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Retention in watersheds

Richard McGuiness armich at cox.net
Tue May 21 16:22:50 EST 2002

 I have mentioned before i was restoring a devastated watershed, a tributary
of the Mattole here in Northern California. Road building, logging, fire and
fire roads all set in motion a long period of slides, debris torrents, bank
failures and other assorted lanbdscape irregularities. These have degraded
the creek so it does not flow at all in spots in the summer. We have planted
the slopes and riparian areas and slowed much of the gravity feed
sedimentation. I am assured that by the time the creek is fully shaded by
trees (not ceanothus) the creek will run year round. However, there were 19
mapped springs on this property when we bought it and we are now lucky to
have five. So we have been trying to figure out how to hold more of our
far-more-than-adequate rainfall (just outside Honeydew, one of the wettest
places in the U.S.) so the creek runs later into the heat (year) and so
there are more uphiull watering sites for wildlife and plants, and
eventually agriculture.
 One of our problems has been the steepness and the liklihood that retaining
(recharge)ponds only saturate the earth leading to slides in the winter. Our
hand dug examples are enough to know that even a small hole on a hillside
can cause the entire bench to fail, so location has everything to do with a
seep. Our group would be very interested in more information as to how to
make a larger percentage of our rainfall storable without inflicting more
damage in the area. We need some kind of handbook for small projects,
probably collected from antiquity and the third world or organizations
working there. There are no retention  facilities of any kind here-what is
appropriate and when do you have enough or too many?
 At this time, we have 100% cooperating landowners and zero commercial
operations of any kind on our three and a half mile creek. We cover several
other area creeks but we want to develop a usable model. This area lies
between Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and King Range National Conservation
Area. Save the Redwoods helped add  Gilham Butte to these lands making it is
a de facto wildlife corridor, )Redwoods to the Sea Wildlife Corridor,  but
we feel taking land off the tax rolls is a "lesser of two evils" situation,
and that restoration means recovery and not preservation. Our group works
with private landowners in this corridor, which is the result of many small
community actions over the years.
  We asked California Fish & Game about beaver many years ago, and they were
horrified. But the more I think on it, the better of an idea they are. Their
thinking has changed a lot recently. Some other benefits accrue from beaver
in other facets of watershed management, such as fire protection. Our fire
jumped an empty creekbed, this might not have happened if there was water in
it. A beaver pond widening the creek makes it even less likely. In fact, our
national debate over how to contain wildfire, claiming all areas were
burnt/managed by Natives, fails to recognize that the millions of beaver in
every waterway carved the fuel loads into small areas. High humidity and
water tables probably helped keep the fires cool and out of the crowns.
Standing water and transpiration raise humidity, a key factor in wildland
fires. Larger and more diverse insect communities feeding larger and more
diverse animal populations, especially song birds. These ponds make good
nurseries for coho and steelhead. Lowered water tables also alter or slow
the succession of plants in a recovering landscape. A natural progression
worked out over centuries is denied one of its most valuable resources- year
round ground water.
 We are being asked for our experience restoring these devastated places but
really we need to hold more water in the watersheds to make it the kind of
success it could be. Trees, duff, dug springs on the hillsides and pool
digging in the creek are our main water retention tools so far.
 We appreciate your comments, suggestions and ideas. Thanks.

Richard McGuiness
Middle Mattole Consevancy
Mattole Restoration Council
Mattole Salmon Group

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