4.25.18 | Jean Jensen & Cyrus Philbrick

This Earth Day weekend, a team of Earth Economics volunteers worked with EarthCorps, an organization whose mission aligns closely with our own. EarthCorps organizes teams of community volunteers to restore shorelines, trails, and forests throughout the Puget Sound area.

In Tacoma, we spent the day at the Rhone Poulenc Salt Marsh, located in the Port of Tacoma. The marsh is sandwiched between two large industrial sights, with a parking lot on one side and shipping containers on the other. This land used to belong to the Puyallup tribe and was once a resting place for salmon on their way back upstream to spawn. As the land became more developed and industrial, the salt marsh fell into neglect, filled in by invasive species and sediment. Although the waterway no longer sees any salmon runs, this restoration project serves as a beacon of hope for native fish.

  The Earth Economics team at Rhone Poulenc Salt Marsh in Tacoma: Jordan Wildish, Angela Fletcher, and Jean Jensen (left to right).

The Earth Economics team at Rhone Poulenc Salt Marsh in Tacoma: Jordan Wildish, Angela Fletcher, and Jean Jensen (left to right).

EarthCorps made a previous attempt to replant native species but they didn’t thrive in their new environment. To make the land more habitable for plants and wildlife, EarthCorps has decided to restore the marsh's soil. The goal for the day was to restore 1000 square feet of marshland. We put down a layer of cardboard to kill off the invasive species, then a layer of Tagro followed by a layer of wood chips to add nutrients. One group worked to remove larger invasive species and lay the cardboard, and the rest of the team worked in a relay style, filling up buckets and passing them down the line to be poured on top of the cardboard.

The salt marsh is an ongoing restoration project that will be stewarded by the 350 Tacoma group. In August, the plot will be dedicated to the Puyallup tribe and plaques will be placed around to note the native species, in their common, scientific, and tribal names.

Contributing to the initial phases of a restoration project was very rewarding because we got to see a surprising amount of change occur in only a few hours. Even more rewarding will be a few months from now, when we return to a place that has been restored back to a healthier and more natural state.

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In Seattle, we spent the day in Tukwila at North Winds Weir, a site named for a chain of rocks in the river that acts as a natural weir. Beside cormorants, kingfishers, and great blue heron, our site leader, Pam Weeks, introduced us to a place that has been special to tribes, birds, and fish for thousands of years.

Pam described how every day the weir works as part of a dynamic estuary. At high tide, salt water reaches up the Green-Duwamish river and swells tidal inlets. The inlets provide protection and food for five different species of young salmonids that make the journey from the freshwater of the river to the saltwater of the Sound. At low tide, the inlets turn to mudflats and the river runs faster and louder into the Sound.

  Corrine Armistead and Cyrus Philbrick holding poison-hemlock removed from North Winds Weir .

Corrine Armistead and Cyrus Philbrick holding poison-hemlock removed from North Winds Weir.

Working alongside an outgoing tide, we cleared space for native conifers and madrona. We dug up blackberry and poison-hemlock, two species that if unmanaged will take over the river bank and prevent larger trees from taking root. We also trimmed back the dominant cottonwoods to give other trees a chance.

In the afternoon, we took water samples from the river as part of a regional survey of microplastic levels in the river. The project, organized by the University of Washington-Tacoma’s Center for Urban Waters and the Duwamish Alive Coalition, aims to map microplastic levels taken by hundreds of volunteers and at thousands of sample sites. 

  Corrine Armistead takes a water sample as part of a regional microplastics survey.

Corrine Armistead takes a water sample as part of a regional microplastics survey.

Though our accomplishments for the day felt small – a few water samples taken and a few trees made happier – we felt plugged into the restoration and citizen science efforts happening up and down the river. Over the weekend, nearly one thousand volunteers did similar work all along the Duwamish, creating healthier habitats and communities, and adding to the value of a river that runs through the heart of the city.