One year ago, about 30 people helped install native trees and shrubs on a 100-foot long section of Joe Leary Slough, a lowland stream in Skagit County, Washington. The headwaters of this slough begin near the Burlington Hill Industrial Mall, east of I-5, and from there flow through large agricultural fields, around Bayview Ridge, through a series of tide gates, and into Puget Sound.
Today, one year later, we met again to celebrate our new buffer. Besides several slough-side property owners, our group included a retired fish biologist, several teachers, a librarian, a bookstore owner, a ferry worker, a Boeing engineer, an environmental educator, a forester, several writers, and myself. Because the trees have been weeded, watered, and cared for, they are prospering. They represent one of the only places on this 13-mile long stream that has a buffer. The rest of the stream is choked with invasive grasses, or has agricultural fields or grazing within a few feet of the water.
My contribution to this gathering was to search for a willing canoe partner, and paddle up and down the slough. The water in Joe Leary Slough is, well, rather unsavory. The water doesn’t smell good, either. It’s a very unusual color, because of high levels of minerals. It also has a lot of sediment, documented high levels of fecal coliform, high temperatures, and low dissolved oxygen. Many farmers dig “V” ditches to drain their fields, and these ditch systems deliver a big load of sediment into the slough. But there’s good news! Two areas where cattle had direct access to the slough last year had new single-strand electric fences, so the cattle could no longer wallow in the slough. This is a good step because it will help keep sediment and manure out of the slough.
The group of people who met today care about this slough. It’s not pretty or healthy now, but it could be. These people want this slough to have wider buffers, and they want the livestock to be fenced a little father away from the water. Why are buffers important? Native trees and shrubs provide shade and a filtering mechanism to streams, and help protect the water from manure and farm runoff. Is this too much to ask? We don’t think so, and we’re stubborn. This is what volunteer stewardship looks like.