All for salmon: MLK Day project restores habitat

John Richardson waged war Monday afternoon on stubborn Himalayan blackberry bushes threatening to take over the west bank of the Green River in southeast Auburn’s Fenster Nature Park.

Richardson hadn’t gone mano-a-vegetation with a sharp foe like this in a long while, he said, loppers-a-flash in his gloved hands, and he was finding it warm work.

“I will say it’s quite the task,” Richardson said. “You gotta wear the right gear, and know you’re going to get pricked a few times. It’s a committed effort.”

Richardson was one of many who committed some of their free hours on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to this habitat restoration project hosted by Mid-Sound Fisheries Group to help the many salmon passing serenely by in the waters of the Green River.

“Turnout was good. We had about 50 some plus people,” said Erik Rigaux, who coordinated the project for the MSFG. “No gripes, everyone was happy to be here, smiles on faces, we got the sunshine today, so everyone’s feeling good. They know salmon are such an important part of Pacific Northwest culture, so they wanted to come out and help their community on this MLK Day.”

Water temperatures too warm for salmon have been identified as a major issue in the Green River, especially as exacerbated by climate change, and healthy forests along the Green River provide critical shade to cool the water, Rigaux said.

Volunteers planted 135 under-story shrubs, then spread mulch to keep the new plantings warm through the winter and flourishing into spring. They then turned to eradicating those blackberry bushes, which compete for resources with other, more salmon-friendly vegetation, including trees and shrubs.

Eradicating? So, all gone?

“We wish,” laughed Richardson, regional director of the American Conservation Coalition of the 13 Western States, who had come up from his home in Bellevue to help out. “It’s a difficult job.”

By labor’s end, workers had cleared about 2,000 square feet of the pesky vegetation.

Kayla Bakhshian, 28, who is ordinarily employed in hospitality design, came up from Ballard with a group of friends to do her bit, which by day’s ended focused on spreading mulch to prevent the return of blackberries that had been removed from the park last summer.

“I just love animals and want to help the salmon as much as I can. Anything to help the Earth and the salmon sounds like something I’d want to do,” said Bakhshian.

Retired U.S. Army veteran Raymond Tsumpti and his daughter, Tatum, 17, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, said they had been looking for volunteer opportunities, in part because she needed community service hours to fulfill the graduation requirements of her high school in Lakewood.

“Our people lived off the salmon for centuries, and since salmon was important to our tribe and to us personally and for the whole region itself, and since the Mid-Sound Fisheries Group had opportunities to come out and plant trees to enhance the salmon habitat and reduce the invasive plant species, we decided to come out and help,” said Tsumpti, a seasoned veteran of local habitat restoration projects.

Richardson said the American Conservation Coalition tries to find projects to give every individual who has a chance to give back to his or her community and make a difference, whether that involves planting trees to help with erosion, salmon habitat or even natural carbon capture.

“It’s a big thing that we can all feel we’re making a difference in the world, versus things that are out of our control that we just don’t have any say in,” said Richardson.