09 June 2008

Life in Recovery: German Gulch Restoration, part 2

Last summer, I wrote about the David & Lois Layton family's dedication of their historic family property for the German Gulch restoration project, headed up by the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited. A lot has happened since then, thanks mainly to the good oversight by George Grant TU's dedicated project manager, Josh Vincent.

Last weekend, Josh arranged for a willow planting party along a newly reconstructed reach of the creek. More than a century ago, the entire watershed was clearcut and placer mined--the creek's floodplain extensively terraformed by hydraulic and dredge mining for gold. A whole series of French, German, Chinese, and out-of-work Great Depression era miners worked the creek over from the 1870s to the 1930s. A stream assessment by Confluence Consulting concluded that this particular reach was especially in need of restoration to improve fish passage, spawning, and habitat.

The chief of the willow planting party was plant ecologist and revegetation guru Rich Prodgers. He gave us a quick demo on hoedad use/willow plug planting, and is shown here explaining how to set some of the larger container plants. In photo from left to right are Paul Olson (GGTU volunteer), Rich Prodgers (plant ecologist with Bighorn Environmental Sciences), Greg Mullen (restoration scientist and manager with Montana's Natural Resource Damage Program), Josh Vincent (GGTU/Water & Environmental Technologies), and Andrea Stierle (biochemist and volunteer). Note the fence in the background, to keep cattle out of the restored area:

Dig a hole deep enough to get the roots to water and to bury the seedling (a water birch, in this case) up to its collar, set the seedling in, fill hole halfway, tamp and add fertilizer "tea bags," fill the rest of the way and tamp:

"Little Brother" AJ and I were a willow planting machine. I had to be in Missoula for a wedding that afternoon and wanted to do my share before leaving at 1 p.m. AJ rose to the occasion and then some, working me really hard. He did all the hoedad work--very tough in this heavily cobbled creek bottom, with jarring pain felt from your finger tips to your spine each time the blade slams into a rock. Here is mighty tree planter AJ, hoedad (the tree planters tool of choice) in hand:

At lunch time, Josh's wife Janelle joined us with their kids. I managed to catch them for a quick family portrait:

The older girls couldn't get to that creek quick enough. Here's big sister explaining the proper technique for selecting and throwing a stone:

Meanwhile, the planters took a break and had a quick lunch:

With lots more willow sprigs to go, here's Paul and Greg:

And Alex Macgregor and Andrea:

We put in a pretty good morning, a second-shift crew began showing up around lunch-time, and so I didn't feel too bad about having to bail out early. Thankfully there were enough volunteers, many of whom were not even members of GGTU.

The science-professionals deserve a few special words of praise. In my rather simple view of the universe, there are three kinds of environmental scientists and engineers.

The first kind are evil. They work as hired guns for companies like Arco-BP, and essentially produce whatever results the client pays them for.

The second kind are OK. They put in their time for whomever pays them -- whether Arco-BP or the Sierra Club -- and they do sound work. As a friend of mine puts it, "We deliver science like a pizza--it's up to the client to decide what to do with it."

The third kind are the environmental hero-scientists. They put in their time on the clock and deliver good work, but they go a giant step beyond. They give unselfishly of their time because they believe in what they do and they know they are investing in a better world to come. Remember, this German Gulch planting project took place on a Saturday. And yet there they were, these hero-scientists that do this stuff all week long for a living, leading and setting an example for the volunteers: Greg Mullen, Rich Prodgers, and Josh Vincent. Thank you.

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