John Richardson waged war on Monday afternoon against stubborn Himalayan blackberry bushes threatening to take over the west bank of the Green River in Fenster Nature Park in southeast Auburn.
Richardson hadn’t done mano-a-vegetation with a fierce foe like this in a long time, he said, loppers in his gloved hands, and he thought it was warm work.
“I will say that’s quite the task,” Richardson said. “You have to wear the right gear and know you’re going to get stung multiple times. It is a committed effort.
Richardson was one of many who devoted some of their free time on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to this habitat restoration project organized by Mid-Sound Fisheries Group to help the many salmon pass serenely through the waters of the Green River.
“The turnout was good. We had around 50 people and more,” said Erik Rigaux, who coordinated the project for the MSFG. “No complaints, everyone was happy to be here, smiles on their faces, we had sunshine today so everyone is feeling good. They know that salmon is such an important part of Pacific Northwest culture, so they wanted to get out there and help their community on this MLK day.
Water temperatures that are too hot for salmon have been identified as a major problem in the Green River, especially as they are exacerbated by climate change, and healthy forests along the Green River provide shade essential for cooling water, said Rigaux.
Volunteers planted 135 understory shrubs, then spread mulch to keep the new plantings warm through winter and thriving well into spring. They then turned to eradicating these blackberry bushes, which compete for resources with other more salmon-friendly vegetation, including trees and shrubs.
Eradicate? So, is it all gone?
“We wish,” laughed Richardson, regional director of the Western 13-state American Conservation Coalition, who had come from his Bellevue home to help. “This is a difficult work.”
By the time the job was done, workers had cleared about 2,000 square feet of the pesky vegetation.
Kayla Bakhshian, 28, who is usually employed in hotel design, came from Ballard with a group of friends to do her part, who at the end of the day focused on spreading mulch to prevent the return of blackberries that had been removed from the park last summer.
“I love animals and want to help salmon as much as possible. Anything that can help the Earth and salmon sounds like something I would want to do,” Bakhshian said.
Retired U.S. Army veteran Raymond Tsumpti and his daughter, Tatum, 17, members of the Confederate Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, said they were looking for volunteer opportunities, in part because she needed community service hours to complete the graduation requirements of his Lakewood high school.
“Our people have lived on salmon for centuries, and since salmon was important to our tribe and to us personally and to the whole region itself, and since the Mid-Sound Fisheries Group had the opportunity to go out and planting trees to improve salmon habitat and reduce invasive plant species, we decided to go out and help,” said Tsumpti, a seasoned veteran of local habitat restoration projects.
Richardson said the American Conservation Coalition is trying to find projects to give every individual the chance to give back to their community and make a difference, whether that’s planting trees to fight erosion , salmon habitat or even natural carbon capture.
“It’s a great thing that we can all feel like we’re making a difference in the world, over things that are out of our control and we just don’t have a say in,” said Richardson.