Healthy streams, healthy kids

Fifth-grader Amara Sinnhuber leaned a pot holding a sapling over on its side on the ground, then pushed her knee against the pot to loosen the tight roots inside.

It was a trick she learned from Alicia Fitzgerald, a program associate with Ashland-based Lomakatsi Restoration Project, a nonprofit group devoted to ecological restoration.

Fitzgerald and other adults were on hand to teach dozens of Willow Wind Community Learning Center students how to plant native trees and shrubs along Bear Creek in Ashland on Thursday.

The effort was part of a week of projects in Ashland and Medford as Lomakatsi celebrated its sixth annual Streamside Forest Recovery Week.

Amara and her friend Bhanavi Devi-Dasi, a sixth-grader at Willow Wind, used teamwork to get their big leaf maple sapling out of its pot.

One girl pushed at the roots through drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, while the other pulled the tree from its container.

Once it was out, they settled the tree in a hole, covered it in soil, placed torn pieces of cardboard on the ground around its trunk, then topped the cardboard with mulch to suppress weeds and invasive blackberries.

To make the tree-planting easier for the students, Lomakatsi crews previously had cut down blackberries along the creek and dug holes in the moist soil.

"This was 12-foot-tall blackberries two days ago. We're chipping away — one piece at a time," Lomakatsi Education Director Niki Del Pizzo told the students.

Bhanavi said she learned about different species of trees and shrubs during the planting effort — as well as the importance of clearing out blackberries, which can overpopulate and hamper tree growth.

She said she also had helped plant trees a year ago in the riparian area behind Willow Wind that is bordered by Bear Creek and Paradise Creek.

"It feels cool. When I am grown up, I can come back here with my kids and I can be like, 'I planted this when I was just about your age,' " Bhanavi said.

Lomakatsi workers, students and other community members have been committed to restoring the riparian area since 1997. Trees that were first planted there are now 50 feet tall.

Cottonwoods, willows, ponderosa pines and other species are among the trees and shrubs that now help prevent erosion, provide wildlife habitat and cool the streams to benefit salmon.

Areas that have yet to be restored are choked with blackberry brambles and prickly teasel plants.

Fifth-grader Ethan Gotfrid and sixth-grader Jayden Grunde worked together to plant an incense cedar, with one boy holding the sapling up while the other pushed soil around its roots.

"Making sure it doesn't break and holding it upright so it's straight are important," Gotfrid said.

In addition to planting trees and shrubs on Thursday, students were able to hunt for aquatic macroinvertebrates — tiny creatures, including insects, that are indicators of stream health.

Jennifer Jones, a wildlife biologist and schoolyard habitat coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Connecting People with Nature program, said hands-on, outdoor projects help kids forge links with nature.

That has wide-ranging benefits, from giving them a sense of responsibility for stewarding natural resources, to reducing childhood rates of obesity, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Type 2 diabetes, Jones said.

The tree planting and macroinvertebrate sampling events were funded by an $8,000 Schoolyard Habitat Program from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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