It’s easy to take for granted the urban-rural interface that makes the Spokane area such an attractive place to live and work. Fields ripe with grain, bucolic pastureland, and livestock roaming about greet the eye in every direction. The agricultural activities they represent are enmeshed in the customs and culture of our communities.
As the 21st century unfolds, a new dynamic is emerging. More and more people are building homes on hills with great views and tributaries that meander down to the Spokane River. Owners often commute to town for work and engage in small scale farming practices. “People are buying a little acreage and getting a slice of heaven,” said Spokane Forum Executive Director Andy Dunau.
“The environmental and economic connections of this new interface is part of what our keynote speaker and local opinion leaders will address at our H20 Breakfast on March 17th.” Click here to learn more and register.
One of the challenges is the interwoven issue of protecting stream banks, riparian areas and water quality. Erosion, manure, pesticides, fertilizers, and faulty septic systems in these idyllic settings are all examples of non-point source pollution that find their way downstream. Often characterized as an ag community issue, the fence lines of who to work with and educate about water quality are not so clear anymore.
In 2007, the Lands Council began developing a streamside restoration program that works with private landowners in the Hangman Creek and Little Spokane watersheds. Their work is a welcome addition to that of the Spokane Conservation District and others committed to assuring clean water and healthy watersheds for another generation.
“The private landowners we work with are not easy to categorize,” said Amanda Parrish, the Watershed Program Director at The Lands Council. “Some are new to the area but are familiar with the rural lifestyle; others are second and third generation farmers; some left home and are coming back; and then there are those who just want to get out of the city. I’d call all of them conservationists. But what that means and their willingness to work with us is framed by varied life stories and lifestyles.”
“Regardless of their background,” continues Parrish, “being able to create a relationship and trust is the difference between being able to do a restoration project or not. So first we go through the hard work of reaching out to them with mailings and door-to-door visits, and then we start a conversation.”
Said Joe Cannon, a restoration expert with The Lands Council, “No one is going to sign a landowner agreement without the confidence that restoration is a benefit to them and the environment. Part of that is doing the restoration and providing maintenance for three years at no cost. Part of it is holding their hand through the permitting process. And part of it is delivering results like not losing land to the creek and survival rates for plantings that convince the next person this is a good deal.”
So as the heat of summer arrives, volunteers from the Lands Council are marshalled to water, water and water some more. Foot by restoration foot, you may see crews in Rockford, Spangle, Valley Ford and Hangman Bluff. Right now, they’re working on eight sites.
Sounding like salad chefs, Parrish and Cannon talk about their native riparian shrub mix. Willow, cottonwoods, aspen, dogwood, hawthorne, and golden current come together to transform the streamside look and riparian zone extending at least 50 to 75 feet back from the highwater mark.
Said Parrish, “We talk a lot about how these projects improve water quality and fish habitat, and reduce aquatic weed growth as far downstream as Lake Spokane. But it’s really a lot bigger than that. 86% of all wildlife in the Northwest, from insects to bears, use the riparian system in their lifetime. Yet the riparian zone comprises only 2% of the landscape.”
So regardless of which side of the urban-rural interface you think you’re on, what’s good for streams and the riparian area is critical to the long-term health of our watersheds and supporting the diverse economies and lifestyles of our communities. The Lands Council is one of the leaders in creating that future one foot and one mile at a time.
To volunteer to help the Lands Council with restoration, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.