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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

Wetlands of the Calispell - Cusick Valley


by Chris Bonsignore, Regional Biologist, Ducks Unlimited

The Cusick Valley in Pend Oreille County (from Riverbend to Dalkena) was historically a large shallow floodplain, and was noted to resemble a large bay during annual spring high water events. Habitat types on both sides of the River included meadow grass and camas, tule marshes, riparian forests, and meandering stream channels. The hydrology and habitat quality of these wetlands has been altered substantially in the last century by multiple dams both upstream and down, a system of levees built to protect the surrounding lands from annual inundations, and dikes and drainage ditches built to dewater lands for agricultural productions. Despite these changes, there are many areas in the valley that have the potential to be restored to beautiful, functional wetlands.

To be considered a wetland, an area must possess three things: water, wetland plants and wetland soils. However, some wetlands may be dry for up to 97% of the year. Washington State has suffered a 31% loss of its original wetlands. Wetlands are stop-over sites for migratory birds and are necessary habitats for all waterfowl. Valuable wetland functions include flood control, protection from erosion, ground water recharge, filtration of sediment and pollutants, providing nurseries for aquatic life and habitat for wetland dependent species such as salamanders and frogs.

The Kalispel Tribe of Indians recently initiated a project involving Ducks Unlimited, Inc and a group of local stakeholders to produce a Comprehensive Planning Guide for Wetland Restoration in the Calispell-Cusick Valley. This completed 55-page document details the results of a study that prioritizes areas for possible wetland restoration efforts and provides financial assistance information to landowners who are interested in completing habitat projects on their land. Using GIS data and modeling techniques, 37 potential project areas were identified and pri- oritized in a 29,000-acre area. The 37 sites (which include multiple landowners) encompass more than 12,000 acres, and the 12 highest priority sites cover 9,800 acres. The project used an aerial LiDAR technology to construct a high resolution topographic map with 1ft con- tours. This allowed detailed analyses of drainage patterns combined with other geospatial data layers such as soil type, flood risk, property ownership and land use.

The guide is an informative tool only. Many of the potential wetland restoration sites fall on private lands, and most of the private lands in the project area are farmlands. Agriculture is important culturally and historically in the landscape of this valley, and the current agri- cultural way of life is meant to be preserved and valued in this process. Wetland restoration projects can provide many benefits to working farm and ranch lands including: recharging sub-surface water supplies that irrigate hay fields and pasture; controlling weeds and soil borne pests through temporary flooding; improving soil fertility by providing natural fertilizers (bird droppings and sedi- ment bound nutrients) and increasing the breakdown of crop stubble eliminating tillage costs. The intent is to inform landowners of the possibilities of habitat improvements on their properties, and illustrate the financial and technical resources available to help them.

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