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.