What We can do to Protect the Pend Oreille Watershed
by Donna Molvik, WSU Professional Writing Intern
Living in the Pend Oreille River Valley is a lifestyle choice. Many of us live here because itÍs an undiscovered natural treasure with forested mountains plunging into cool, deep lakes and scenic rivers that wind through lush valley floors and sheer canyon walls. Our mountains and valleys are abundant with wildlife and provide us with a great variety of outdoor recreation, and our lakes and rivers offer some of the most beautiful inland waterscapes one could ever see.
Most of us may not readily notice, however, that our water quality, which is the key element to all that we enjoy in our lakes, rivers, and streams, is at risk. For years, local scientists have been monitoring the water quality in the Pend Oreille Watershed and have discovered that the temperature of the Pend Oreille River and its tributaries has increased just enough to make them less habitable for native fish like Bull Trout, which are a threatened species according to the Endangered Species Act, and Cutthroat Trout, which are a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service species of concern. While there are many factors that have caused these native species to decline, water quality and temperature are factors that those of us who live by these water bodies can work together on improving.
Water quality includes several elements such as water temperature, shading, erosion, weed infestation, diminish- ing riparian habitats for fish, and contaminants in the water from soil particulates and chemicals. Loss of shade and reduced stream flow are the largest causes of rising temperatures in small streams. Those of us who are fortu- nate enough to live along or near the Pend Oreille River and its tributaries can work together taking steps to improve our water quality by learning more about these elements and by taking action to address the ones that are within our control. One element that is often within our control is the riparian area in our own yards. Riparian areas consist of the soil and vegetation near water bodies, such as the Pend Oreille River and its tributaries, and serve as habitats for wildlife and fish. The vegetation in riparian areas reduces erosion by slowing down the velocity of water from rainfall and snow melt that can wash away soil. The vegetation and its root systems also serve as filters in the soil, recycle nutrients, and stabilize banks.
Many of us have become accustomed to looking at a manicured lawn that ends abruptly at a stream's bank. It's natural to want to capitalize off the view of waterfront property, but we can do this in such a way where we maintain some of our view but also improve the water quality. For instance, a property owner can create a landscape buffer zone between the lawn and the water. By doing so, the property owner can increase his or her privacy, reduce yard maintenance, and improve water quality. A 50Í foot buffer zone would be ideal, but if that is not feasible, consider a smaller buffer zone. Native plants including grasses, trees, and bushes offer a perfect solution for waterfront property owners. Because these plants have naturally adapted to our soil conditions, precipitation, and overall climate, they tend to grow well and require less time, money, and maintenance than lawns and flower gardens.
For the Pend Oreille Watershed, waterfront property owners can consider using some of the plants listed below. The plants are grouped by their water tolerance, so you will find some that should be planted in dry to moist soils, above the annual high water, and others that can be planted in water-saturated soil or in shallow waters, like what you find in semi-permanently flooded areas.
In upper riparian areas consider planting:
Ocean spray, which is identified as Holodiscus discolor, is a tall shrub that grows up to eight feet and does well in sun or partially shaded areas. From May through July the shrub blooms with cream colored plumes. It prefers dry to moist soils.
Snowberry, Symphoricarpus albus, is a shrub that prefers sun to part-shade and drier soils, so this would be planted on a bank above the normal high water mark. It offers either pink or white flowers in the spring and then berries through the winter that are safe only for birds to eat. The berries are poisonous to people.
Service berry, Amelanchier alnifolia, is a shrub that grows up to 15 feet. In early spring it blooms with white flowers, before the leaves emerge, and then grows edible blue berries in the summer. Yellow leaves make up its fall foliage.
Nootka (or Nutka) rose,, Rosa nutkana, and woods rose,, Rosa woodsii, are smaller shrubs growing only to four feet in sun to part-sun. In the spring they bloom with clusters of pink flowers and produce edible rose hips.
Aspen, Populustremuloides, often grows as multiple trees that share a common root system. These trees grow to about 85 feet and prefer part to full-shade thriving in a variety of soil conditions often found along stream banks. These trees are most noted for their striking visual effects of quaking leaves that flutter in the breeze. The leaves offer a splash of bright golden orange in the fall.
Rocky Mountain maple, Acer glabrum, is a small tree reaching about 20 feet preferring shaded locations and moist soil. It offers brightly colored leaves during the fall including yellow and orange. Sitka alder, Alnus sinuata, is another small tree, often with multiple trunks, that is used for erosion control. It prefers moist soil and does well in open areas.
Douglas hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii, grows up to 20 feet and has thorny branches. In the spring, it blooms with white flower clusters and then offers red berries that eventually turn blackish and are a good food source for birds in the winter. It prefers open areas with moist soil and can be found along stream banks.
Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, is a shrub or smaller tree that grows to 30 feet in sun to part shade. The tree blooms with white flow ers in the spring and then bears small darkly colored cherries. In the fall, the leaves offer colors of maroon and gold.
In the ordinary high water mark area, consider planting:
Red osier dogwood, also known as Cornus sericea, is a multiple-stemmed, burgundy colored shrub that grows to a height of ten feet. Because of its red stems, it makes a welcome colorful contrast in the winter when snow is on the ground. White flower clusters blossom in the spring that produce white berries in August. This shrub grows well in wet soil, offers privacy screening, and helps to control erosion.
Black cottonwood, Populus trichocarpa, is a fast-growing hardwood tree that grows to 100 feet and prefers wet soils. The leaves are visually unique in that they are green on top and silvery underneath and turn yellow during the fall.
Scouler's willow, Salix scouleriana, is a large rapidly growing tree/shrub that reaches a height of up to 50 feet. It tolerates both dry and moist soils. In the spring it produces catkins that look like large pussy-willows.
Drummond's willow, Salix drummondiana, is a six to twelve foot shrub that grows well in moist soil. The leaves are long and oval in shape.
Mountain alder, Alnus incana tenufolia, is a small tree of no more than 40 feet found to grow well in the moist soil of stream banks and marshy areas.
Hawthorn (see description above for Douglas Hawthorn).
In the semi-permanently flooded area, consider planting:
Sandbar willow, Salix melanopsis, is a shrub that grows to a height of about twelve feet. It spreads underground growing in thickets that are either rooted in sand or gravel below the high-water line.
Black cottonwood (see description above). Mountain alder (see description above). Bulrush varieties include Hardstem Bulrush (Scirpus acutus), Softstem Bulrush (Scirpus validus), Small- fruited Bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus), and Three Square Bulrush (Scirpus pungens). All of these thrive in saturated soil or shallow water. Most varieties grow to approximately five feet tall.
Sedge varieties include Big Leaf Sedge (Carex amplifolia), Water Sedge (Carex acuatilis), Wooly Sedge (Carex lanuginose), Small-winged Sedge (Carex microptera), Nebraska Sedge (Carex nebraskensis), Beaked Sedge (Carex utriculata), and Inflated Sedge (Carex vesicaria). All grow well in wet soils, wet woodlands, and marshes, offer erosion control, and generally reach heights between two and four feet.
If you are interested in adding some of these native plants to your landscape but have questions about what is best for your property, talk with your local nursery owners. They may already carry some of the plants listed here and can likely special order them for you if they donÍt have them in stock. A list of native plant nurseries is available at http://www.wnps.org/landscaping/nurserylist.html. Some of these plants can reproduce from cuttings. Consider talking with your neighbors and friends who might allow you to take cuttings from their plants. If you have any questions or concerns about what to plant, donÍt hesitate to call your local U.S. Forest Service office at (509) 447- 7300 or (509) 446-7500, the Kalispel Tribe's Natural Resources Department at (509) 445-1147, or Washington State University Pend Oreille County Extension at (509) 447-2401 and ask to talk to a plant biologist or other specialist. You might also contact one of the master gardeners in your area.
There is an abundant amount of information on the internet about riparian zones and vegetation. Here are a few sites to get you started:
As you can see, waterfront property owners can make a positive difference in water quality. By creating a riparian area consisting of native plants, we reap many benefits such as reducing maintenance on our yards, stabilizing banks, decreasing the water temperature, and creating better habitats for fish and wildlife.