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Students make Ashland Creek friendlier for fish

About 350 Helman Elementary students planted roughly 200 native shrubs, trees and pollinator-friendly plants near the recently removed Smith-Myer-Roper dam in Ashland Creek Park this week.

The dam was removed in August by the Rogue River Watershed Council to improve salmon passage in Ashland Creek. The streamside was damaged slightly in the process.

As part of the 12th annual Lomakatsi Streamside Forest Recovery Week, elementary-school students planted native plants along the creek while learning about habitat restoration and salmon passage in local waterways.

Streamside Forest Recovery Week gets the public and students outside restoring habitat to promote stewardship of the land, and it also highlights several Lomakatsi riparian restoration projects that are underway.

Thursday morning a fifth-grade and third-grade class partnered to plant vegetation and learn about the salmon habitat in their backyard.

Third-grader Persephone Keene said she enjoys the work because she gardens with her mom. She said restoring habitat is important for the future health of the planet.

“It’s going to make this place shadier, and it’s going to make the fish happier. And when we plant more trees that means more oxygen,” Persephone said. “If we don’t protect them, they could go extinct, animals could go extinct, and then our world would basically end up as a big ball of trash. When there’s not enough shade in the creeks, they can get basically like a sunburn.”

Niki Del Pizzo, Lomakatsi riparian restoration manager, said if the creek gets hot enough in the summer it can kill salmon. Providing shade lowers the temperature of the water.

Third-grader Valerie Jacques said creating shade is “helpful to everything.”

“Trees give us air. They’re pretty and they create shade,” Valerie said. “Shade makes it so more fish can come and lay their eggs. Fish like cold water. I like this work because I know that I’m making more trees, and more trees mean more air for us.”

Her fifth-grade partner Abby Lambert said her class has been learning about riparian work.

“We want them (salmon) to stay here and be happy,” Abby said. “It’s fun to plant things and get your hands dirty.”

Fifth-grade teacher Joe Dunbrasky said Helman classes have been working with Lomakatsi on riparian restoration work for the past 12 years.

He said they work wherever Lomakatsi wants them to, and historically they’ve maintained the Ashland Ponds as their work area.

“There is that stewardship piece of it too, putting the work into the land,” Dunbrasky said. “It’s been cool to have the kids come back and see the trees that they planted getting bigger, and it feels like we really made an impact. It teaches them that their actions matter, and they have an impact on the world around them. They feel good about that. This is our community.”

He said the class raises salmon in the classroom and learns about native species, so it’s important that they get to come out and have hands-on experiences to improve salmon habitat. He said they also talk about the water cycle and riparian zones.

Del Pizzo said salmon mainly use Bear Creek for passage, but they’ve been frequently spotted in Ashland Creek, as well. She said the trees students planted will grow to restore wildlife habitat in the park, help reduce erosion and shade the stream.

Earlier in the week community volunteers removed blackberry thickets along the creek and dug planting holes for the students.

Del Pizzo said blackberry bushes along the stream obstruct future generations of trees from growing because the bushes catch the seeds that fall from the trees.

By removing the bushes and planting the trees, it will ensure there is plenty of shade for fish, she said.

“All week students have been planting native trees, shrubs and pollinator plants for fish, wildlife and pollinators like the monarch butterfly,” Del Pizzo said. “This is a fish passage project. Now that the dam is removed, fish can travel to cooler water. Especially in the heat of the summer, the temperatures of Bear Creek get pretty high, so now they can access the cooler tributaries upstream.”

She said it’s important for kids to understand the impact climate change is having on the environment and how we can mitigate some effects by caring for the land. She said it’s helpful to teach children how they can create change in their own backyard.

“The kids come out to work together as a team to plant and develop habitat, and they walk away knowing that they’ve helped this little stretch of creek,” Del Pizzo said. “These kids are stewards of the land, and we’re really happy to help them learn more about caretaking the land and about natural resource management.”

Lomakatsi Communications Manager Tom Greco said they try to emphasize perpetual stewardship.

“You don’t plant it and leave it,” Greco said. “You come back and take care of it.”

Del Pizzo said the work along Ashland Creek is one of more than a dozen riparian restoration projects Lomakatsi maintains in Oregon and California.

Streamside Forest Recovery Week is a way to get the public involved with some of those projects.

“We hope people come out for the week to get involved and maybe they’ll be inspired to get involved throughout the rest of the year,” Greco said.

Lomakatsi Restoration Project is a nonprofit that develops and implements forest and watershed restoration programs, initiatives and projects in Oregon and Northern California.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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