number of plants needed, and how long the planting would take with the anticipated number of volunteers. Also, we were able to locate several local stands of willow, alder, and cottonwood to collect branches from. In addition, we experimented with possible ways to dig holes for the stakes. Ultimately, we decided to use post drivers to essentially pound axel poles into the ground, which, when removed, created deep holes of the approximate width of the stakes. However, this process involved a great deal of noise (metal against metal banging) so we decided to supply the volunteers with ear protection. Also, it was a long, tedious process for creating holes because of the rocky nature of the soil that hampered the efficiency of the post drivers. However, in the end we decided to use this method despite the disadvantages because it was the only one that created appropriately sized holes and it was still faster than laying tarps and planting nursery-grown plants. In interest of time, we decided to incorporate usage of live stake fascines with our original plan of the live stakes plantings. Live stake fascines are formed by using the branches cut in the live stake method and placing them in bundles about 6 inches thick and four feet long and burying them in shallow trenches. This method provides structural stability to an area and in the spring, the branches will begin to sprout into new trees. We decided to place the willow fascines along the lower river bank next to the log jam because of extremely rocky soil there hampered planting of stakes. We anticipated that it would probably take two days to do all of the work we had planned for the log jam area.
On October 30 th we had our first work party at South Fork Coppei Creek. We ended up with 13 volunteers in addition to Susie, Brian, and me. Out at the work site, we split up into three different groups, which headed off to separate locations to cut the needed willow, alder, and cottonwood branches. Roughly an hour and a half later, we met up at parcel four with large piles of branches, and proceeded to divide up the tasks of hole digging, branch trimming, fascine bundling, and live stake planting. We encountered a small problem with the soil around the log jam, which proved to be rockier than we had initially anticipated which hindered the effectiveness of our digging techniques. This meant that it took longer to dig the required number of holes. For the live stake plantings, we grouped the three plant species in different zones of the site. The willows were placed closest to the creek because of their need for water, the alders were mixed throughout the whole project because of their ability to survive in both wet and slightly drier areas, and the cottonwoods were placed farthest away from the water, roughly six feet back from the log jam, because of their ability to survive with less relatively water. The volunteers quickly understood the planting techniques and did amazing work. Even with a lunch break we still managed to revegetate all of the area around the log jam by the time we needed to leave. In addition to this success, the volunteers gave us very positive reflections upon the work, and expressed their interest to continue to do stream restoration in the future.
The challenge now presented to us was to create a new project for the scheduled November 13 th work day, because all of the work at parcel four had been finished. Luckily, Susie and Brian, who knew all of the available projects in the area, came up with the idea of revegetating parcel two, which is another part of the South Fork Coppei Creek conservation easement. The land consists of a lowland drainage area for South Fork Coppei Creek surrounded by steep slopes covered in grass and sparse ponderosa pines. A few years ago, a private contractor was hired to revegetate the hillsides with nursery-grown ponderosa pine to help further restabilize the soil and prevent erosion. However, because of poor planting techniques and harsh summer heat, the majority of the plants along the south-facing slope did not survive. So, the goal for our volunteer work party was to replant a variety of drought-resistant plants along the south-facing slope, making sure not to repeat the past planting mistakes. Although the live stake method worked well on parcel four, this planting method would not be effective in parcel two because of the scarce amounts of water on the slope and the preferred choice of drought-resistant plant species instead of riparian trees. Since we only had less than two weeks to come up with a new project, Susie and Brian were mainly in-charge of the planting and location details because of their experience and knowledge, while I organized the volunteers. Brian created a list of plants suitable for the area, which were then ordered from a local nursery. This list included 15 mountain mahoganies (1-gallon size), 20 chokecherries (1-gallon size), 20 ponderosa pines (1-gallon size), 50 basin big sages (10-inch tube size), and 50 rubber rabbitbrushes (10-inch tube size). Susie, Brian, and I visited the site before the work day to create planting techniques. Due to the previous plantings, there were already tarps on the ground which we could use in our planting. The tarps, roughly 4'x4'with a hole in the middle for the plant to grow through, are essential to the survival of the trees and shrubs. The tarps provide protection from invasive weeds immediately around the plantings and help keep moisture near the roots. Upon experimentation, we discovered that the best way to plant the 1-gallon size plants was to remove half of the staples that held the tarps to the ground, peel the tarps back, plant the trees, and then pull the tarp over them and use the staples to secure the tarps again. The best way to plant the smaller shrubs was not to remove the tarp, but instead to use a k-bar to dig a small hole right where the center space in the tarp was, place the shrub in, and then pat the dirt back down again. We also planned on placing deer guards (salvaged from the previous planting effort) over all of the new plantings to protect against browsing.
While organizing the volunteers for this second work day, I had initially over 30 interested people, but over time that number dropped dramatically, because people had other obligations and school work. However, from the final group of volunteers, we did end up getting quite a few people from the first work party coming back for a second time.
On November 13 th , we headed out to parcel two with eight volunteers to do the planting. Once there, we carried all of the plants up the hill to the south-facing slope. On the slope we taught the volunteers the different planting techniques, and then they worked in pairs to plant. We started with the 1-gallon size plants because there were fewer of them, and they needed to be in more definite zones. The chokecherry were placed closest to the riparian lowlands, the mountain mahogany were placed near the top of the slope and closest to the fields because of their drought-resistance, and the ponderosa pines were placed in the middle because, although they are very drought-resist, we did not want them to cast shade upon the adjacent croplands at the top of the slope. All of these larger plants were placed randomly in groups of two or three within the specified zones to promote a natural arrangement. The basin big sage and the rubber rabbitbrush were to be placed randomly in all remaining tarps after the other plantings were done because they could survive at any elevation of the slope. While planting, we quickly learned that the planting was going to take a lot longer than anticipated. Each group ended up working at a pace of about 3 plants per hour, which proved to be a problem because there were so few volunteers. After lunch, we switched to working individually to help speed up the process, and by the time we needed to leave, we had just finished planting all of the 1-gallon plants, but had only planted a handful of the smaller ones (the remaining sage and rabbitbrush were planted on Wednesday by Brian and Susie). However, the volunteers did an amazing job planting and there really was amazing progress in the planting given the number of volunteers there. It appeared that the volunteers had a good time and once again we got requests for future stream restoration work parties.
After these work parties ended, the majority of my work with TSS was over. However, I did end up helping Susie and Brian at their annual TSS meeting. We also discussed possible projects for my internship next semester. One of these ideas is an educational outreach program at local schools about fishing and the environment, and the other is grant writing for more stream restoration projects.
Overall, my work with TSS has been amazing and has run very smoothly. There were only a few problems that I encountered. First of all, I didn't realize going into this internship that I would spend so much time doing research and planning. I had initially assumed that I would only be doing the physical stream restoration. However, I quickly learned that there is a long process that must happen before any actual work can happen, including research, money acquisition, planning, and volunteer organization. The majority of my internship was spent on these different activities (although members of TSS had already gathered the funding before I started my work, so I didn't write any grants). I feel that after all of this experience learning how to research, plan, and organize restoration events like these the process of organizing a restoration work party will run much smoother next time.
I did encounter a small problem with the demanding time commitments that happened right before both of the restoration work parties. While the rest of the semester had a manageable amount of internship work that could be balanced with my school work, I felt that during these times my school work suffered because of the organization time needed to make the work days successful. Also, there was a small problem with lack of communication with Susie and Brian regarding the live stake planting technique. I had assumed that members of TSS knew how to do the live stake cuttings and plantings. Susie had asked me to research the live stake method at the beginning of October, but because of class schedules, fall break, and the thought that the research was only for my own benefit, I didn't start studying live stake techniques until mid-October, when it was made known to me that TSS had never used this technique before. This proved to be very stressful, especially because it was during midterm week. Also, a few details I discovered in my research caused us to alter our restoration plans right before the first work party date. However, this has taught me to be very flexible in my planning, and so I was able to handle the quick plan change about the second work party much better.
The other problem I encountered was the last-minute lack of volunteers for the second work party. While it is normal for the majority of interested people to not actually participate in a volunteer event, I had assumed it would be different for my work parties. I had had a good turn-out on the first work party because only two people couldn't go at the last minute, and so I assumed my luck would hold for the second one. At the second work party, ten people either told me they couldn't go at the last minute or just didn't show up, and this placed a lot of stress on me regarding food purchases and van rentals. Another side effect of the lack of volunteers was that it decreased the amount of plants planted, which led to the situation where Brian and Susie planted the rest of the plants on Wednesday. However, this taught me a valid lesson about volunteers, planning, and flexibility.
Regardless of these few small problems, I am really pleased with my internship and feel that it was beneficial for both me and TSS. Despite the one small lack of communication regarding the live stake method, I feel that I have had a strong line of communication with both Susie and Brian. I had weekly meetings with Susie about the progress of the project, which helped keep me on track and headed off any problems from the start. I really appreciated the personal involvement of Susie and Brian in my restoration projects. It was a collaborative effort between all of us, with my part mainly being research, detail planning, and volunteer organization. Recently, at the annual TSS meeting a list of accomplishments was passed out to the membership which started off with a comment about the work at South Fork Coppei Creek (see notebook). It was really rewarding to see my efforts and the volunteer efforts of Whitman volunteers so positively acknowledged by TSS.
Through this internship I have learned the process around restoration projects, starting from the research and planning down to the actually physical work. I also learned how to organize successful volunteer events and how to be flexible in my planning. I hope to continue using these newly learned skills next semester when I work with TSS again on more restoration projects. I also have the possibility of writing grants and then do a full cycle restoration project from start to finish throughout the next calendar year. Overall, I had a very positive experience with TSS because of the personal support I receive from Susie and Brian in my project, my improved event organization skills, and an increased understanding of the stream restoration effort in the Walla Walla area.