Internship with the Tri-State Steelheaders
My second semester as an intern with the Tri-State Steelheaders (hereafter, TSS) was both an extension of the restoration work I did last fall and a new, more comprehensive look at the responsibilities of a non-profit organization. While last fall I primarily planned and coordinated the volunteer-based restoration of South Fork Coppei Creek, this semester I also focused on a multitude of smaller projects, ranging from database creation to archival research, in order to more effectively aid TSS’ work on multiple levels.
A few of the smaller projects I worked on involved organization and data collection skills. First of all, I created an electronic database of TSS volunteers to facilitate delivery of e-mail announcements for restoration, fishing, or education events. Also, I compiled a list of phone numbers of residents who live along Yellowhawk Creek, where TSS later conducted a stream survey after gaining residents’ permission. These two tasks were minimal in amount of time required, but helped me gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the numerous “insignificant” organizational projects that are essential to efficiently operate a non-profit organization.
In addition, I worked on several larger projects. I researched information about a small dam along the upper section of Mill Creek, which, for TSS identification purposes, is unofficially called the Kooskooskie Dam. TSS recently obtained a grant from the Salmon Relief Funds Board to remove this century-old dam in order to aid the passage of steelhead trout and salmon. However, TSS knew very little about the construction date, structure, or primary purpose of the dam, since it has not been used for any purpose since the mid-1940s and decades of silt have obscured the view of the dam’s supports. This lack of knowledge would make the removal process very difficult because it would require impromptu removal techniques.
Therefore, I researched the history of the Kooskooskie Dam in the Penrose Archives. Using location coordinates and early 20th century surveying atlases, I determined that the land was owned by the City of Walla Walla around the turn of the last century, the estimated time when the dam was constructed. I questioned the local county and city departments about documentation of the construction. However, no legal documentation from the early 1900s was available. Further archival searches yielded a remarkable find: in a small type-written notebook of important events in Walla Walla I found a reference to a water diversion dam near Kooskooskie that was finished on June 18, 1907. Closer examination of this dam’s location in relation to the current Kooskooskie has revealed that they are the same. Using this information, the engineering contractors hired by TSS can now create a dam removal plan based off of known data about other dams built during the same era.
This research helped me to learn how to search for alternative materials and how to utilize the archives available at Penrose. I quickly learned that many historical aspects of Walla Walla are either preserved in obscure areas or were not preserved at all, which makes historical research challenging.
Another project I worked on was the organization of another volunteer-based stream restoration day. Riparian buffers along the Walla Walla River near 9-Mile Canyon had become overrun with kochia, an invasive annual weed, which was out-competing the native plants. The kochia sprouts from seed in the spring and gradually becomes woody as it reaches heights of up to seven feet. The kochia needed to be removed for four main reasons: it out-competes native plants for water and sunlight; it decreases species diversity as native plants die off, thus limiting the variety of ecological niches; it is an invasive weed that will continue to spread to near-by orchards and pastures; and it makes other riparian restoration work difficult by hindering access to survey points. The Tri-State Steelheaders and the Walla Walla County Conservation District are currently working together to use herbicide to remove this invasive weed. While there is concern about the impact of herbicide on the riparian buffer and the neighboring orchards, proper spraying techniques and minimal, direct application will safeguard these vulnerable areas while still effectively removing the kochia problem. However, this spring the riparian buffers were completely covered in last season's kochia. The woody debris needed to be removed so that future herbicide sprays can access the new growth effectively.
Using the skills I learned last semester on volunteer coordination and project planning, I organized the work party. I talked to various student organizations, reserved the van, and ordered the subshop sandwiches. Since I already had coordination experience from last semester this work party definitely took less time to organize and plan than the previous two work parties. Volunteer advertising was easier thanks to both the database of volunteers I had collected and the philanthropic interest of a Whitman fraternity.
On April 9th, 32 Whitman volunteers donated almost 80 hours of work to remove the kochia. At some points in the buffer, the kochia formed a solid wall 20 feet wide by 5 feet tall that completely blocked access to farther sections of the buffer. However, underneath all of this material volunteers found a few native plants that TSS had planted 5-10 years before. The woody kochia material was piled along the side of the buffer for easy removal. The initial plan of spot burning the kochia was changed as unsafe fire conditions arose. The landowners and TSS are still deciding the next course of action to remove the debris. However, during the course of the day an estimated 40 acres (40% of the riparian buffer) were cleared of kochia. TSS and the Conservation District are still in negotiations on how to implement the herbicide spraying this summer.
At the end of the semester, I completed the last part of my internship: advertising for another restoration work party. The Walla Walla County Conservation District and the Park Service have recently finished restoring the channel of Doan Creek, a subsidiary of Mill Creek, from a straight irrigation ditch back into an ecologically functioning creek. However, last minute modifications needed to be made before the water could be redirected to the new stream bed. The new section of Doan Creek needed to be strengthened with cobble and logs for several reasons: to control erosion; to create riffles which help divert some of the stream energy; to create a variety of stream bottom types that are different ecological niches for native species, such as the steelhead trout; to provide protection for salmonids and their eggs; and to keep sediment levels down: if the stream bottom is just loose dirt, the water current will stir up sediment which can kill salmonid eggs by settling on them and preventing oxygen transfer.
Unlike the 9-Mile Canyon work, the Doan Creek project’s work schedule and organization were already completed by Susie, so I only needed to focus on an advertisement campaign aimed at both Whitman students and Walla Walla community members. I chose to create a flyer that I placed in the shops along Main Street. The event took place on April 30th, although I have not yet been able to talk to Susie about its success.
My second semester of internship with TSS was very successful, although it started off very slowly. Due to the scheduling of grants and projects, at the beginning of the semester, TSS did not have any major projects scheduled for the first few months. Instead, the employees were planning future work and waiting to hear back from supporting agencies. Therefore, I had limited work opportunities at the beginning. However, my time commitment picked up once I started researching Kooskooskie Dam and organizing the restoration work party. While the variety of large and small projects this spring differed greatly from last fall’s emphasis on large restoration projects, I did believe that I was more productive and helpful to TSS this semester. I think that it was beneficial to also do small projects that are more representative of the typical work at a non-profit organization—not all of the work is going to be glamorous or big. Working on these smaller projects at the beginning made returning to planning the larger restoration work parties far more rewarding because I appreciated much more the small details that went into organization an event. In addition, I learned many new skills this semester, including how to create an electronic e-mail database with Excel and Outlook, how to obtain phone numbers for surveys, and how to access information at the Penrose archives. This semester’s internship was especially rewarding because I was able to see the intricacy of the work patterns of a non-profit organization—from the conception of the idea all the way to its completion.