Wildland restoration is like marriage
When I first joined Wildland Restoration Volunteers, I had the naive idea that helping the environment was a lot like a blind date: You get together and hope you click.
Some of the projects were just like that: We’d carry tools in, rebuild a trail so it no longer interfered with endangered plants, and go our separate ways, feeling good. After the first weekend I was involved, the trail I worked on was solidly in place and the plant saved, all in a day or two of work. Some of my other trail dates involved building fences around a wetland, blocking unnecessary roads, and cutting down obnoxious Russian olive trees or Siberian elms along waterways.
Many Westerners love this kind of work because we get out there with our loppers, chainsaws and shovels, and then we get to move things around until they’re right. Whatever the problem is, we fix it, and we like to think that once we’ve taken action, the problem stays fixed.
But most restoration projects are nothing like this, and in fact, they seem much more like a long-term relationship. It takes patience, commitment and optimism to begin fixing the land, along with sweat and the occasional pulled muscle. It has its bad moments along with its genuine pleasures, and it’s rarely as exciting as a date.
Here’s what I mean. Years ago in a national forest, there was an open expanse of hard-packed dirt on the side of a mountain, and it had become dense as concrete. Motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and four-wheel drive vehicles had been pounding it for years. Erosion channels as deep or deeper than I am tall choked the creek below with silt. My crew of volunteers broke up the hard pack, spread wild seed and straw over it, planted some ponderosa pines, stapled down erosion mats and built check dams across the channels.
A few years later, it had become a different place, a grassy meadow strewn with flowers. Erosion channels are now silted up, with plants growing in them, and the rainwater has been slowed and diverted so the creek below looks clear. This is a success story, correct? A few days of work, and voilà! Restoration!
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