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A week to celebrate streamside recovery

Imagine you’re a young coho salmon born in Bear Creek in Ashland.

You spend your first year there, munching on insects, plankton and small fish. Then, instinct drives you to navigate downstream, where you find your way into the Rogue River and out to the Pacific Ocean. There you dine on small saltwater fish, squid and crustaceans, traveling hundreds of miles in search of feeding grounds as you grow into adulthood.

After a year or two at sea, instinct steers you back to the mouth of the Rogue River, where you struggle against the current and — somewhat miraculously — find your way all the way back to Bear Creek, where you will reproduce and then die.

It’s a tough life for coho salmon, but their efforts are not in vain.

Salmon and other anadromous fish — those whose life cycles bring them from freshwater to the ocean and back — provide an important traditional food source for many of the peoples indigenous to the Rogue Valley and much of the West. They also bring beneficial nutrients from the Pacific Ocean to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife upstream.

Tribal and settler accounts document that there were once so many salmon in Western creeks that horses were afraid to cross.

Today, life is tougher for coho salmon. Listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, they face increasing challenges from rising water temperatures, poor water quality, and degradation of habitat.

Inspired by the stalwart salmon, and the many people and organizations already active in restoration, Lomakatsi had a vision to bring the community together to raise awareness and restore our local waterways. Now in its 12th year, Lomakatsi’s Streamside Forest Recovery Week has become an annual, week-long stewardship blitz that empowers people of all ages to care for our rivers and streams.

Since the event began — and really, since our start nearly 25 years ago — Lomakatsi has been engaging community groups, schools, tribes, state and federal agencies, watershed councils, fellow non-governmental organizations, and others to adopt streamside restoration sites around Ashland and beyond. Thousands of people have put their hands on the land to remove invasive species and plant thousands of native trees and shrubs.

One long-term partner in these efforts is Helman Elementary School, which adopted Ashland Ponds, where together we’ve held an annual plant-a-thon. This week the tradition moved to Ashland Creek Park, where the Smith-Myer-Roper Diversion Dam was removed in September by the Rogue River Watershed Council to improve fish passage.

Last Sunday, to kick off our Streamside Forest Recovery Week, 20 community volunteers helped prepare this site for young nature stewards by removing invasive blackberry and digging planting holes.

Then, Tuesday through Thursday, the entire Helman school came out in groups to restore the streamside forest of Ashland Creek by planting native trees and shrubs. Niki Del Pizzo, Lomakatsi’s riparian restoration manager, explained to the youth that the trees they plant will eventually grow to shade the water, keeping it cool and improving habitat for salmon. She also shared how these plantings will provide habitat for pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

“Helman Elementary is proud of our long-running partnership with Lomakatsi that provides our students with experiential outdoor learning and empowers them to play an active role in stewardship of our natural resources and greater community,” said Helman Principal Michelle Cuddeback.

That’s what Lomakatsi’s Streamside Forest Recovery Week is all about — bringing together the community to make a difference in the health of our local waterways.

And we hope that this event inspires participation in stewardship throughout the year, because there is a lot of work to do.

That’s why Lomakatsi expanded its model outside Ashland, with projects in the Rogue, Willamette, mid-Klamath, Sacramento and Upmqua River watersheds. And we have help from a lot of great partners.

For example, Lomakatsi is partnering with the Inter-Tribal Ecosystem Restoration Partnership and the tribal community to restore riparian habitat around Hat Creek in Shasta County, California, to benefit Redband trout in the Sacramento River watershed. There, Lomakatsi tribal staff are also working with the tribal community to protect oaks and establish native plants for traditional and subsistence uses.

Restoration needs the involvement of everyone.

This fall, as the coho salmon continue their run up into our creeks, consider lending a hand at streamside workday with Lomakatsi, the Rogue River Watershed Council, Rogue Riverkeeper, The Freshwater Trust, Rogue Basin Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, or one of the other great organizations working to protect our beloved rivers and streams.

Or simply take a few minutes to sit by a stream and appreciate the life-giving water that connects everything — from forests to creeks, and from people to salmon.

Marko Bey is executive director of Lomakatsi Restoration Project (lomakatsi.org).

Students from Helman Elementary plant trees in Ashland Creek Park Thursday morning. Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings