Lomakatsi: Importance of Colestin restoration
When I travel to the Cottonwood Creek Watershed, driving up the Mount Ashland Ski Road, then drop down Colestin Road on the crackling gravel surface, I’m surrounded by breathtaking beauty. From nearly 5,000 feet among mixed coniferous forests down through rolling foothills of oak groves, I know this place as anyone knows a good friend.
The Colestin Valley is an ecological gem, a rural home to ranchers, industrial timberlands, Buddhists and small woodland landowners invested in its conservation.
In 1997 we gathered around kitchen tables with private landowners who care for the ecosystems here to do large-scale ecological restoration. Among them is Lisa Buttrey who owns 66 acres.
“I feel like a steward to the land,” she says. “I’m just passing through here, and I don’t want to do any harm but instead benefit the land.”
Her sentiment remains a driving force. Because nature knows no boundaries and wildfires, wildlife travel corridors, streams, forest insects and disease, move across all land designations, it’s important to restore across all lands. In the Colestin Valley, private lands are surrounded by public lands, the Klamath National Forest and Bureau of Land Management.
We couldn’t have accomplished what we did — performing habitat restoration across more than 1,000 acres of forest and woodlands and 2 miles of streams, creating safe fish passage for Steelhead previously blocked by outdated road crossings, planting thousands of native trees and shrubs along riparian areas, and making way for the return of beavers to the landscape through the hard labor of installing with machinery engineered wood pilings to create a natural debris dam and ponding area — without the cooperation of the Colestin Valley’s roughly 1,500 residents.
In partnership with the BLM, we worked on the Colestin Railroad and Colestin Road fuels reduction projects, thinning along the corridors of these areas, carefully reducing dense vegetation in an ecologically sound way, creating a fuel-break in case a fire starts along the road because there is one way in and one way out, and treating along the railroad where sparks from the train have ignited fires.
We improved habitat for a host of species: the Pacific fisher, steelhead, acorn woodpecker, beaver, herds of elk and winter range for black tail deer. They roam among the oaks and the mixed conifer forests of large sugar pine, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine as well as black cottonwood, alder and quaking aspen.
We say restoration because for thousands of years indigenous residents tended the Colestin before it was called the Colestin, with their wealth of knowledge and cultural practices including carefully lit fire applied to the land to increase vegetation for wildlife habitat and decrease disease and what would today be considered “hazardous fuels.” This practice continues to the present day. The landowners of the Colestin work in partnership with Lomakatsi and tribal members to care-take this now shared home, their indigenous heartland.
But it was not always so. In the 1800s, settlers harvested the oaks for their home fires and cut trees to open up savannahs for cattle grazing. As a result, only about 30% of oaks still survive in Southern Oregon.
Lomakatsi Restoration Project birthed the Oak Habitat Restoration Initiative in the Colestin on the advice of a midwife who also helped the birth of many of the community’s children. She said landowners were looking for help in restoration. I jumped at the opportunity with a host of partners like the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, BLM, the Klamath Bird Observatory and other agencies who came later.
Lomakatsi with our partners leveraged more than $3 million in federal, state and private funds to implement habitat restoration (aquatic and terrestrial) fuel-hazard reduction and community wildlife safety. Lomakatsi’s tribal restoration, Latino, youth and veteran crews have all been employed to perform restoration work in partnership with approximately 100 landowners.
So today, I’m able to wind my way through an late spring day in this valley and feel good about the restoration we did. Much of it is still intact and Lomakatsi continues to tend the land through a close partnership with this incredible valley of place-based landowners. I pass the Choling Temple and it’s waving, colorful prayer flags and I remember the day the Rinpoche gave us his blessing to do the work on the land where the temple sits.
Caring for the land is caring for us. Coming together as partners is how we do it.
Marko Bey is executive director and founder of Lomakatsi Restoration Project.