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Ashland Creek Ponds Riparian Restoration Project

Working Together to Restore Habitat
 
The Ashland Creek Ponds Riparian Restoration Project area is a unique blend of gallery forest, stream and wetland habitats. Located at the confluence of Ashland Creek and Bear Creek on City of Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission (APRC) property, it is home to a wide range of birds and other diverse wildlife. Through a collaborative effort by a dedicated team of caretakers, including the APRC, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, Bear Creek Watershed Council, Helman Elementary School and hundreds of students and community volunteers, the 12-acre site is transitioning towards a healthy streamside forest.
 
The goal of the Ashland Creek Ponds Project is to restore degraded habitat for Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead trout through the reestablishment of native trees and vegetation. In addition to reducing stream temperatures, the plantings stabilize banks to reduce erosion and sedimentation, provide beneficial nutrients for aquatic life, and create a future source of large wood for fish habitat. Additional project objectives include establishing a thriving wildlife corridor, maintaining the site for recreational use, and providing restoration based education for students in the Rogue Valley. 
 
First created as a quarry for nearby road development, the Ashland Creek Ponds area had compacted, rocky soils and was inundated with tall, dense non-native blackberry thickets, along with several other invasive plants, including poison hemlock, star thistle, teasel and bedstraw.  Despite challenged growing conditions, over 2000 native trees and shrubs have been planted and cared for since the project began in 2008. Heavy mulching, fertilizing and watering throughout the hot summer months, caging for deer protection and bi-annual eradication of the invasive plants has resulted in relatively high survival rates of the native plantings. Maintenance has been the project’s greatest challenge, but overall, the ecological health of the site has improved significantly due to persistent management efforts of the project team.
 
The planting plan for the Ashland Creek Ponds Riparian Restoration Project was based on the riparian species inventory of the area, local historic information and current site conditions. Hardwood trees including Black Cottonwood, Oregon Ash and White Alder were planted along the stream bank. Shrub species such and willow, red osier dogwood and Douglas spirea are located right at the creek’s edge. Other shrubs, including snowberry, pacific ninebark and native rose are interspersed throughout the site, along with conifers such and ponderosa pine and incense cedar.
 
Since the project’s inception, the greatest survivor at the Ashland Creek Ponds Project has been the ponderosa pine. Restoration practitioners are seeing the benefits of initially establishing this conifer to “anchor” sites like this, due to its ability to withstand long, hot, dry summers. It becomes the first to cast the much needed shade for other native trees and shrubs. Over time, native understory vegetation will slowly replace the non-native one, thereby becoming new habitat for birds and other wildlife. The long-term goal is to transition the area into a diverse blend of native tree and shrub species with a varied age class structure.
 
A document published by the Institute for Natural Resources entitled “Historical Vegetation of Central Southwest Oregon, Based on GLO Survey Notes,” addresses why conifers are planted in riparian zones. The document provides information about the land surveys of Southwest Oregon conducted in the mid 1850s by the Federal Government’s General Land Office, or GLO. As the document states, “This was the first systematic, detailed, spatially-explicit inventory of natural resources of the United States. These records have been used extensively to develop historic base line data, such as plant community composition and/or tree stand structure.”  Within this document, historic photos of the Bear Creek Valley show that pine was present in many of these streamside riparian forest ecosystems. One photo in particular shows scattered ponderosa pine trees (referred to as “yellow pine” at the time) just above the confluence of Ashland Creek and Bear Creek.  Furthermore, in reference to the middle Rogue, the document states, “the valley of this stream is thickly covered in pine, cedar and oak.”
 
One common theory suggests that post settlement logging can explain the dwindled population of these shade bearing giants along our creeks.  A remnant of more recent history can be seen along the Bear Creek Greenway, just downstream of the Ashland Ponds Riparian Restoration Project.  A thriving riparian gallery forest with large, old ponderosa pines, Oregon white and California black oaks, Oregon ash, Black Cottonwood and White Alder display the ecological history of this region. 
 
It is a general practice to overplant a riparian restoration site to ensure survivability and compensate for an expected level of mortality. As reported, the pines that were planted at the Ashland Ponds Project area have thrived. However, all trees need space to grow and, while natural selection often takes care of this, APRC will “selectively thin” a small stand of conifers near the pond this spring. The remaining incense cedar and ponderosa pine will now have the room they need to mature into hardy trees and healthy wildlife habitat.
 
Funding for this project has come from state agencies, private foundations, City of Ashland and private donors. In-kind labor and materials have been provided by Lomakatsi, APRC and the Bear Creek Watershed Council, as well as youth crews and community volunteers.  A long-term ecological stewardship agreement is in place between APRC and Lomakatsi Restoration Project for on-going maintenance, which will help ensure the long term success of the restoration work. Lomakatsi continues to host hands-on educational field events at the pond as part of its Restoration Ecology Education Program.
 
References
Hickman, O. Eugene and John A. Christy. 2011. Historical Vegetation of Central Southwest Oregon Based on GLO Survey Notes. Final Report to USDI Bureau of Land Management. Medford District, Oregon. 124 pp.

For more information, please contact Jeffrey McFarland, Forestry/Central Division Manager for ARPC at 541.951.1311 or email.

To learn more about APRC visit www.AshlandParksandRec.org.
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