Last week a high school group from Gillette, Wyoming participated in a stewardship project through the Conservation Research Center (CRC) on the Jackson campus. One of the current projects of the CRC focusses on restoration of the riparian community.
The riparian community is composed of all of the plants and animals found near bodies of water. Nearly all of the animals in Wyoming rely on the riparian environment, and yet the riparian community only represents 2% of all plant communities in Wyoming.
One plant of particular importance in the riparian community is the willow. Willows line the banks of rivers and serve many ecosystem functions, including preventing erosion of stream banks, filtering water, providing a sheltered animal corridor, providing habitat to many songbirds, and providing a food source to herbivores. Due to the importance of willows in riparian habitat, the CRC has created a stewardship project in order to restore willows to stream banks in Jackson Hole.
The techniques developed by the CRC to restore willow habitat rely on a strong knowledge of the life history of the willow. Willows, like many plants, have the ability to reproduce asexually. In the spring, flood waters break branches from living willows, and some of these branches become lodged in the mud of the river bank. If there are suitable conditions, the branch will sprout roots and grow into a mature willow. The CRC uses this knowledge by harvesting branches from living willows and planting the poles in the spring. No seeds, no watering, just cutting and planting the pole in the mud.
Hundreds of students have participated in this stewardship project. Each student learns about the life history and importance of the willows before going into the field and either harvesting or planting poles, depending on the season.
Health is the capacity of land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity