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Since mid-June, the seven-person crew has cut back 3-foot-high grass and weeds around trees planted along Tarboo Creek and its wetlands and, father back from the creek, mowed between rows of trees.
"We need to keep the grass and blackberries down for at least four years, or the newly planted trees get choked out," said Peter Bahls, director of the nonprofit organization.
The Northwest Watershed Institute's base of operations for restoration work is the 316-acre Tarboo Wildlife Preserve in the lower Tarboo Valley, which the institute owns and manages.
The land is protected under a conservation easement held by the Jefferson Land Trust.
This marks the eighth year of the institute's watershed-wide habitat restoration effort, during which it has hired dozens of people from Quilcene, Chimacum and Port Townsend.
During the winter season, the institute hires crews of up to 14 people to plant trees and prepare ground and planting supplies for an annual plant-a-thon, which this year was conducted on Jan. 20 and Feb. 6.
The all-volunteer event, now entering its seventh year, involves about 150 parents and children from four local schools planting trees to raise money for the schools by selling an honorary tree card for each tree planted.
Since 2003, field crews and volunteers have planted more than 50,000 trees along Tarboo Creek and wetlands from the headwaters to Dabob Bay, Bahls said.
The restoration effort is aimed at bringing back habitat for salmon and rare wildlife species.
The Tarboo Valley was cleared of forests beginning in the late 1800s.
The wetlands were drained by ditches, and much of Tarboo Creek was straightened into channels to make pasture land for cattle, Bahls said.
"We have a unique opportunity along Tarboo Creek to help bring back some of the diverse and productive stream, wetland and floodplain habitats that were common in the Puget Sound lowland valleys prior to agriculture and development," he said.
"Tarboo Creek is also the main freshwater source to Dabob Bay, and this conservation work helps ensure clean water for the estuary and shellfish farmers downstream," he added.
Restoring two miles of streams and 120 acres of wetlands on the preserve has been one of the institute's largest projects, but field crews and heavy equipment contractors also have worked on other private properties, including five properties also protected by conservation easement, Bahls said.
Bahls said that his crews are funded largely through state and federal contracts for habitat restoration, including the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, administered by the Jefferson County Conservation District, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service's Wetland Reserve Program, as well as competitive grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Aquatic Land Enhancement Account.
With summer work wrapping up, the institute will keep a smaller crew working, thanks to a recent grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Community Salmon Fund.
The $41,480 project will remove invasive English ivy and Japanese knotweed that are choking out native vegetation and trees at a state Department of Fish and Wildlife 160-acre preserve at the mouth of Tarboo Creek and then plant and help re-establish native trees and shrubs on the site.