Volunteers dig in to help improve riparian habitat
I was in eighth grade when I first learned about riparian zones and the important role these terrestrial ecosystems play in the conservation of freshwater systems. Little did I know, years later, I would be helping to lead groups of volunteers in riparian restoration projects.
This past May, the Alberta Region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) hosted two events for the Conservation Volunteers program, with one goal in mind…to plant willows! Volunteers worked tirelessly to dig the holes, pound the stakes and ultimately plant over 1,350 willow live stakes alongside a dugout, stream and pond.
May 22, 2015 marked the second day of a two-day volunteer series on the newly conserved Waldron Ranch, a 30,538-acre (12,358-hectare) piece of land, located between Bob’s Creek Wildland Park and the Porcupine Hills in the Southern Foothills of Alberta. This beautiful section of land, owned by the Waldron Grazing Co-operative Ltd., is the last intact piece of native grasslands in Canada, thus playing host to a multitude of ecologically significant species. The property is located in the source area of the South Saskatchewan River basin where numerous creeks and rivers flow through it.
This area provides habitat for many fish and wildlife species, and water for communities downstream. Therefore, it seems like a no-brainer to conserve such an important part of Alberta’s history and ecology.
On the first day of the “Willows on Waldron” Conservation Volunteers event, 11 volunteers worked efficiently to harvest healthy willow live stakes, fit for planting, from a ditch beside the highway. Twelve volunteers, including six from the previous day, showed up on the second day to help plant the willows. With no clouds in sight, the spring sun shone down on us all day. Not even the dry heat could lessen the volunteers’ spirits.
The second willow planting Conservation Volunteers event, on May 29, 2015, was at our H.G. Lawrence property on Pine Lake. The Red Deer River Natural Area contains the highest density of intact parkland in central Alberta, which includes many highly productive wetlands. These host to North American waterfowl as well as other migratory birds.
The health of the riparian zones in these wetlands is essential in maintaining the diversity of species found in this area. On this day, 22 smiling volunteers showed up ready to work. Some had even helped to harvest the willow from a nearby property last November!
The willow was stored in a snow cache all winter, and it wasn’t until the second week of May that NCC conservation staff hauled the willow into the wetland on the Lawrence property so that it could soak in preparation for the event on the 29th. Whether the volunteers were returning to see their November harvest payoff, or learning about this project from scratch, everyone had a fantastic time!
The 1,350 willow live stakes planted on the two properties will help to strengthen the banks and prevent erosion. This, in turn, will help to improve the quality of the freshwater systems. Healthy riparian areas help with sediment and nutrient filtering, water storage and release, as well as provide habitat for wildlife. Having healthy vegetation in riparian zones helps to provide shade and cooler water temperatures, which are important factors in water productivity and aquatic species health.
We really could not have completed these riparian stewardship actions had it not been for our wonderful Conservation Volunteers. I have been with NCC as a Conservation Volunteers assistant only since May, yet it did not take long before I learned how dedicated and committed NCC Conservation Volunteers are. Regardless of their background or expertise, they travel from all over the province to donate their time and helping hands in hopes that they will gain an interesting and rewarding day.
The best part of my job is being able to spend time with our volunteers, as we always engage in thought provoking, fascinating and light-hearted conversations. New friends are made, knowledge and experiences are shared and fun is had, all while lending a hand to conservation. I am looking forward to getting to know more of our Conservation Volunteers throughout the season!
Volunteers pound the willow live stakes, Waldron Ranch (Photo by Kyle Meller)
Preparing to pound willow into the ground at Waldron (Photo by Kyle Meller)
CV at "Willow" You...Again event at H.G. Lawrence property (Photo by NCC)
Conservation Volunteers at H.G Lawrence “Willow” You... Again (Photo by NCC)
"Willow" You...Again CV event at H.G. Lawrence property (Photo by NCC)