Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Enhancing and preserving wetlands large and small making critical difference

Washington Conservation Corps AmeriCorps members planting native trees and shrubs at city of Monroe's Foothills Wetlands Preserve.
Washington Conservation Corps AmeriCorps members team up to plant native trees and shrubs throughout 9-acre wetland restoration site in the city of Monroe, recently renamed Foothills Wetlands Preserve. Photo courtesy Nikki Johnson.
With just a few days left in May, American Wetlands Month is winding down. We wanted to share our role in protecting, restoring, and managing Washington’s wetlands resources.

In Washington, wetlands cover about 2 percent—or 938,000 acres—of the state’s local land area. That may seem like a lot but in the past 230 years, Washington has lost about 31 percent of its wetlands, the places where water covers the soil, or is present at or near the soil surface either permanently or seasonally.

Filtering water, controlling erosion, and offering habitat refuge

Wetlands provide tremendous environmental and economic benefits. They help control flooding and erosion caused by stormwater runoff. Wetlands filter our water, keeping pollutants such as nutrients and heavy metals from our streams, rivers, lakes, and underground sources of drinking water.

These areas provide habitat for salmon that our endangered orca need to survive, and offer refuge for other fish and wildlife species. We depend on wetlands for fishing, boating, swimming and other recreation activities.

Ecology is committed to protecting the quantity and the quality of the state’s remaining wetlands, especially through the 1974 state Shoreline Management Act designed to protect and manage development along Washington’s 28,000 miles of freshwater and marine shorelines.

Programs focus on large-scale wetland restoration

While we work diligently to protect our remaining wetlands using strategies to avoid, minimize, and compensate for adverse wetland impacts, we are also investing in large-scale restoration projects such as Floodplains by Design, Wetland Mitigation Banking, and the Chehalis Basin Strategy. These programs are designed to restore, enhance, and protect our floodplains, watersheds, and wetlands, boost aquatic habitat, and reduce flood-related damages to our communities.

Washington Conservation Corps restoring, enhancing wetlands in Snohomish County

WCC AmeriCorps member planting native shrubs at Jennings Memorial Park in Marysville.
WCC AmeriCorps member plants native shrub at Jennings 
Memorial Park in Marysville. Photo by Bethany McAuliffe.
Smaller projects to restore, enhance, and preserve state wetlands are also critical. Through AmeriCorps, our Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) program offers young adult and military veteran members a wealth of hands on experience, field skills, and training opportunities—including helping restore, enhance, and protect local wetland resources.

To complete trail and environmental restoration projects, WCC collaborates with a wide range of sponsors from around the state including local and tribal governments, state and federal agencies, and public-benefit nonprofit organizations.

Restoring Jennings Memorial Park wetland

For the past six years, Snohomish Conservation District has sponsored a WCC crew to support habitat restoration projects on private and public spaces throughout the county. Among the 2019 projects our crew has been focused on includes restoring a wetland area at Jennings Memorial Park in Marysville. These activities are funded through an Ecology grant through the Centennial Clean Water Program.

The 30-acre city park features walking trails, picnic areas, shelters, and ballfields. There is also a 16-acre wetland area dominated by invasive plant species including reed canary grass and bittersweet nightshade. Allen Creek, part of an 11-mile watershed that drains to Ebey Slough in the Snohomish River estuary, runs through the park. The creek’s wetlands offer important habitat for chum and coho salmon as well as other fish and wildlife species.

Jennings Memorial Park is the centerpiece of the city’s parks system where the public can enjoy nature and other outdoor recreation activities. In winter 2019, our six-person WCC crew planted more than 10 acres of trees in the park’s wetland area—a total of 16,500 willow stakes! On Earth Day 2019, the city and conservation district hosted an event in which volunteers planted another 1,500 native trees and shrubs to help restore and protect the wetland.

This summer, our crew will evaluate the site and take care of the 18,000 new plantings. And for the next two years, our AmeriCorps members will also continue planting native trees and shrubs at the wetland.

Kelli Sheldon, supervisor for the WCC crew serving Snohomish Conservation District, said: “This wetland restoration project is especially rewarding because so many members of the public approach us to ask questions and give their gratitude.”

North end of Marysville's Jennings Memorial park with thousands of live staked willow trees.
North end of Jennings Memorial Park is now home to thousands of live staked willow trees, marked with flags to aid teams returning this summer to maintain the wetland site. Photo courtesy Kelli Sheldon.
Enhancing Monroe's Foothills Wetlands Preserve

The WCC crew serving the conservation district is also supporting another wetland restoration efforts at a 9-acre Foothills Wetlands Preserve in Monroe. Cripple Creek, a tributary to French Creek in the Snohomish River basin, runs through a portion of the wetlands serving as habitat for coho salmon and beaver. Unfortunately, invasive reed canary grass and bittersweet nightshade also dominate the wetlands park.

In 2016, our WCC crew began their wetland restoration effort at the park by installing beaver exclusion fencing along Cripple Creek. The fencing surrounds the majority of the project site in order to prevent beaver damage. In the three subsequent winters, AmeriCorps members have planted a whopping 25,025 native trees and shrubs and removed more than 8,000 square feet of bittersweet nightshade from the area.

“Due to its visibility from very busy State Route 2, this wetlands project has been very important to show what active restoration looks like to all who pass through the area,” Sheldon said.

This year, the city and Snohomish Conservation District worked together to rename the wetlands park through a contest for children age 9 to 14. The top suggestions were submitted to the Monroe City Council to make the final decision, and the park was officially renamed Foothills Wetlands Preserve on May 14!

By Kelli Sheldon, WCC AmeriCorps, and Curt Hart, Ecology communications

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