Americorps volunteer Justin LeMay of Roy peeks at a passing salmon as he works with his Washington Conservation Corps crew in preparation of Saturday’s tree-planting event along Salmon Creek in Sumner on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Tony Overman toverman@theolympian.com
Americorps volunteer Justin LeMay of Roy peeks at a passing salmon as he works with his Washington Conservation Corps crew in preparation of Saturday’s tree-planting event along Salmon Creek in Sumner on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Tony Overman toverman@theolympian.com

Puyallup: Sumner

Restoration project fights back against invasive plant along Salmon Creek

By Allison Needles

aneedles@puyallupherald.com

October 16, 2017 12:36 PM

UPDATED October 20, 2017 12:51 PM

An invasive plant is threatening salmon habitat and native plant species along Salmon Creek in Sumner.

The culprit is reed canary grass.

“It’s a non native grass that can be detrimental to wetlands and stream banks,” said Jayme Gordon, Pierce Conservation District’s (PCD) program director for habitat improvement and environmental education.

It’s a non native grass that can be detrimental to wetlands and stream banks.

Jayme Gordon, Pierce Conservation District program director for habitat improvement and environmental education

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Suspected of being planted long ago for grazing and farming use, the plant has strong roots that thrive in moisture and sunlight.

It made its home very easily near Salmon Creek, a tributary of White River that runs from the REI Distribution Center past state Route 410, and at similar sites nearby. The plant threatens to congest the river, making trouble for the salmon that swim through it.

The plant also prevents native plant species from growing.

So a group of volunteers brought those native plants back.

On Saturday, PCD, a Washington Conservation Corps crew and a group of volunteers planted 1,100 native plants and trees along Salmon Creek, half a mile from White River.

Last week, Sumner Public Works crews helped clear the area of weed canary grass in order to prepare the land for the planting. It took several days.

“It’s an area that needs (restoration),” said Robert Wright, source control specialist for the city of Sumner.

It’s an area that needs (restoration).

Robert Wright, source control specialist for the city of Sumner

Wright helped the group prepare the site, setting up flags for specific native plants. The group planted two-dozen different native plant species. Diversification helps an environment to thrive, Gordon said — something the reed canary grass was preventing.

One of those trees belongs to a native willow species. The willow is fast-growing and provides necessary shade. Shade keeps water cool — a necessity for salmon habitat.

There were already trees near Salmon Creek, but they were too far apart to provide an adequate amount of shade. To prevent reed canary growth, there needs to be a dense canopy overhead that prevents sunlight from penetrating through.

“When there’s no shade, you get lots of aquatic weed growth in the stream,” Gordon said.

That aquatic weed growth can clog streams, too, lifting sediment that could be harmful to salmon. Elodea, which has been a problem for Puyallup and its residents, is considered an aquatic weed that feeds on sunlight and needs to be removed from Clarks Creek every year. The city of Puyallup planted trees in attempt to stave off the growth of the plant.

The Pierce Conservation District restoration project planted 1,100 trees and shrubs to provide shade for local wildlife and to prevent invasive plants from growing.

PCD has carried out restoration projects in local areas in the past, removing invasive plants like blackberry bushes and English ivy.

About one or two major restoration projects occur in Sumner every year, Wright said. The last one was in January, where crews planted 100 trees and 1,300 shrubs along the Puyallup River to improve and maintain Sumner’s urban forests.

Crews will return to Salmon Creek in March of 2018, where restoration for the other side of the creek is planned. Crews will continue to monitor the site.

“We’re going to have to keep coming back and cutting (the grass) down and keeping on top of it,” Wright said.

Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison