Ultra-low Impact Streamside Windfall Restoration
Silt Out of Streams!
Encourage Ecological Diversity!
The Windfall Research Team was in a celebratory mood today. Not only was today their 100th project site, the software updates to the solar panels fully charged their batteries faster than ever before and the newest wildlife monitoring network, built by the most successful online crowdsourced team of online wildlife researchers, has attracted a large audience for the end of the day when the new system goes online.
After two years of hard work, lots of learning and refining of methods, they’ve reached the triple digit milestone of establishing groundbreaking iterative ecological research in the watersheds of the PNW.
Like a wound gushing silt and topsoil into the water with critical spawning habitat only 100 yards downstream, this recent windfall site was a high risk erosion and landslide hazard that was mostly above the cutslope of the the stream’s bank, but the portion at the edge of the cutslope had a half-dozen upturned rootballs exposing fine silt substrate that could destroy the downstream redds during major rain events.
The stream was surrounded by an overstocked stand of 28 year old fir and rare diversity of native hardwood trees, but on the windfall side of the stream, the recent storm was both a blessing and a curse. The windfall restoration team’s job was to maximize the former and eliminate the latter.
Slowly and carefully so as not to cause damage to plants and topsoil two electric dirt bikes head off trail with their one wheeled trailers. Each trailer carries about 300 pounds, with one trailer carrying a 5hp electric motor and 4″ woodchipper capable of rapidly producing chips out of small branches and other windfall debris. The other trailer is carrying hand tools and a 250 pound battery pack to power the chipper.
The advance team that arrived earlier in the morning had already finished their flora and fauna survey of the windfall site and were in the process of uploading all the data so participants from all over the world could comment/argue about species associations and how to improve overall resiliency and fecundity. Another group was starting to drag branches to the chipping site, as well as use some of those branches to create discreet fencing systems for rare plants and tree seedlings to protect them from deer and rodents long enough for them to get fully established.
The climb team also already had their ropes up and were starting to use their handsaws to prune branches as high up as possible to expand the perimeter of the windfall area to not only maximize the amount of sunlight that can enter into the recovery site, but also to provide essential biomass for making woodchips for erosion control.
As the canopy pruning work finishes, the flora protection fencing is all in place, the main crew finishes dragging and piling the branches at the chipping sites next to the areas of exposed and uplifted soils where there’s the fallen tree’s rootballs are above the stream’s headwall.
The electric motor fires up and the sound of woodchipping all debris smaller than 4″ begins. Quickly bare unstable soil becomes deep and well mulched over, with larger branches and fallen logs that we used electric winches to move into place.
Once the heavy work of dragging branch prunings and moving around woodchips starts to wind down the monitoring gear goes through final testing and 10 yards of beneficial fungus inoculated woodchips has reached most bare soil areas on the most vulnerable parts of the project site. Also special care was given to ensure mulching for younger trees and plant species in order to maximize their fertility.
Finally, the last debris is chipped and the electric motor is shut off… The quiet of the forest returns as the forking crews lightly loosens all the compacted soils created by all the day’s work.
Once the equipment and crew is safely back on the main logging road, the sensor network switches on and windfall site #100 is officially online and fully operational. High fives and selfies all around, as we start to laugh at our crazy online network of forest biodiversity experts starting to post comments and reviews of how the new design of the monitoring equipment is good or bad as related to keeping data costs down.
And of course, all those online foresters with an axe to grind about various pruning decisions were out in large numbers, but only online. No trees were cut down today!
This patch of forest and 99 other patches of forest like it are well established research reserves and they’re going to be way more full of life because of our efforts. It took so much hard work to get to this point in this dream come true and all of us are so grateful to finally have a meaningful career in helping rather than hurting nature.
The more ambitious among us were already thinking about how long it will take us to get to Windfall site #999