Willow staking on the Green River: from Kayaks

Contemplating riparian restoration on revetments or levees often has one staring down a 1:1 45 degree slope! How to get down there with plants and do the work without falling in the drink?

In Spokane, a pair of men with river skills decided to give back to their playground creek with a novel approach to steep slopes: plant from the creek. Hangman Creek had been salmon-bearing and supported beaver and elk before revetments channeled it and farmers ditched it’s tributaries causing enormous erosion. In the spring snow melt will turn this creek into a muddy torrent. Their canoe trips were eye-opening and incited them to plant willows to save it. They called themselves the Willow Warriors. Years later, the Spokane Conservation District co-opted the idea and have expertly led volunteer river staking trips for years…in the spring.

Last fall, after seeing our Green River upslope restoration work threatened by slope failure while it supports invasive Himalayan blackberry, Rubus discolor and Reed Canary Grass, Phalaris arundinacea we decided to mobilize the terrestrial and aquatic crews to the attack. What if varieties of stout willow stakes were planted densely on the shorelines for tens if thousands of feet; their rooting and stem growth could build skin friction against erosion slope failure, and restore the ecology. After establishing themselves, these plants would slowly out-compete the invasive plants and provide food and shade for endemic and aquatic species. We knew we would have other logistical gains: by planting long stretches of stakes at the toe of the slope- we are reaching, the previously unreachable, by working from the bouyancy of a kayak ferrying 150-300 stakes at a time – we are economizing, and by seeing the river and our restoration from the context of the water element we are privileged to reclaim, we are building esprit de corps.

We are DIRT Corps, Nicoterra Trails, and King County Noxious Weeds and we were brought together by the leadership of Katie Beaver, King County WRIA 9 Basin Steward for this mission. After six months we have had 80% plant stem establishment from fall 2021 plantings. We continue to develop the project into a program with annual funding from King County CWM Flood Control District funding and now the participation of the Green River Coalition.

More results to come…

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