Boots on the Ground: AmeriCorps Members Support Skookumchuck River Restoration

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In fall and winter 2020, three of the state Department of Ecology Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) field crews assisted the Thurston Conservation District on a large-scale restoration project along the Skookumchuck River.

The restoration project is one of five sponsored by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as part of the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan (ASRP).

ASRP projects come out of the Chehalis Basin Strategy, a comprehensive plan to restore the Chehalis River Basin for salmon and other aquatic species and reduce flood-related damage to basin communities. WCC AmeriCorps members have engaged in learning opportunities while contributing to a critical piece of restoration along the Skookumchuck river — planting.

AmeriCorps members planted 3,000 native trees and shrubs and installed 4,000 live stakes along with plant-protective sheaths to prevent critters from chewing on the small plants. Activities along the Skookumchuck River will ultimately restore 2,600 feet of shoreline and protect more than 74 acres of land to provide critical habitat for salmon and other aquatic species.

AmeriCorps members received not only hands-on planting experience, but the chance to learn from Thurston Conservation District staff.

“I really enjoyed the project on the Skookumchuck River as a first planting project. Serving with the Thurston Conservation District was a joy as well,” AmeriCorps member Kylie Rench said. “It was wonderful to have our sponsors with us directly at the site and to plant the beginnings of an oak woodland. I am excited to see how well it does over the years!”

WCC alum Kiana Sinner began a permanent position with the conservation district as an education and outreach coordinator after her WCC terms ended in 2019.

Last fall, she assisted the AmeriCorps members on this project site.

“As a past WCC member, I really enjoyed getting to work alongside (the AmeriCorps members), talk to them and hear a little bit about what their hopes and interests are,” Sinner said.

Conservation district staff cited relationship building as key to restoration projects like this one.

“This is a piece of our work led by landowner interest,” said Mara Healy, habitat specialist for the Thurston Conservation District.

Healy shared that on the Skookumchuck River restoration site, the landowners wanted the entire hay field section of their property included in the restoration plan.

“It was interesting to learn about the large scope of this project and to see how much organization and planning went into it,” said AmeriCorps member Lizzy Rylance. “It is really exciting to think about what it will look like in a few years, especially knowing that we helped turn an empty hay field into a diverse ecosystem full of life. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience for our crew’s first planting project!”

Restoration efforts along the Skookumchuck River also include engineered log jams and reconnecting off-stream channels and floodplain. It is the first project sponsored by WDFW and is anticipated to wrap up in 2021.

In addition to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, partners within the Chehalis Basin Strategy ASRP include the Quinault Indian Nation and the Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Reservation.

Learn more on the Chehalis Basin Strategy website at https://bit.ly/2QvuXQH.

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Information from the Department of Ecology was used in this report.

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