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Justifiable herbicide

Jim Hutchins is moving upstream and getting a little more terrestrial in his 15-year quest to claim Bear Creek's streamside riparian zones one dead blackberry bush at a time.

Hutchins' mix of brawn, donations and a small army of student stewards are now directing their blackberry-busting activities on a creek stretch just below Bear Creek Park overrun for decades by the thorny non-natives.

It's a swath 300 yards long and 200 yards wide — a big patch to undertake by Oregon Stewardship standards, but one kick-started by a business donation that Hutchins hopes will pave the way for more private assistance in the very public quest to make the creek's downtown stretch healthier for wild salmon.

"Usually we're going in 20- or 30-foot sections, so this is really going far from the creek for us," Hutchins says. "Once we're done, this will be a mile and a half of this side of Bear Creek that we've cleaned up, planted and will maintain for life.

"Hopefully, this will be a demonstration for other businesses to step up," he says.

This ramped-up riparian effort came at the behest of Medford developer Mel Sherbourne, a longtime friend and supporter of Hutchins' efforts along Bear Creek's downtown Medford reach.

Blackberries have choked out native trees and shrubs, leaving only large black cottonwoods and oaks that predated infestation. Hutchins' citizen crews have systematically removed them and planted natives such as oaks, snowberries and Oregon grape to stabilize creek banks, provide fish cover and help cool this important salmon nursery for the Rogue River Basin.

"I believe in him, his projects and what he's doing for the students," Sherbourne says. "I decided to help out."

The new plot is on city land across the street from a Siskiyou Boulevard apartment complex Sherbourne owns. He donated $1,500 to Hutchins, largely to pay for contractor Dave Godard's tractor-mower that systematically committed justifiable herbicide on the blackberries Friday.

Hutchins and volunteers from South Medford High School followed that Saturday by pulling out dead logs and branches that the city of Medford will pick up, chip and return as mulch to protect new plants scheduled to repopulate the spread Saturday.

The Grants Pass-based Middle Rogue Steelheaders also donated cash toward the project, Hutchins says.

The work is on the creek's east side, opposite a similar but larger riparian project done by the city by volunteers and a $35,000 grant from the National Audubon Society's TogetherGreen Innovation Grants program, which is funded, in part, by Toyota.

Some donations to Hutchins' Oregon Stewardship pay kids to water the trees and help participants with college scholarships.

"I hope more people do it," Sherbourne says. "It's a neat project that's helping the creek and helping kids."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Naturalist Jim Hutchins works to remove debris from Bear Creek along the Greenway off Siskiyou Boulevard in Medford. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch