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.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Plant Native Things and Watch them Flourish

As we near our Native Planting 101 workshop and the deadline for placing an order for the Native Plant Sale I felt it was good time to write a blog looking at native plants. Planting native can save you a lot of things. Time, effort, and money are probably the three biggest. I’ll take a look at a few different tasks involved in gardening and then explain how natives save you time, effort, and/or money for each task.

Watering is probably the most important chore when it comes to gardening. If you hand water this can be a long and tedious chore requiring you to daily visit each plant in the middle of a scorching summer. Natives require minimal watering on your part. Once established, native plants should survive primarily on water available on site without extra from you. (Of course this assumes you get the right plant for the right area. A native plant normally found next to a creek may not thrive on an exposed slope.) They’ve survived in this climate for hundreds of years without human intervention, so why would they need you to water them now? The first year or two they might need watering to establish a solid root system, but after that they’re good to go. Of course, if you have a sprinkler system you probably won’t notice a drop in your time or effort. However, in both cases you’ll save money using natives. No longer will you have to spend money to water plants. Natives don’t need your water.
Fertilizer is another big item. Natives don’t need fertilizer to flourish. They’ve grown in these conditions before, whether that’s a sandy slope with minimal nutrients, or the side of a creek with an overabundance of water. Find the plant native to those conditions and you won’t need to fertilize it. This will save you time, effort, and especially money. Fertilizer is not cheap, and it’s a task that often requires applications over and over again, year after year. Natives don’t need it.
Pruning or thinning in your garden can take up a large amount of time. Natives can cut down on the time and effort. Natives don't need constant pruning and thinning to grow healthily. They grow well if just left alone. Whereas introduced species may require pruning or thinning to maintain the health of the plant. Native plants will survive just fine if left alone.

Cascadia is still taking orders for its Native Plant Sale. We have availability on all 12 plant species, but some are selling faster than others. To make sure that you don’t miss out on any of the plants you’ve been mulling over buying make sure to order yours today! Visit our website for a brochure outlining some of the highlights of all 12 plants, or read the 3 blog posts that cover each of the 12 plants in a little more detail. First. Second. Third. Our deadline for ordering plants is set for February 14, so three weeks is all the time that’s left to order bushels of plants perfect for your landscaping or restoration needs.

Cascadia is also sponsoring a Native Planting 101 workshop on Saturday, February 8. We encourage anyone that wants to use native plants in their yard, or that’s just generally interested in native plants to attend. Our speakers will cover topics including restoration, yardscaping, pollinators, and weeds. All four of our presenters have presented at previous Native Planting 101 workshops and have plenty of useful and interesting information to share with you! Visit our website for more information and to RSVP.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Beware a Mild Winter

I grab my jacket and slide it on as I step outside. I walk a few paces and realize I’m already too warm. It’s halfway through January and the temperatures outside are hovering around 50o. It’s only snowed in town a couple times all winter. The sun is shining, and it seems like spring is just around the corner. Too bad it’s not. Winter will be back. However, it’s still nice for a break, right? It may feel nice, but this weather is not without consequences. What might those consequences be? Well, let’s take a look.

First, the lack of snow is a big problem. Yes, I love having clear roads as much as anyone else. The headache of waking up with six inches of new snow and realizing I’m going to spend an hour or two of my day shoveling/plowing just to clear my driveway and paths is not pleasant. Neither is dealing with slick roads and all the other people out on the slick roads. (Funny how everyone always thinks it’s the other person that’s the bad driver.) I love being able to travel the mountain passes with peace of mind.
So why is the lack of snow such a problem? We receive very little precipitation throughout the year. What precipitation we do receive mainly comes as snow in the winter months. That buildup of snow in the mountains provides a water source for the rest of the year. When spring arrives and the temperatures begin to rise in the mountains the snowpack starts to melt. This melt feeds creeks, rivers, and lakes throughout the spring and summer, and starts to taper off in the fall. Without winter snow the snowpack won’t build up. Without a proper snowpack water flows will be hampered.
What happens when there’s less water? Well, that’s what we call a drought. Water suddenly becomes a hot commodity. Let me list a few things that rely on water flowing from the snowpack: dams, crops, orchards, lawns, drinking water, animals, fish, forests, and water recreation. I could keep going. The point is when there’s not enough water available everything loses. First go the unnecessary items. You’ll be asked to conserve water by watering your lawns and gardens less (or stopping all together if it’s severe enough), showering more efficiently, etc. Next, farmers with newer water rights may have to water their fields and orchards less. Of course someone could keep pulling out water and further lower the water levels, but that starts to affect the fish. Less water means streams, rivers, and lakes have less area to swim in. Less water means that the water will warm up quicker and get hotter than normal. Fish like cool water. An almost afterthought to most of us is the forests. Our forests do most of their growing in the spring from the influx of water from the snowpack. The less there is and the sooner it melts off leads to dry forests earlier in the year, increasing the chance of and severity of forest fires. Less water in the rivers lowers the amount of power that dams can generate.
Starting to get the picture? Snow is necessary. We must embrace the winter in order to enjoy the spring, summer, and fall. Without the winter snow, the rest of the year may be miserable.

My second point revolves around this warm weather we’re experiencing at the moment. A warm, sunny day seems nice, and one or two might not be that harmful, but extended warmth can lead to problems. Why?
Most plants go into dormancy for the winter. That means they shut down most of their natural processes. They flood their cells with chemicals that protect themselves from the winter cold, and wait it out. Generally, they wait until early spring to start the growth process. But what triggers their growth? We label March 20 as the first day of spring because it’s the spring equinox. (Our seasons change on the equinoxes and solstices.) However, a plant can’t read a calendar and decide when to break dormancy by a calendar date. A plant breaks dormancy on external cues. Mainly cues involving temperature.
See where I’m going with this? If the weather stays warm for too long in the middle of winter the plants might be tricked into thinking it’s time to break dormancy. They start their new growth leading to tender new shoots and flowers. The weather then crashes back down to normal winter temperatures. The new plant tissue can’t handle freezing temperatures and therefore dies.
Field crops might not be affected by this at all. A farmer realizes that these warm temperatures aren’t sustainable, and therefore doesn’t plant anything until spring. But trees aren’t this smart. They start to grow and head towards blooming. When the temperature crashes the new buds are killed off. No blossoms that year, and thus no fruit.

A mild winter like this seems nice, one with a warm, sunny week in the middle of January, and only a day or two of snowfall in town. You may be reveling in the decent driving conditions and your snow shovel gathering dust in the garage. But you shouldn’t be. This lack of snow and warm temperatures are only going to cause much bigger headaches later in the year than a normal winter causes on its own. I’m hoping that the temperatures drop to normal and we get massive snow falls the rest of January, February, and into March. Otherwise it’s going to be a dry rest of the year. 
The numbers are starting to look up from previous measurements, but are still far below where they should be.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Native Plant Sale: Part 3

It’s the first week of January. The weather doesn’t feel much like winter though. The last few days have brought temperatures in the low to mid 40s, and the snow has been lacking. It feels more like November or February outside right now. Regardless, it’s time to take a look at the last four plants in this year’s Native Plant Sale.
Blue elderberry is the sixth shrub for sale this year. The range of this shrub covers the western parts of North America north into British Columbia and south into the northern parts of Mexico. They favor damp areas along streams, rivers, and other open, wet locations. They grow best on moist, well-drained, and sunny locations. It works well as a stream bank and eroded site stabilizer. The blossoms on elderberry are white and will bloom between May and July depending on local climate. The berries that mature in late summer into the fall are quite edible and have been used for makes preserves, pies, and wine. Click here to read a previous blog outlining some of these uses. Many birds and animals will also eat the berries. It can reach sizes of up to 25 feet tall, but is more common to reach sizes around 10 feet. 
Red osier dogwood is the seventh shrub available this year. This dogwood is present in most of the US and Canada. The only area it’s not present is in the South East US stretching over to Texas. They are usually found growing in moist soils along rivers, swamps, creeks, and lakes. Even though they prefer moist soils they don’t like completely saturated soil for long periods of time. Red osier is useful for stream bank stabilization. The plant is most noticeable in the winter when its bright red bark adds color to a winter landscape. It flowers in late spring with clumps of small, white flowers. It is also useful as forage for animals in the winter, and its berries are eaten by some bird species. It can reach heights of 20 feet, and will often grow in thickets due to the rooting ability of its stems. A more in depth look at red osier can be found here.
Tall Oregon grape is the final shrub offered this year. Its distribution ranges throughout the Northwestern US and extends up into British Columbia. It can grow in a variety of soil and terrain types, from dry to moist, and from sunny to shady. Oregon grape can be found as an understory species in wooded areas, or as the one of the first species growing in a disturbed area. The plant develops a large root system with time, so it can be useful for soil stabilization. Many rodents and birds enjoy the berries, and young stems and leaves may be eaten by deer and elk. It also has many ornamental qualities including bright yellow flowers in spring, purple berries in late summer, and reddish green leaves throughout the year. It will grow to roughly 10 feet in height, with an approximately equal amount of spread.
Kinnikinnick is the only ground cover for sale this year. Its range covers Canada and much of the Northern and Southwest US. It grows best in course soil that is well drained. It grows in forests and on sand dunes, acting as a very effective soil stabilizer due to its spreading nature. It tolerates cold very well. The fruits on the kinnikinnick are eaten by some birds and game animals. Deer may browse it lightly as well. Its leaves are dark, shiny green. The flowers are small and white to pink in color, blooming in late spring. It is a low growing plant, generally staying under 6 inches in height, but it can spread out 15 feet.
This concludes my look at all 12 plants offered for sale this year with our Native Plant Sale. If any of these plants sound intriguing make sure to order some today! There’s a little bit of everything available. Conifers, deciduous trees, shrubs, and ground cover will provide everything you need to landscape or restore your property. Click here to visit our Native Plant Sale page.

Come back next week for another article.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere

Water controls our lives. The earliest civilizations in the world grew around rivers: Nile, Euphrates, Tigris, Yellow, and Indus. Water remains necessary for growing food. (Just try growing something without water, and tell me how it works out for you.) We remain slaves to it. When we’re thirsty water dominates our thoughts. All we can think about is clear, liquid gold crossing our lips and quenching our parched mouths. Try to go a day without drinking anything. It won’t be easy. Go outside in hot weather and see if you can last an hour or two before the cravings kick in. Water is the single most necessary substance for our survival. The only other thing that comes close is the sun. And the benefits of the sun can be somewhat compensated for by manmade contraptions (heat, photosynthesis, vitamin D). As far as I know we haven’t invented a water substitute yet.
Water flows in a cycle. The amount of water on the Earth right now is pretty close to the same amount that’s always been here. When it rains the water collects on the ground. The ground absorbs some of the moisture, but once the ground reaches saturation the rain that keeps falling starts to flow. And where does it flow? Downhill of course! First the rain forms trickles, and these trickles merge together to form rivulets. Rivulets flow until they meet other rivulets and come together to make creeks. Creeks pour into other creeks and form rivers. Rivers combine to make even larger rivers. Rivers surge into the world’s oceans. From here the water evaporates into the air and is used to form clouds. These clouds then drift back over the land until they release water on the ground below. The cycle continues.
This shows the flowing of water through the system. From the oceans to the 
clouds to precipitation to flowing water and back into the ocean. 
The cycle is in continuous operation.
The cycle can be interrupted. The water might take a detour, but eventually it will get back into the circle. Consider the water in your home. That water was pulled out of a river, stream, lake, aquifer, or well and pumped into the water system. This water flows through pipes until it comes out of the faucet in your home. You fill a glass with water, drink it, and after some time you expel it back out. From there it flows into sewer system, travels to a sewage plant, and after treatment it’s released back into the water system. Water very rarely permanently leaves the cycle. The water you just drank could very well be the water a dinosaur drank millions of years ago.
Most of the water that flows down our rivers doesn't come from rain though. It comes from snow that accumulates through the winter and slowly melts off during the rest of the year. Without the snow pack our rivers would be a lot smaller and may even cease to exist except as seasonal water flows during wetter times of the year. Every time you look outside and dread the snow falling because it makes a mess of driving try to think instead of the benefits of snow. Snow enables us to take this area that’s basically a desert and turn it into lush farmland.
I would guess that most of us take water for granted. We turn the faucet on and expect water to flow out. But where does our water come from? If you live in Wenatchee and surrounding parts of Chelan County your water comes from the Eastbank Aquifer, located under parts of Lincoln Rock State Park and extending south to Rocky Reach Dam. Cashmere draws their water from wells and some surface water from the Wenatchee River. Leavenworth pulls their water from Icicle Creek and wells drilled near the golf course. Chelan pulls its water from Lake Chelan. Entiat pulls its water from community wells.
The three main watersheds in Chelan County. Wenatchee on the left, Entiat in the middle, and Lake Chelan on the right.
All three flow into the Columbia River.
How do we keep track of all this water moving around? We divide areas up into various watersheds. Watersheds encompass an area where all the surface water drains to a single point. They are usually bounded by ridges that separate neighboring watersheds. Chelan County is composed of roughly four different watersheds. The Wenatchee River watershed encompasses all the water that flows into the Wenatchee River. The Entiat River watershed takes in all the water draining into the Entiat River. Lake Chelan is its own watershed. The last watershed is made up of water draining from Stemilt Hill and Squilchuck. All of these watersheds drain into a larger watershed, the Columbia River, which drains parts of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and British Columbia. The Columbia then flows into the Pacific Ocean on the border between Washington and Oregon.
It would seem that if the cycle is cyclic that there would be no need to conserve water, right? Regardless of how much we use it will just keep flowing through the cycle and return again as rain or snow. If only it were that simple. The issue isn’t that the water stops cycling. It’s more an issue of minimal disruption to the natural flow. The amount of water present every year is not always the same as the previous year. There are averages, but an average comes from several years of data. There’s no guarantee it will reach that level each year. There are so many facets to contend with. Fish, farms, cities, you, and I all rely on water. Do any of us have more right to it than another? The short answer is no. This is why it’s important to conserve, protect, and share our water resources.
For more information on some simple ways to conserve water and protect our waterways head over to
A map showing the snowpack of Washington as a percent of a 30 year average. As you can see all of the state
is below average with several areas having less than half of normal amounts.