Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Warm Winter Blues

Speaking with friends and fellow AmeriCorps members, many people seem to enjoy the mild, rainy weather we’ve been having in Wenatchee. It also seems that many of my friends and co-workers are out-of-towners, flatlanders who are new to an area that relies so heavily on a healthy dose of snow in the winter. Frosty car windows, poor driving conditions, freezing pipes, tailbone-bruising slips and falls and fender benders are all valid reasons to dislike typical winter weather. However, for me the benefits of a cold, snowy winter are worth any number of those pirouetting, painful falls on the buttocks. As unpleasant as it may be at times, cold weather and snow play an important role in many of the things we enjoy and may even take for granted.

Winter sports obviously require a certain amount of snow and cold. If you’re into snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding or any other winter sports you know how difficult winters like this can be. With only one trail available at Mission Ridge and 8 of 49 trials open at Steven’s Pass, who had a “soft opening” on Dec. 20, I’m surely not the only skier/snowboarder jonesing for a big dump (of snow).  Worse yet, if you’re a professional in such an industry you’re probably thinking of ways to mitigate the loss of revenues associated with a lack of snow. How many lessons are ski instructors giving with such warm, rainy weather and only one trail to attract skiers to Mission Ridge? How many tickets do you think Mission Ridge must sell to pay for diesel for groomers and electricity for chairlifts for a day? How many skis, poles, boots, bindings, jackets, helmets, snowboards, goggles, gloves, wax and other merchandise do local sporting goods stores sell during warm, drizzly winters? Hotels around Wenatchee and Leavenworth also take a hit when ski resorts fail to attract out-of-town skiers and boarders. Winter sports may not be for everyone, but when it comes to the local economy around here, no one can deny their value.

For those of you who hate winter weather and are less prone to winter recreation, there are other reasons to appreciate a snowy winter. After a warm winter without much snow, we are left with a measly snowpack. A poor snowpack means poor spring and summer runoff, the consequences of which include but are not limited to increased wildfire risk and severity, spending on firefighting and poor air quality. As of December 22, this year’s snowpack is 69% of average for this time of year in our area (ftp://ftp.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/data/water/wcs/gis/maps/wa_swepctnormal_update.pdf). That means we only have 69% of what the average snowpack has been on December 22 for the last 33 years. 69% of the average snowpack does not bode well for us in 2015, especially for those still reeling from the historic fire season we saw this year.

If you’re more into summer recreation, don’t be fooled. Warm winters effect summer recreation too.
Whitewater aficionados are surely watching the snowpack hoping winter brings enough snow to ensure water levels in their favorite rivers and streams are adequate through the summer season. Likewise, fisherman know that steady snow melt through the spring and summer is vital to small stream fisheries. The effects of a warm winter on our local economy are apparent in summer as well as winter. If the Wenatchee River is only runnable from April to July, local rafting outfitters lose out on an entire month of business. For businesses that are seasonal, or get an inordinate amount of business during a certain season, the snowpack can make or break an entire year.

If this post has you convinced that winter weather really isn’t so bad, do us all a favor and do a little snow dance at this very instant. Shake your rump and hope for a dump (of snow)! With this blog, for the remainder of winter, I’ll report on the current snowpack and we’ll know the collective effect of our snow dances. If you were reading in hopes of more information on Cascadia Conservation District’s native plant sale, don’t worry, next week we’ll look at quaking aspen, mock orange and serviceberry. If you can’t wait until next week, check out our website.

Friday, December 5, 2014

2015 Native Plant Sale

The Cascadia Conservation District’s 2015 native plant sale is underway! Using native plants when landscaping can be quite aesthetically pleasing, attract wildlife and is low maintenance. Because the plants we sell have evolved in this area, our climate suites them well and the local fauna depends on them. We have 14 species for sale this year and I’d like to use this post to highlight a few. If you’d like to browse our entire selection, make an order or find more information please visit our website.

Western White Pine (Pinus monticola)
This is the first time we've offered the western white pine (Pinus monticola). It is a conifer that is characterized by its open, narrow crown with up-raised, or vertical, branches near the top and horizontal branches lower down. The lower half of the bole is free of limbs. Western white pines do well in a wide range of soils and elevations. It is categorized as moderate in shade tolerance and can be an early seral species after fire or logging.    
The western white pine has an interesting history. Historically it was a prevalent species in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon and was important in the timber industry. In Idaho today, a combination of factors have reduced it to about 7 percent of its historical norm. The most damaging of those factors is blister rust, which is a disease that can kill swathes of trees at a time. Over time, some western white pines showed more resistance to the disease than others and were selected as breeding stock. All western white pines sold in our plant sale are grown from blister rust resistant seed.

Red stem ceanothus (Populous sanguineus)
Red stem ceanothus (Populous sanguineus) is another plant we didn't offer last year. This shrub grows 3-6 feet tall and about 6 feet wide. The new growth has attractive red bark and produces masses of sweetly scented white flowers. Red stem ceanothus is well suited for our area as it does well with abundant sun exposure and dry, open sites.  If you’re looking to increase winter food sources for animals, the red stem ceanothus is worth considering. Its seeds, which persist through winter, provide an excellent food source for over-wintering birds and deer like the leaves and stems.      
Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a groundcover native to both coasts of North America. It is an evergreen with white to pinkish, urn shaped flowers and leaves that turn reddish purple in the winter. Its bright red berries persist through fall and winter and will attract birds. Kinnikinnick does quite well in our region, and is often found growing in dense clusters. It will grow just about anywhere, but is especially well suited to dry areas with plenty of sun exposure. Low maintenance, attractive to birds and drought tolerant, this is sure to be one of this year’s most popular species.
Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Our complete list of available plants can be found on our website. Stay tuned- next time we'll take a look at quaking aspen, mock orange and serviceberry.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

AmeriCorps in Pateros

On Saturday October 25th, every healthy and able AmeriCorps member in the country took part in a required day of service called Make a Difference Day. This is a day when AmeriCorps volunteers, regardless of their volunteer site, join a team of fellow AmeriCorps members in “getting things done” within the community. That could mean painting over graffiti, framing a house after a fire, or in our case rebuilding deer fences on orchards that were destroyed in the massive Carlton Complex Fire in Pateros.
Many of us will remember the 2014 fires. It affected all of us in one way or another. We heard story after heart-wrenching story about families who lost everything, who should get the blame for such a catastrophe and the sheer economic cost of such a disaster. But now, in late October, how many of us are still thinking about these issues? How many of us can honestly say that we think of the fires daily, much less deal with their consequences every day? The fires are out. The media has long since shifted their focus. Air quality is back to normal. For most, it’s back to life as usual. Not for those who live in Pateros and areas affected by the fires. I will not make any futile attempt at describing their current situation; suffice it to say, deer fences are but a fingernail scratch on the tip of the iceberg.

Deer fences are as important to an orchardist as a sharp saw to a lumberjack. Without them deer would greatly reduce yields every year, making a deer fence an excellent one time investment of time and money. The orchards we were helping out on Saturday lost significant portions of their fences, yet luckily their trees were still standing. With frozen ground and snow just around the corner, the time for repairing and in some places replacing fencing is dwindling. That’s where 34 AmeriCorps volunteers come in. By splitting our group in two we were able to help two orchards pull down damaged fencing, remove debris, trim obstructing brush, dig fence post holes and set fence posts.

At the end of the day every member of our group was dirty and tired. We left the orchards with blistered hands, tired backs and humbled egos. There were 34 of us, mostly young and able volunteers who spent a day helping out two orchards repair several hundred yards of fencing. In an area 4 times the size of Seattle. Whose primary industry is agriculture. The amount of physical and emotional repair needed in this area is ineffable. That said, and at the risk of sounding tacky, I feel comfortable speaking for the group when I say we made a difference on Make a Difference Day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is your compost going into Torpor?

With the mild fall weather we’re experiencing it’s likely that winter will sneak up on us. Too often I've found myself unprepared for all that winter brings. But not this year. This year will be different. I will replace my windshield wipers before it snows, I will pull out all the dead leaves from the gutters and I will coil and stow my hoses. Another cold weather preparation I've been considering is that of ‘winterizing’ my compost pile.

This is the first compost I've truly been in charge of. I built it out of free pallets, found just the right spot for it in the back yard and convinced my suspicious roommates that it was a good idea to pile food scraps in a pallet box in our yard. I’m more emotionally invested in this thing than is probably healthy.

So with the cold coming on, albeit slowly, I've been looking for ways to keep the decomposition going strong. There is no denying the cold weather its victims, but I’m hoping the tiny little organisms in my backyard pile won’t go entirely into torpor.

The easiest thing we can do to protect bacteria in our compost during winter cold is to make the heap bigger. Literally, all you have to do is add more stuff for the bacteria to eat. A larger pile will stay warmer than a smaller pile. Simple as that. To do this I've raked every leaf from my yard and at the risk of sounding like a crazy person I’m going to ask my neighbors if they have plans for their leaves and grass clippings. Luckily my compost is already a bit heavy on the nitrogen and light on the carbon, so leaves will give me a better ratio. You should consider nitrogen and carbon balances before going wild with the notion of bulking up your pile for winter.

Another easy method for keeping your bacteria warm and hungry during the winter is adding a lid. While some of you may have purchased your composter with a lid or crafted one yourself, many compost piles are just that, piles. If you have one of these more open style, heap composts, it may behoove you to throw a tarp over your pile or better yet block it in and add a lid. This will hold the heat in and keep the frost off.

My final suggestion is a good idea regardless of the season. Shredding your material into particles less than two inches in size can make decomposition easier and will allow your pile to build up evenly. It will also make your pile denser and thus better insulated.

If this post has stirred your curiosity about composting or if it’s something you've been considering, I encourage you to build your own. For me it was an activity ripe with intrinsic reward and fostered a compulsion to throw as little as possible into the trash bin.  If you need some inspiration, there are countless do-it-yourself designs to be found on the web.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

This year Washingtonians saw the worst fire season in some time. The Carlton Complex burned its way into our psyche as the largest fire in state history, burning over 256,000 acres and destroying about 300 homes. Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency. Washington fires were frequently feature stories in national news. Needless to say, we are all anxious for the end of fire season.   

It may be common place for the residents of North Central Washington, but as an outsider it’s been strange to see more smoky days than clear skies in September. A question for all the long time locals-do you remember seeing so many smoky days five years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Likely your answer is “no, No, NO!”

It’s no secret that in the Pacific Northwest we've seen a significant increase in the size and severity of wild fires in the last decade. Contributing factors to the uptick include forest management techniques, the growing population and increased development in wildland areas. Another undeniable contributor, climate change, is no longer something the greater scientific world is divided on. So I won’t spend any time highlighting facts to prove it. Instead, let’s consider what climate change means for the fire seasons to come.

It’s easy to say warmer weather results in higher fire danger and be done with it. But after digging a little deeper a layman, like myself, will find that there’s much more to climate change than just hotter, drier conditions. In every article I read on the subject, one common theme is longer fire seasons. With an earlier than average snow melt and warmer temperatures later in the fall, forests are at risk much longer than in the past. 50 years ago the snowpack in the Pacific Northwest melted about four weeks later than in recent years. With a shorter, less sustained melt off, forests have a relatively small window of sufficient moisture.

Mountain Pine Beetle
A lesser known yet equally exasperating effect climate change has on the fire season is the increase in fuel. Dead trees make the best fuel source for large scale wild fires. Tree killing insects like the pine
beetle have a high survival rate during mild winters, and drier conditions allow for widespread insect infestations. Ipso facto, climate change has allowed tree munching insects to turn swaths of forest into giant tinder boxes.

Even lesser known is the effect of increased risk of lightning. Not surprisingly, lightning is the cause of tens of thousands of fires each year. The likelihood of lightning increases as the temperature rises. According to the National Wildlife Federation’s website, for every 1.8 degree Fahrenheit increase lightning strikes are 6% more likely. So if our current warming trends continue, we will see an increase in lightning and lightning caused fires.

As there is no way to stomp the brakes on the climate change bus, we’re going to have to learn to live with its worsening effects. However, considering the difficulty in predicting climate change in the future, wise resource management is much easier to say than do. There is so much that we don’t understand about climate change that it can be hard to distinguish between right and wrong practices.

As tough as it may be to predict the future, one of the best  resources on climate change effects attempts to do just that. The NWCC, or Northwest Interagency Coordination Center website (if the name befuddles you as it did me, follow the link and read up!) has a plethora of reports, predictive data and helpful links. Those looking for more information, or those who are skeptical about information obtained from a layperson’s blog, may find this website handy. Particularly interesting to me was the seasonal outlook video.

The NWCC late summer and fall climate and significant fire outlook video offers information rich graphics with helpful narration.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The New Guy

Hello all, my name is Zach Hinman and I’m the new AmeriCorps member here at the Cascadia Conservation District. Those who came before me and have posted wonderful blogs since 2011 all introduced themselves with their very first post. Carrying on tradition, I’d like to share a bit about myself. I’d also like to give you an idea of my role within the Cascadia Conservation District this year.

I graduated from the University of Idaho in 2010 and have since held a variety of positions from teacher, to river guide to blueberry picker. When I’m not fulfilling the duties of any given title, I’m often on, in or near rivers. I’m a white water enthusiast, avid fly fisherman and a lackadaisical hiker and biker. I grew up not too far from here in Bend, OR. While it’s easy to appreciate the similarities between my hometown and Wenatchee, I’m looking forward to discovering the unique features the valley has to offer.

My position here at Cascadia is not dissimilar from the position I held last year as environmental educator at the Franklin Conservation District in Pasco, WA. Like last year, for the first several months of my stint here I’ll spend the majority of my time teaching Water on Wheels in elementary school classrooms. Water on Wheels is a hands on science program focusing on the importance of watersheds, soil and water.  In 2015 my duties here will change. I’m looking forward to this part of my service term where I’ll begin assisting the conservation district with their annual projects.

I’m excited about my new position here in Wenatchee and I look forward to exploring North Central Washington. I’ll do my best to keep you all posted on conservation district news and events in an exciting and relevant way. I encourage everyone to leave questions, comments and concerns.

As a final thought I’d like to remind everyone of the forthcoming due date for our Picture the Wenatchee photo contest. Those excellent photos you've all been taking in the Wenatchee River Watershed this year can be submitted from now until October 1st. 12 winning photos will be used in our 2015 calendar. You can find details and make submissions at picturethewenatchee.com.

P.S. The Wenatchee River Salmon Festival will take place this weekend, September 18-20th, at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. There will be art, food, games and more. Find our booth for an interactive watershed model!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Goodbye, Cascadia

Well, it’s arrived. The end of my service term here at the Cascadia Conservation District. Come July 15 I will have served 10.5 months and over 1700 hours with the district. It’s been an interesting journey. Many things I enjoyed doing, some I didn't. There were really busy times, and slower ones. The one thing that held it all together even when I wasn't necessarily enjoying myself were the people. I enjoyed working with everyone here. It’s one of the few places I've worked or spent time at that I felt completely included. It’s refreshing to realize that not all workplaces are uptight and stuffy. I actually look forward to showing up to work, which is a first.
So with that I must admit I am a little sad to leave. The District has given me opportunities to work with a variety of conservation related activities. Time spent in the field digging holes and watering plants. Coordinating native plant sales and workshops to help county residents better manage and support their natural resources. I taught students from kindergarten up through high school about a wide variety of environmental subjects, from the shrub steppe to rivers to fish. I felt like I contributed and had an impact. For that I am thankful. I've learned a lot in the last year and I’m happy that I finally got to put some of my knowledge to good use.
I hope that after this I can continue to find places to contribute and make an impact. I don’t have anything lined up yet, but I’m not worried about that. It’ll come to me eventually. Maybe I’ll look for more permanent employment in the conservation field. Maybe I’ll go back to school. Only time will tell.
So I bid farewell. I've quite enjoyed writing these blogs. Some of them might have been a little dense, but overall I’m hoping they were all still interesting. And most important of all, I'm hopeful you learned something. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dry Spring

Summer is nearly upon us. And for the first time in a few years I feel like the weather has progressed in an appropriate fashion, slowly transitioning out of winter, warming up in early spring, some hot days in May, but generally a constant increase in temperature without a lot of fluctuation. The hills were spring green, the flowers bloomed, and now as we move into summer they’re taking on their more traditional ‘golden’ color.  I consider it an almost perfect spring.
Perfect except for the lack of moisture. It’s looking to be a dry summer. Three small blazes have already occurred in and around the area. One from lightning, one from a campfire, and the most recent may be linked to fireworks. While two of those were easily preventable (i.e. don’t play with fire outside in the summer), it still bodes poorly for this summer’s fire season.
It’s been a dry spring. That’s not to say there is or will be a lack of water. Last I looked the river was flowing along just fine, full of cold and (somewhat) clear water. Water still flows from our taps and our lawns are just as green as ever. The snowpack near the end of winter was just about where it needed to be to ensure proper water flows down the rivers and through our pipes.
The lack of spring moisture will be felt more in the hills and forests. Areas we can’t just turn on the sprinkler and let the water flow upon the parched land. And guess what? The native plants don’t care. There’s a reason they’re native. They survive and thrive in this climate. Going for a few months without water from the sky is natural.
Some of them survive by doing all their growing and flowering in the spring when there’s water available from snowmelt. At this point annuals usually die off leaving behind their seeds to sprout up the following spring. Some perennials die back and wait out the summer, fall, and winter, sprouting with new growth when spring comes again. Other plants survive and grow throughout the year by sinking roots deep into the soil to get at the water that never quite evaporates.
The problem is invasive plants thrive in this climate as well. They’re invasive because they can outcompete native plants. Whether by taking over areas native plants don’t usually grow, colonizing a disturbed area quicker, or some combination of these and other reasons.
Wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem. And in a healthy ecosystem they generally burn quickly through an area and move on. The problem we have is the amount of material present creates dangerous fire conditions. Invasive plants grow around natives filling in what may have been a ‘natural’ fire break. Lack of fire over several years allows native plants to grow bigger and spread over a larger area than they have historically. All this leads to bigger and bigger fires.
Which can be counteracted by higher levels of moisture. It’s hard for fires to burn through green grass or damp soil. If there had been more spring rain the three small fires this year might not have occurred. Rain can counteract an unhealthy aspect of an ecosystem. The thing is we can’t count on the rain. Our area is dry and prone to fires. Hoping for moisture won’t change that.
Many wildfires can be prevented through safe outdoor activities: no campfires, no sparks, etc. But the lightning strike that started the first wildfire this year is not something we can control. Lightning is a natural process and was the original igniter for the natural wildfire cycle of our area. Putting it out was probably the correct thing to do. Wildfires have been suppressed long enough that to let them burn unchecked will lead to massive ecological and property damage. But we’ve also reached the point that any wildfires that do start will take on a life of their own and provide a real challenge to control and stop.
Funny how a lack of falling water from the sky can have such an impact on our area. We’ll probably be fine. Most people are safe when they’re outdoors in the middle of the summer with the fire danger. And hopefully it doesn’t turn into a smoky, miserable summer.

Friday, May 30, 2014

May Wrap Up

May is drawing to a close and I realize that this is the first (and only) blog post for the month. It’s been a busy month with most weeks full of a variety of activities that demanded my attention and kept me out of the office. However, I didn't want to end the month without highlighting a few of the things that occurred, so here they are.
 Several weeks in April and May saw me helping with science field days around Wenatchee. First was a 5th grade shrub steppe experience, next a similar experience for 1st graders, after that a kindergarten walk, and finally at the end of the month a 4th grade science day revolving around fish and hydroelectric power. That seems like a lot, but for the most part I really enjoyed all of it. I helped with plant identification and counting, native wildlife, ecosystems, and fish statistics. It was good that I had a presence there, both as an Americorps member and as a representative of Cascadia. Cascadia has an effect, both directly and indirectly, on many of these ecosystems through their work in conservation and restoration. It’s helpful to be able to introduce the kids to the ideas of natural ecosystems and the organizations that are involved with preserving them.
May’s next event was Kids in the Creek (KITC). KITC is a program put on by Cascadia in partnership with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Forest Service, along with many others. The program is designed to get young high school students hands on science through a variety of stations. Half of the stations are ‘dry’ and include: water quality, fish health, and riparian vegetation. The other half are ‘wet’ stations. Requiring the students to don waders and get in the creek (hence the Kids in the Creek). These stations include: invertebrate investigation, stream health, and flow. KITC occurred in early May and brought roughly 300 students through the 3 day program. The overall goal is to connect the classroom science with real-life experiences, showing students that science is not just boring class time.
The third week of May I was out of the office driving halfway across the county to Minnesota to canoe for a week, and then driving back to Washington. I mention this because of some of my observations along the way. In many locations on my drive I noticed fields tilled right up to the water lines on creeks, rivers, and lakes. There was no buffer. Anything applied to the crops could run into the water. Erosion was rampant in spots with 10 foot vertical banks slowly eating into fields because there was no riparian vegetation to secure the soil. It was obvious the natural ecosystem had been destroyed in many areas leaving only countless fields behind.
That’s about it for the month of May. Everything that occurred managed to shrink to a manageable text level, but only because I don’t want to get into all the details. I spent much of my time at education and outreach events, which is great because that’s what I’m here for. I feel like several hundred students learned a little more about the environment through my actions.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Apple Blossom

The Apple Blossom Festival is nearly here. The food fair will start serving shortly. The carnival is rising at Riverfront Park. The youth parade is just a couple days away, followed by the main parade a week later. It’s a busy time of year in Wenatchee. Tens of thousands of people will flood the parks and streets to enjoy all we have to offer.

Look outside of Wenatchee and you’ll notice the orchards abloom. Spring presents a medley of blossoms: cherry, apple, pear, peach, plum, nectarine, and so forth. Washington leads the nation in production of apples, cherries, and pears. Why do they grow so well here? It really comes down to a combination of climate and water availability.
The weather is great here in Washington. We experience all four seasons. If you look back at the blog post on seed dormancy you’ll read about how some seeds require a period of cold before sprouting. Well, some trees require cold before they’ll produce blossoms, and therefore, fruit. We also have nice warm, dry summers. The fruit loves the hot weather. It helps ripen the fruit and gives it a good color and sweetness. All the sunshine helps the tree photosynthesize and produce great fruit. The dry weather is good for the fruit too. Rain and hail can damage fruit as it grows. Cherries often soak up too much water during a rain storm and then their skin splits.
The downside to dry weather is the lack of moisture. The trees need to be watered. Without water the tree might die, or at the very least it won’t produce good fruit. That’s where the water availability comes in. We happen to have an abundance of water available to use in Washington from the rivers. The dams create reservoirs and out of these reservoirs flows irrigation water headed to the orchards and the fields, allowing crops to thrive in our arid climate.

Apple blossoms were, and still are, an important aspect of Washington life. The orchards have been shrinking for many years. 50 years ago most of the Wenatchee Valley was a forest of orchards. Orchards are continually pushed back to the outreaches of communities as people look for more land to build homes and businesses on. As people moved in next to orchards they started to complain about the dangers of living next to an orchard. The pesticides and fertilizers applied to protect and help the fruit grow. Prices for apples have dropped under competition from many countries around the world. China produces more than half the world’s apples. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Plant Sale Wrap Up

We've finished up the plant sale for the year (most of the way at least), and I feel like doing a short recap of the related activities over the past few weeks. The plant sale has provided ups and downs throughout the year with its time commitments. Early in the fall preparing the outreach materials and order forms, and then again recently with the bundling and distribution have been time intensive. Late fall and winter were fairly easy with only the occasional order to enter in the computer. We sold all our stock except for a few quaking aspens. There were even a few species that were so popular that we had to order in more of them.

A few weeks ago in March we held our bundling event. Plants are shipped to us in large bags with a single species per bag. We have to take the plants out of those bags and fill our customer orders. Not all the plants are shipped in the correct sizes either. Some plants are shipped 50 to a bundle, which means we have to pull apart those bundles and shrink them to our sale size of 10 plants per bundle. Once all plants are in the correct bundle size we fill the orders by placing the plants into large garbage bags. Damp sawdust is added to each bag to help moisten the roots. A name tag is attached and the finished bundle is placed in a bin. Once all the orders are filled the bins are put back into the cold room to await the distribution day.
 Last Saturday marked the distribution/pick up day for our Native Plant Sale. Customers that had placed orders with us throughout the fall and winter were finally able to receive their much awaited plants. We arrived early to lay out all the plants alphabetically so we didn't have to waste time digging through the bins trying to find a certain order. All but a few people arrived during our three hour time slot to pick up their plants, and we've been working to get the last few orders into their owner’s hands. Hopefully by the end of this week all the orders will be accounted for.

So with the end of the plant sale in sight I can say I’m glad to be wrapping it up for the year and putting it on the shelf. I’ll add in my thoughts and any advice I can think of, and I’ll leave it in the binder for next year’s Americorps to have fun with.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Bridge Effect

An example of a bad culvert. Notice the
water fall effect that prevents fish passage.
It's also too small and can't handle high
water flows.
A bridge is not a simple structure. To the eye they may seem simple, just a series of intersecting pieces that allow you to span a river, creek, canyon, or bay. But all the pieces must work together to support the weight of the entire bridge and all its traffic on just a few supports. Of course some designs are simpler than others. A small bridge crossing a 10 foot creek is a child’s plaything compared to a bridge spanning the Columbia River. Bridges can be made of many things. Cement, metal, and wood being some of the more common materials, and they’re often combined depending on the need.
As much fun as it would be to write a blog focusing on the types bridges I feel that’s a little outside the areas I should focus on. Instead I want to focus on bridges and their environmental impacts, both good and bad. I want to keep a very loose definition of bridge open for discussion, so I’m going to be looking at bridges and bridge-like structures. I’m not going to be bashing bridges either.

The first area I’d like to look at include the effects on aquatic ecosystems. Large aquatic ecosystems, such as a large river, bay, sound, etc. may be less impacted by a bridge. That’s not to say there’s no impact, especially during construction, but once completed the water and any organisms present can generally navigate around the pylons with little impediment.
Small aquatic ecosystems are easier to negatively impact. Things like creeks and small rivers. Places where an improper bridge can severely limit the flow of that ecosystem. I’m going to include culverts here. I consider them bridge-like.
The same site replaced with a bridge. Notice the open water.
Fish and other wildlife can freely travel. 
Culverts can severely reduce the health of aquatic ecosystems if they’re too small or improperly installed. They can separate fish populations or prevent the migration of salmon to spawning habitat. They can also limit the movement of aquatic insects and amphibians. Culverts that can’t handle high water flows can lead to washouts of surrounding vegetation and soil further negatively impacting the water health. Culverts without natural surface bottoms can disrupt wildlife by confusing them as they move around. Luckily these have simple solutions. Replace them with larger culverts that properly connect the stream, or better yet, remove the culverts entirely and install an open span bridge. This allows for the proper meandering of the stream and lessens the impact on wildlife.
Bridges spanning rivers can also be poorly built and while they might not affect the aquatic ecosystem as much they can impact the terrestrial ecosystem. Many animals move throughout their day near water. If they’re walking along the bank and suddenly run into a large cement bridge where do they go? Maybe they can swim, so they just hop in the river and go around. Maybe they turn around and go back. Or maybe they want to keep going. They wander up onto the road, possibly endangering themselves and human drivers.
Another possible option. A much larger culvert. There 
is no longer a waterfall and it can handle high water flow.
However, bridges can be built specifically for the protection of animals that may want to move across a highway or highly congested area. Often these are termed wildlife crossings, and include a variety of structures including overpasses, underpasses, and culverts (all bridges or bridge-like structures). They are built solely to allow animals to move without having to cross in front of traffic.

Thankfully, most negative impacts of bridges are considered when new bridges are being built. All aspects of the ecosystem are considered, aquatic, terrestrial, and even, aerial (some birds run into suspension bridge lines). Many new bridges look to mitigate and even reverse the negative impacts of their forebears resulting in bridges that accommodate human needs to travel, but also try to preserve natural ecosystems.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring is Here

March 20th marked the first calendar day of spring, and this year nature is willing to follow along. Temperatures have warmed from the cold, snowy February weather. The hills are starting to green and soon wildflowers will be blooming. The sun peaks through the clouds and warms the air.
Picking a calendar day seems an arbitrary way to start a season, and it is. We choose to set our seasons by the solstices and equinoxes as a convenient way to mark the changing of seasons. Luckily we live in an area that they happen to coincide fairly well. But if you head north or south of our latitude the seasons start to follow a different path. I doubt spring in Alaska has really started yet, nor is winter a measly three months long. Head south to the tropics and the overall temperatures rarely change. Seasons there may be more accurately described as wet/dry. Head far enough south into Australia or South America and the seasons are opposite of ours. As we head into spring they head into fall.
Yellow Bell
Spring around Wenatchee is an amazing time of year. The hills lose their brown or yellow color they sport much of the year and show off their lively green. Green represents growth in the shrub steppe environment, both annual and perennial. Spring is often the only time of year there’s enough moisture available for plants to grow and thrive in our climate. The combination of melted winter snow and spring rain provides enough moisture for plants to survive the rest of the year in this two to three month period.
Not only do plants use spring as a time to grow. They also use it as a time to flower. One of the easiest to spot is the balsamroot, which sports large yellow flowers that seems to blanket portions of the hillsides. Lupine is quite prominent as well, featuring tall stems covered in purple flowers. Look close enough at your feet while walking between the sagebrush and you might notice yellow bells, bluebells, lomatiums, and buttercups.
Besides the prominent flowers are a variety of grasses. Much of the bright green you see comes from their spring growth. Most people consider grass a staple of lawns, requiring constant moisture to survive and thrive. That’s not the case. Native grasses thrive in our environment with no watering by us necessary. Even when the grass has lost its fresh, green look come June and July it’s still alive. Simply waiting to sprout again come the following spring when there’s plenty of moisture.

I encourage you to go out and enjoy the shrub steppe during the spring. In my opinion it’s the only time to truly appreciate the great variety of life present. Come summer and fall all that will be left is a dry, brown hillside with little shade to get out of the sun. Enjoy it in the spring when it’s still cool and the hills are alive and colorful.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Plant Structure

 Plants exhibit great variety. Cacti in the deserts, pines in the mountains, water lilies in a pond, and wheat in a field. Yet among all these different types of plants there are basic structures shared by nearly all of them. Almost all plants have a root system and a shoot system. Root systems are composed of roots (obviously) and shoot systems are composed of leaves and stems. Regardless of the overall morphology (form and structure) of a plant they all rely on these structures to survive and thrive.
Roots serve a few purposes. They anchor the plant in the ground. Roots allow redwoods to grow hundreds of feet into the air. They provide the support that keeps riparian vegetation from washing out during a flood. Roots also provide the entire plant with water. Roots pull the water out of the ground and transport it to the rest of the plant through its vasculature system. Roots are also responsible for the uptake of nutrients that the plant needs in large and small quantities.
Stems represent the (generally) aboveground structures that leaves sprout from. Stem structure is composed of a series of nodes and internodes. Nodes are the point where leaves sprout. The internodes are the space between. Stems have two types of buds present. (A bud is the point where new stem growth occurs.) A terminal bud represents the growth point of a stem. Usually a terminal bud is located at the furthest point along a stem or branch. An axillary bud is located between the leaf and the stem at the node. Axillary buds have the potential to form lateral stems, or branches. Rhizomes are a type of underground stem that travel under the surface and sprout up away from the original plant. Strawberries spread through rhizomes. Even though rhizomes grow under the soil they are not roots.
Leaves grow out from stems and for most plants are their primary site of photosynthesis (the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy). However, some plants, such as cacti, have modified leaves into needles, so most of their photosynthesis is carried out in the stems. Flowers evolved from leaves into the great variety we see today.

Plants have three main types of tissue. Most of these tissues are present in all plant structures, but their function and morphology varies from the roots to the leaves. The three types are ground, vascular, and dermal tissue.
Dermal tissue is all the tissue on the outer layer of the plant. This tissue is responsible for protecting the plant from physical damage and pathogens. Leaf dermal tissue helps regulate the loss of water and the intake of CO2. Root dermal tissue helps capture water and minerals in the soil. Non-woody plants are covered in an epidermis. In woody plants the epidermis is replaced by periderm in older parts of the plant.
Vascular tissue is responsible for transportation of materials within the plant. The flow usually goes from roots up to shoots, and from the shoots down to the roots. Xylem is the vasculature responsible for transporting water and dissolved minerals and nutrients throughout the plant. Phloem is vasculature responsible for transporting organic nutrients that are produced in the photosynthetic areas of the plant (generally the leaves) and to the roots or sites of new growth.
Ground tissue is all the other tissue in the plant. This tissue is responsible for most plant functions: photosynthesis, storage of nutrients, growth, and support. Ground tissue in the leaves is mostly responsible for photosynthesizing. Ground tissue in the stems, branches, or trunk is responsible for much of the plant support. Ground tissue in tree trunks is often dead and is strictly there to support the outer part of the trunk that is still alive and filled with vascular tissue.

When it’s broken down to the basic level a plant is built from three basic structures: roots, stems, and leaves. These three structures are composed of three types of tissue: ground, dermal, and vascular. These six things make up the basics for almost all plants. That’s amazing when all the variety of plants are considered. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Plant Diversity

This week I want to start a series of articles spanning the next few months delving into the world of plants. I've written briefly about different species of plants, their uses, and some of their importance in a healthy ecosystem, but now I want to dive into the different structures, types, and functions found across them. Most people understand that trees, bushes, grasses, ferns, mosses, crops, and flowers are all considered plants. While many of these look vastly different from each other they share many common visible structures and internal mechanisms. This week I’m going to start with an overview of the variety of plant classes in the hopes of giving a basic intro.

Moss (Bryophyte)
Hornwort (Bryophyte)
First, let me provide a definition of a plant. Plants are embryophytes. The name comes from the way they protect and nurture the embryo inside the parent structure. This definition excludes algae and other things that may have been included with a less specific definition. Most plants are terrestrial (living on soil), but some species have evolved back into the water (such as water lilies and duckweed). All are complex, multicellular organisms. All plants are non-motile (they can’t move). Photosynthesis is their primary means of producing energy, but a small number are parasitic. Plants also display an alternation of generations between a haploid gametophyte (a multicellular generation with a single set of chromosomes) and a diploid sporophyte (two sets of chromosomes present).

Quillwort (Lycophyte)
Clubmoss (Lycophyte)
Plants can be further divided into two groups, those reproducing and spreading through spores: bryophytes (liverworts, mosses, and hornworts), lycophytes (clubmosses, spikemosses, and quillworts), and monilophytes (ferns and horsetails); and those reproducing and spreading through seeds: gymnosperms (conifers, cycads, gnetophytes and ginkgoes), and angiosperms (flowering plants). Plants can also be divided into those with vascular tissue (specialized tissue in the plant the transports water and nutrients around): lycophytes, monilophytes, gymnosperms, and angiosperms; and those without specialized vasculature: bryophytes. (Don’t worry about understanding the ins and outs of plant reproduction or tissue yet. I’ll make sure to cover them in detail in later posts.)
Fern Frond (Monilophyte)
Horsetail (Monilophyte)
Bryophytes include mosses, hornworts, and liverworts. They are grouped together based on their lack of vascular tissue, and are therefore referred to as non-vascular plants. However, they do not form a monophyletic group (a group made of an ancestor species and all its descendants). Instead they are more likely a paraphyletic group (a group made of an ancestor species and its descendants minus one or more monophyletic groups). In this case they are made of embryophytes minus the tracheophytes (plants containing vascular tissue). Bryophytes lack true leaves, stems, and roots. They are among the most primitive of land plants. They require almost constant moisture to keep from drying out as they lack many features that more advanced plants use to keep from drying out.
Lycophytes are represented by clubmosses, spikemosses, and quillworts. They still reproduce primarily through spores, but they have vascular tissue, and therefore; leaves, roots, and stems. They are more advanced than the bryophytes.
Monilophytes are made up of ferns and horsetails. They reproduce through spores, have vascular tissue, leaves, roots, and stems. They are the closest relatives to the seed plants.
(Gnetophyte, Gymnosperm)
Ginkgo (Gymnosperm)
Gymnosperms are composed of four different groups: conifers, cycads, gnetophytes and ginkgoes. Gymnosperms are more advanced than the previous groups because they produce seeds instead of spores for their primary reproduction. Gymnosperms are known as naked seed plants because their seeds are not enclosed. Even though they’re typically in cones for general protection, the seed itself is not encased. Conifers are made up of many common and important species including pines, firs, cedars, and junipers. They represent many of the largest plants on earth. Cycads generally have stout, woods trunks with a crown of leaves at the top. They can be confused with palm trees, but they are not closely related. Gnetophytes have some characteristics, such as vessel elements, not found in other gymnosperms. Ginkgoes are represented by one species of plant, Ginkgo biloba, and have been present on earth for millions of years virtually unchanged.
Quaking Aspen (Angiosperm)
Rose (Angiosperm)
Angiosperms make up everything else. They are the most common plants, representing some 250,000 species on earth. They have flowers, vasculature, stems, roots, leaves, and enclosed seeds. Orchids, maples, oaks, roses, apples, grasses, and many other common plants are all angiosperms. It’s important to keep in mind that not all flowers are showy and easily noticeable. When’s the last time you looked at a field of grass and pointed out its flowers? I assure you they are present, and when I get to the post on flowers I’ll cover it in much more detail.

Of course this is just the tip of the tree when it comes to all the fascinating aspects about plants. I realize that not many things are explained in detail here, but that’s not really the point for this post. The importance here is to understand the great diversity found in the world of plants. They started as very simple organisms, basically land versions of green algae. From there they evolved up to giant redwoods and flowering roses. There are many common characteristics, of course, but also a great deal of differences in them. Over the next few months I hope to introduce and explain features found in plants, and explain the differences. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Daylight Savings?

The new Month brings us fully moved out of our old office in the Wenatchee-Okanogan Forest Headquarters and into our new office in the top floor of the Wenatchee World building. There are still a few boxes that need to be unpacked and a few cables that still need to be plugged in, but we're just about up and running. The last week of February was crazy busy as we finished packing, loaded the moving truck, drove to our new office, unloaded the truck, and drove back for another load. Everyone at the office pitched in to help wherever they could, and we were able to get through the bulk of the moving in just a few days. Most of us are happy to be in downtown Wenatchee. There are more services and amenities around us and some of us have shorter commutes as well. Visit our webpage to view all of our new contact information.

Daylight savings time is this weekend, so come Sunday we’ll have an hour less of daylight in the morning and an hour more in the evening. There are various reasons why it was originally proposed and implemented. When “daylight savings” first began it was thought to save on power by giving people an extra hour of light in the evening. Essentially an hour that people were generally up that they now didn't need to use lights during. Whether there’s any power savings from it is inconclusive. Some say yes, others say no. Data can be used to support both arguments. Personally I don’t really care about the power savings. I really like the extra hour of light after work. But on the other hand, I don’t like losing the hour of light in the morning. (I may be getting up too early if I notice the light in the morning at this time of year.)  Regardless of how we feel about the change it’s coming.
It’s interesting to look at how the time change affects different people. For many of us that work a normal 9-5 job or some variant thereof the change is nice. We can get more done outside on any given day, or have more time to go out and enjoy the sunshine. For the agricultural based communities or cultures the change is less noticeable. Their daily schedule is governed by the daylight present. They could care less about the “hour” when that light comes. They’re still going to be up with it and out in it until the sun goes down.
Another interesting thought is that the natural world doesn't care about our time standards. One sunrise is the same as any other to a plant, deer, or fish, even if it changes by an hour to us. Most of nature runs off the sun cycle and the temperature changes that come with it, so animal and plant activity levels depends on the time of year and the amount of light or, for nocturnal creatures, the amount of dark. Think about someone going hunting, they don’t get to go hunting at a time that’s convenient for them. If an animal is most active at dawn the hunter better be out at dawn, whether the clock reads 4:30 a.m. or 7 a.m.

This post hopefully makes you think about how we run our lives off a clock, but the rest of nature doesn't. We put so much pressure to set deadlines, but a tree grows when there’s enough light, water, and warmth. A deer goes foraging when the sun comes up, it doesn't care if it’s at 5 or 7. 

Friday, February 28, 2014


Pond scum. Most likely so thick because of fertilizer runoff.
Algae are found the world over, generally aquatic, but not always. They thrive in warm water and cold water, saltwater and freshwater. Most are photosynthetic—same as plants—using sunlight to power chemical reactions used to create carbohydrates. They range from small, single-celled organisms up to large kelps over a hundred feet in length. Green, red, and brown algae are prominent, but they are by no means the only colors. Algae exist on every continent on earth, and live in every climate.
Algae are not a single clade (a clade is a group comprised of an ancestor and all its descendants). They didn’t evolve from one common ancestor. They arrived at the present day from different evolutionary paths, but they shared enough common characteristics that they were combined into a single group, though a solid definition of an alga is hard to come by.

Since we live in a landlocked county I feel that discussing oceanic algae is not pertinent to this blog, so I’m going to focus on those found in freshwater ecosystems. (This will also help limit the length of this blog.)
Algae provide important functions in many ecosystems. They are often the primary producers in an aquatic ecosystem. Primary producers are at the bottom of the food chain. Algae are eaten by larger organisms such as zooplankton, which in turn are eaten by fish, which may be eaten by larger fish, and so on up the food chain. Algae allow fish to thrive and thus allow us to catch fish for both food and sport.
Most of the algae that people might see around the region in rivers, creeks, streams, ponds, lakes, etc. are generally green algae. (The green color gives it away.) They’re by no means the only algae present, they’re just easily noticeable. The green algae are those most closely related to plants, and are the group from which plants emerged from.
Algae can be a good indication of the overall health in an aquatic system. Algal growth is dependent on several factors: nutrient availability, light level, pH, temperature, etc. Any one of these can limit algal growth, but the most important one is nutrient availability. Increasing the nutrients available in a waterway will increase the number of algae present. This can lead to algal blooms, which can be unsightly at best and harmful at worst. Many of these blooms are the direct result of human impacts on the environment. Over applying fertilizer to fields, orchards, and lawns can be washed into nearby waterways. Livestock manure can make its way into creeks running through pastures. All of these can lead to algal blooms. Best way to control algal blooms? Control the nutrients leaching into streams, lakes, and rivers.

A look at the variety of saltwater algae.
Generally called seaweeds.
While being ecologically important algae are also useful for many other things. Many types of seaweed are used as food. Agar is derived from red algae, and is used as a thickening agent in petri dishes and many types of food.
Algae can also be used as a pollution control. They can treat sewage by removing many of the toxic and harmful components. Algae “scrubbers” can be used to clean water by pulling out the excessive nutrients present. They can also be used to capture the fertilizer runoff from farms before it enters water systems. These algae could in turn be used as fertilizer on the same fields.
Algae may provide the best option for biofuel production for a variety of reasons. Algae are fairly easy to grow and can be grown in areas unsuitable for other plants. They can be grown using wastewater and sewage. Algae have faster growth rates than land plants because their structure is so much simpler. 
I realize that this is a fairly simplistic look at algae. But the subject is far too large to adequately cover in a single blog post, so instead I aimed for a quick overlook of many things relating to algae to peak your interest. Hopefully it provides enough of an intro to make you seek out more information on algae. They are fascinating and an important part of many ecosystems. Their possible roles in helping solve some of mankind’s problems are also exciting.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Mid-February Friday

Happy Friday to everyone out there, and a Happy Valentine's Day to anyone that's into that sort of thing... This week is going to offer another short and sweet blog post as we're busy packing up our office in preparation for our move. Everyone in the office is generally excited for the move into downtown Wenatchee. It will shorten the commute for some of us and put us closer to many things in town we often make us of. I realize that on the other hand it may be viewed as a negative direction change because it moves us further from the citizens we serve along the Wenatchee River, Entiat River, and Lake Chelan. However, the added time is barely ten minutes, so it's not much of a change. And since we're moving we'll shortly need to change our phone numbers and email addresses. All our information will be updated on our website once we make the move in a few weeks.
The Native Planting 101 workshop was this last weekend, and I like to think that it went pretty well. The workshop lasted about four hours, and all four of our presenters did an excellent job with their presentations. The workshop would not have been possible without their donation of their valuable time and knowledge. We had a little over 30 people show up for the workshop, and the reviews I received afterwards were almost all positive. I'd like to thank everyone that showed up. Hopefully, they'll use the information to incorporate native plants in all their restoration and landscaping needs.
Today also marks the cutoff for our Native Plant Sale. Ponderosa pine, rocky mountain maple, and golden currant were very popular this year, and have mostly sold out. However, we still have many other options besides those three plants left if you want to try and sneak your order in before the deadline. Our pickup date for plants is set as April 5 from 10 am-1 pm. We also will be bundling the plants on March 22. Anyone that would like to volunteer on either of these days is welcome to do so.
That's all I have for today. Hopefully next week I can get back into my in-depth blogs on particular topics. Until then though this blog will have to suffice. I for one am looking forward to a long weekend, and I'm hoping many of the rest of you get to enjoy one as well.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Early February Observations

This week and, really, the whole month, bring busy times here at Cascadia. Many of us in the office are busy sorting and packing in anticipation of moving from our current location in the lower level of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Headquarters and into new office space in downtown Wenatchee. Thankfully, I don’t have much to do with that until it comes time to load up boxes and equipment and then unload it again in our new location. (Americorps members get all the good jobs.) However, the Native Planting 101 workshop is also coming up this Saturday, February 8, and I’m rushing a little to finish up all the final touches for the workshop. With limited time something has to give, and so the blog this week is going to be a little shorter and less in-depth than normal. There won’t be much of a theme. Probably just some pretty pictures and a few observations.
How about that snow? I realize it’s not a lot, but it sure helps brighten up the landscape, bathing the hills in bright white with splotches of gray, brown, and green poking through. Every little bit of moisture helps. Hopefully it keeps up and we can avoid a dry spring, summer, and fall. Besides, winter is far too dreary without snow on the ground. It keeps everything looking clean and covers up the dirt and grime that coats much of the land during the winter and early spring months.
Hopefully this cold isn’t upsetting too many people. I was little surprised when it came on. That’s my own fault though because I don’t often look at the forecast. My theory being that the weather is going to show up regardless if I know about it or not. It’s amazing how much going from a high of 35 degrees down to a high of 18 degrees changes how it feels to be outside. Anything above 30 and I can usually leave my hands out walking outside. Now it’s almost too cold for them buried deep in my pockets. Any exposed skin can quickly go numb and ache with the cold. These cold days make me happy that I decided to grow a beard for the winter, and at times I wish it went further and covered the tops of my checks and nose. For those of you without a beard, I recommend a scarf if the cold bothers you.
So that’s all I’ve got for this week, time to go back to preparations for Saturday’s workshop. Make sure to sign up for the workshop if you live in or around Wenatchee and Chelan County and have an interest in native plants. It’ll run from 12-4:30 PM at the Chelan County PUD Auditorium. Topics covered will include restoration, pollinators, yardscaping, and noxious weeds. It promises to provide lots of useful and interesting information.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


I was wandering around the woods the other day and came across a beaver dam. It wasn’t the first I’ve seen. It won’t be the last. It wasn’t even an impressively large dam either. I stopped though. I stared and I contemplated. I realized something. Beavers are cool. They construct. They shape and morph the world around them to meet their needs. Many animals simply react to the world. A deer runs when it feels threatened. It will wander around looking for food, never choosing one location as “home.” Of course other animals build dens and nests, and they may often return to them time after time. But they choose sites that fit what they need.
A beaver changes the environment around it to make a better home for themselves. They build dams to flood the area around their lodge in order to protect themselves. They build their structures using a mixture of logs, sticks, and mud. They gnaw a ring around a tree until it weakens enough to collapse. (Their teeth continually grow, making it a necessity for them to gnaw on something.) Once a tree is felled they set upon it and bite it into smaller, usable pieces. Dams are built from the bottom up. First, sticks are stuck into the bottom to provide a foundation. Next, they add sticks slowly raising the height of the dam. Mud is added to fill any gaps that might let too much water through. They continue this process of sticks and mud until the dam has reached its desired height and is strong enough to hold back the flow of water.
A beaver dam near human housing.
Beavers build dams for their own sake. But the ecological effects of these dams spread beyond them. Their dams provide a whole list of positive changes in an ecosystem. Let’s look further.

Beaver dams have the ability to flood their surrounding areas. Spreading water out over the landscape has the potential to create or increase the area of wetlands (basically an area that retains standing water throughout the year). Why are wetlands good? Wetlands are one of the most important types of ecosystem on the planet. They filter the water that comes through, removing sediment, excess nutrients, and other contaminants. Wetlands provide habitat for many species of plants, animals, insects, and bacteria. Many of which wouldn’t survive without access to wetlands.
Wetlands trap and store water. These are important effects. This helps control flooding by trapping water during periods of high flow, especially during spring snow melt. Later in the summer when the water flow drops this stored water is slowly released back into the stream system. In this way wetlands help lower the flow of water during high water times, and also raise the flow of water during low water times. They balance the flow of water throughout the year.
A crosscut of a beaver lodge. Beavers
build dams to create a pool of water deep enough 
that it doesn't freeze solid in the winter so they can 
enter their lodges all year round.
Flooded areas help recharge groundwater by increasing the surface area of water in contact with the ground. This increase in groundwater helps plants grow along the stream which in turn increases the stability of stream banks and decreases erosion.
Beavers create fish habitat. The dams slow the water down, allowing the fish to have an easier time swimming, and the pools are deep enough to not freeze. This provides winter habitat for certain fish species. (This slower water speed has added benefit of reducing streambank erosion.) The random assortment of sticks and logs in and around the dam provide protection for young fish from predators. Dams also catch plant material, which in turn can help increase the presence of aquatic insects, food for the fish. The increase of plant growth along the streambank helps shade the water. This helps keep the water cool for the fish in the hot summer.
Beavers gnaw around a tree fairly evenly
until it weakens enough to fall.
Trapped plant material plus any excess nutrients in the water can lead to increase in the amount of bacteria in the water. Bacteria usually seem like a bad thing, but in this case they’re doing a favor by removing excess nutrients in the water. Excess nutrients lead to an increase in algae present, which clouds the water. Fish prefer clear, cool water that’s free from algae and other growths. These bacteria can also metabolize some of the pollutants that may find their way into the water.

I often hear about the negative things beavers do. They remove trees near their water sources. While that is true, the damage can be mitigated by wrapping the trees with wire mesh. Also, many of their favored species of trees to use for dam building and for eating will resprout from their roots. So even if the tree is cut down by a beaver, a new one will often sprout from the roots. Beaver dams don’t block the passage of fish as much as it would seem. Many fish are able to jump over the beaver dams. Regardless of the direction they’re traveling.
The negative effects we associate with beavers are more a matter of human perception than anything else. We look at what they do in a negative light because it interferes with what we want to do in an area. Decreases in the number of fish are more from human impacts than they are from a beaver dam blocking the stream. Fields flooded by a beaver dam may indicate that the field was too close to the stream to begin with. Plant enough trees that beavers prefer and they’ll probably leave your prized tree alone. 
Beavers are cool. There are so many positive benefits from their presence that it seems silly to not embrace them. Current beaver counts in North America range anywhere from 10 to 15 million, which is decent considering they were nearly wiped out for their pelts in the 19th century, but that number is still a fraction of the nearly 100 million that are estimated to have been present at one time. Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to impact and shape their environment. Next time you see a beaver dam or lodge think about the positive impact of them on the ecosystem.