March 12, 2017

The work of caring for our river

For the people doing the muddy, demanding physical labor to restore the floodplain forests of the Willamette River Basin, a typical day goes like this:

You wake up hours before dawn and get dressed in waterproof clothing from head to toe because you’ll almost certainly be working in the rain.

You head to “the cooler,” a massive refrigeration facility near Salem, to load your truck with a few thousand cottonwoods, dogwoods, thimbleberries and other native Willamette Valley trees and shrubs.

Just after sunrise, you arrive at the riverside farm or public park where you’ll be planting. If winter rains have flooded the access road, you lug all those plants into the site on foot, unwrap the twine that secures each brown paper parcel of bare-root saplings, drop a few dozen into your knapsack, and start digging holes.

The best planters have a strong back and a distinct rhythm to their work. Dig-two-three … plant-two-three … stomp-two-three … dig-two-three …

Before sundown, you’ll have planted across hundreds of acres, preparing a future forest where native Oregon fish and wildlife will thrive.

An experienced worker can put more than 1,000 saplings into the ground in a day. By the end of the winter planting season, Willamette River Initiative grantees will have planted more than half-a-million native trees and shrubs this year along the river and its tributaries.

The planting is just one facet of a massive, basin-wide effort to achieve meaningful, measurable improvement in the health of Oregon’s largest and most heavily populated watershed with support from this Meyer initiative. Since its inception in 2008, the initiative has awarded $14 million in grants to fund restoration as well as science, advocacy and organizational capacity for groups working on the Willamette.

Learn more about the initiative, including profiles of some of the projects we’ve supported, here. And if you come across a planting crew during your next nature walk, be sure to thank them for making tomorrow’s Oregon a greener place for all.

— Kelly