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Students Help to Restore Habitat at Keller Ferry
This October, 247 students and 55 teachers and chaperones from several local schools and two home school groups brought their energy and enthusiasm to Keller Ferry to help restore 7.6 acres of native shrub-steppe habitat within Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. The area was previously disturbed and cleared of vegetation by a private developer. Students planted 2,000 bitterbrush saplings. Schools that participated in the revegetation work were Almira Coulee Hartline elementary and middle schools, Wilbur Schools (3rd, 7th, and 11th grades), Mary Walker High School (Springdale), Center Elementary (Grand Coulee), Lake Roosevelt High School, and Nespelem Elementary. Two home school families from Coulee Dam also participated. Lake Roosevelt High School seniors, Susan Peone and Josh Bird volunteered their time after school and on weekends for community service credit to cut slits in burlap squares that are placed around the shrub saplings and planted native purple sage on the restoration site.
Students began the day by hiking a mile up to the site through native vegetation. They were asked to make observations as they walked to the restoration site. Once at the site, they were asked to compare the native vegetation to what they found at the restoration site. They then learned from NPS biologist, Todd Trapp, about the habitat they were about to restore and were shown how to plant the bitterbrush plugs.
In addition to learning about habitat restoration, students learned about shrub-steppe communities, cultural connections, habitat fragmentation and loss, non-native invasive species, habitat conservation, why National Parks were created, and the importance of protecting the native riparian zone habitat (that is, the biologically rich and protective habitat adjacent to a natural watercourse) at Lake Roosevelt. Lake Roosevelt and the Columbia Basin is an area of rich biodiversity and serves as an important travel corridor and migration route for many species of wildlife including birds, mammals, fish, and butterflies. The area being restored is part of the shrub-steppe biome which surrounds the lower reaches of Lake Roosevelt. Less than half the shrub-steppe in eastern Washington remains. Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area retains intact nearly 70% of its’ historic shrub steppe extent. Antelope bitterbrush-steppe is one of the dominant plant communities of the shrub-steppe, providing food and cover for animals such as mule deer and the Great Basin pocket mouse. A Washington State threatened species utilizing the shrub-steppe habitat at Lake Roosevelt seasonally is the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. One small population remains in Lincoln County out of only eight in eastern Washington. Historically, the critically endangered Washington pigmy rabbit may have also occupied the Keller Ferry vicinity of the park. Declines in these species appear linked to dramatic declines in quantity and quality of native habitat. The Behr’s (Columbia) hairstreak butterfly can also be found at Lake Roosevelt. The hairstreak relies on bitterbrush for survival. They lay their eggs, and the emerging caterpillar larvae feed exclusively on bitterbrush. The hairstreak butterfly is currently listed as threatened in Canada due to conversion of bitterbrush habitat to vineyards.
In addition to bitterbrush, the National Park Service planted a number of other native shrubs, forbs, and grasses on the site including rabbitbrush, arrowleaf balsamroot, threadleaf fleabane, silky lupine, common yarrow, wild blue flax, Sandberg bluegrass, and bluebunch wheatgrass. About half of the area has been replanted with bitterbrush. The bitterbrush was grown from seed at the Colville Tribal Forestry greenhouse at Nespelem. The remaining bitterbrush will be maintained at the greenhouse until next spring when restoration of the site will continue. To learn more about Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area visit: www.nps.gov/laro; and to learn about Washington’s shrub-steppe visit the Washington Native Plant Society at: www.wnps.org/ecosystems/shrubsteppe_eco/shrubsteppe.htm.