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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

March 26, 2012 at 6:24 PM

First new plants in the ground at Elwha River restoration sites

From Oregon sunshine, a sweet-faced, yellow aster, to noble Doug firs

and red cedars, new plantings are standing dutifully at attention in

the gray ground that sweeps for hundreds of acres along the Elwha River. The newly emerged landscape was inundated for 100 years behind Elwha Dam, and since 1926 behind Glines Canyon Dam.

Just a portion of the 800 acres yet to be exposed as the reservoirs drop, the landscape that wraps the river as it finds it channel is just beginning to define itself.


As the reservoirs drop, they leave terraces of sediment notched by the receding water levels.

To fend off an invasion of weeds, and help stabilize the soil and ultimately, restore natural processes in this river valley, the National Park Service as part of the Elwha restoration project has launched a $4.1 million replanting project for the lands exposed as the reservoirs drain.

It’s a dramatic landscape, changing by the hour. Canyons open up without warning, where seeps find the soft, unconsolidated sediments left behind the dwindling reservoirs.


Canyons gape wide where seeps find their way across the deltas to the river

Last week, the chilly spring wind whipped the bare, brave stems and

shoots planted bare root by crews from last November until early March. It was hard to imagine what would come next. Buds and leaves? Or

a quick end after a short life in the park service’s greenhouse?

“We will let the landscape teach us what will grow where,” said Josh Chenoweth, botanical restorationist for the park service as we toured some of the planting sites last week. No sentimentalist, him.


It’s tough out there: Wind buffets new plantings sunk in sand. The question is what will live and what will perish in such a harsh environment. The replanting effort in the Elwha is without precedent.


Deer and elk are already checking out the new plantings.

Already making a strong showing, though, was Epilobium, whose species

name means unpretentious, without boasting, or adornment. Fitting for

this low growing, unremarkable, hard-working plant, a native weed

already taking a stand.

One of the challenges is going to be browsing by deer and elk. As this footprint shows, they are already cruising the landscape, checking out the bottomlands finally returned to them from the floodwaters of the reservoirs.

Photos by Lynda V. Mapes



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