Today I headed out to volunteer at the Matt Albright Native Plant Center as part of the Elwha River Restoration Project which I started volunteering with last Spring (Action 109). This nursery grows the plants that are used to revegetate the newly formed riparian terraces of the Elwha River.
Miles of sediment lining the Elwha River have recently emerged from their century-long submergence in the lakes formed by the recently removed Elwha and Glines Canyon dams. This unprecedented project of dam removal from a major river system in our state is now allowing the Elwha to run free after a century of impoundments in two reservoirs used for hydropower generation. In draining these lakes, the newly uncovered beds present an enormous ecological challenge: how to revegetate and restore miles of riparian terrace that are currently bare, nutrient-poor, unstable sediments? While we know from natural disasters such as riverbed avulsions and volcanic eruptions that riparian terraces can and do revegetate, the Elwha River Restoration program is hoping to support and enhance this process.
This process of revegetation is where the Albright Native Plant Center is playing a critical role. Park Service employees, interns, and volunteers are undertaking a multi-year program to collect, protect, grow and revegetate the native plant community of the Elwha riparian forest. The Park Service program collects seeds of native riparian plants from a variety of sources in and near the Elwha watershed, processes and germinates those seeds at the nursery, cares for the seedlings and houses them until they are ready to be carried up the river past the dams and replanted (Action 109). They have open volunteer drop-in days at the nursery most every Monday and Wednesday, and usually one or more component of the process I just described is part of the day’s tasks. Here’s some of the things I did today:
My friend Laurel who just landed the assistant manager job here (yay Laurel!) and I sorted cedar seeds- the whole greenhouse smelled like Christmas, it was so lovely:
Here are the fruits (or rather seeds) of our labor:
And then I got to spend some time transplanting Grand Fir seedlings: these little dudes will be carried up the Elwha and replanted later this fall and winter along with about 85,000 of their riparian forest friends:
These few thousand seeds and few hundred seedlings I helped sort and plant are just a few more tiny drops in the ocean of effort involved in bringing the Elwha River back to life. But collectively, the thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of plants we are returning to these barren terraces are a hopeful start in sequestering carbon in new riparian forests, and revegetating and restarting an ecosystem that is critical to returning salmon and wildlife.