A River’s Restoration

This month: a restoration story. One of water, salmon and seeds.

Seed collection is a necessary step toward restoration. But this month, we partook in another type of restoration. For one week, we partnered with the larger Tongass NF Fisheries crew and Ketchikan Indian Community (KIC), diverting and re-building a stream.

Hauling logs into a stream with the Tongass NF Fish and Wildlife crew and Ketchikan Indian Community employees.

Toward the beginning of our season, I asked Val (our lovely supervisor), what restoration meant to her. She told me she sees restoration as a two-fold concept: 1. to repair damage we have done in our past, and 2. to enhance and advance natural processes that will eventually occur without human aid. This month’s stream restoration project channeled these perspectives into practice, thinking 100 years down-the-line.

Our large group of people, adorned head to foot in waders or their Grundens and Xtratufs, spent lots of time with and in the river and mud that week. We hauled over 10 logs into the stream, wrapping rope around trees and using blocks to weave the rope through and then drive the logs in. We dug over 10 trenches to place those logs, diverting stream flow and re-establishing the s-curves of the water’s movement.

It was empowering work. Rejuvenating and physically exhausting. It was an excellent group of people. And it was a beautiful thing to be able to see the fruits of our labor. It was also humbling to see the force and capacity of water, to acknowledge that we can dig trenches and place logs and watch the sediment fill, but the river will do its own work to restore, to re-story. This is a river’s restoration story, we are just the hands to help in the process.

(And in a couple of years, hopefully we have a seed-mix to spread along the stream in the aftermath).

Planting Rubus spectabilis (Salmonberry) along the stream following restoration work
KIC and Botany crews looking at tiny salmon fry found in the riverbed days after restoration work

All season, I have watched salmon runs swim upstream — swaying bodies moving in company with others against a strong current. While out collecting seeds at Ward Lake, (a common trail and accompanying campground area near town), mostly Spirea splendens (Rosy Spirea) and Carex aquatilis (Water Sedge), you could smell them before you could see them: rotting salmon on the lake shore. When I’d look down in the water and see their carcasses beginning to give way, I’d whisper: “good job. you made it.” Their struggle is all at once inspiring and heart-wrenching. As I bent down to strip seeds along the lake shore, I listened to the beating rain and their relentless splashing.

Salmon swim upstream from the ocean to spawn

In late August, Mather and I backpacked the Deer Mountain Traverse, an alpine trail covering 18 miles and spreading along four peaks and a rocky ridge-line. Cassiope mertensiana (White Mountain Heather) and Vaccinium ulinignosum (Bog Blueberry), bursting with fruit, hung low to the ground. Arnicas and Gentians towered over them, tickling our ankles. I don’t believe I will ever get over how small and mighty alpine plants are. Our legs were tired, and our lungs exhausted. And even up there, nestled in the high mountains, water prevailed. Snow fields tapered into snow melt lakes and waterfalls funneled water down to lower lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, ocean.

Alpine lakes, muskeg bottoms, puddles on pavement after it rains, the breeding grounds of rivers, and the ocean, broad and spreading. Water is everywhere.

Snow melt in southeast Alaska’s alpine

August slipped away…

August was a time of changing weather, new plant species to scout for, and a newfound independence for the seed girls of Moab. The weather cooled off quite a bit here in Moab over the past month, going from being in the upper 100s everyday to only being in the 90s, and some days we were even fortunate enough to see temperatures in the 80s! On our trips up into the mountains, we were met with daily thunderstorms and the occasional hail instead of the normal dry heat we had become too familiar with. Overall, we became more independent in our seed scouting and collecting and got to take part in many different projects this past month.

We began scouting for our third target species, Heliomeris multiflora, or showy goldeneye! This beautiful member of the Aster family that can be found at a wide variety of elevations ranging from foothills all the way to subalpine. So far, we have found the most Heliomeris at elevations around 10,000 feet. We have identified quite a few large populations, so now we wait for the seeds to mature and get ready for collection!

Heliomeris multiflora spotted in the La Sals on 8/18/23
Field full of Heliomeris multiflora spotted in the La Sals on 8/30/23. Scouting for Heliomeris comes with some amazing views!

We have continued to collect seeds from Heterotheca villosa, or hairy false goldenaster, and we seem to stumble upon more populations of it everyday we are out in the field. Although it appears that the seeds of Heterotheca are beginning to pass their prime in most spots as we now enter into September, we are planning on making a few more collections before all the seeds drop. Heterotheca has been my favorite species to collect so far because I find harvesting these little puffballs to be highly satisfying. Is it just me, or do they remind anyone else of Horton Hears a Who? The only downside to collecting these puffs is that you have to be very mindful of the weather. We learned that wind is public enemy number one while trying to collect this species on a particularly windy day. One big gust of wind at the wrong moment and you could lose a lot of progress!

In other exciting news, we got to spend some time up in the alpine with the Botany Crew here in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Hiking into the alpine was like visiting another planet. I found myself wearing three layers and still a bit chilly and hiking across snow in August! Our goal was to assist with alpine vegetation surveys and get some hands-on experience with vegetation plots and transects. I learned so much, though my favorite part was getting to see mountain goats for the first time as they ran up and down peaks and made it look so easy.

I have really enjoyed getting the opportunity to be involved with the different departments of the Forest Service here and can’t wait to see what new experiences come in September!