Success of White Salmon River restoration a blueprint for other Northwest dams

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Core samples taken in 2013 showed that the coarse sediment, which was underwater for 100 years, had little organic matter and was full of sulfur, she said. They had to begin from a stinky baseline when helping the ecosystem improve.

“The plants had every type of hurdle to jump,” Burkhardt said. “They overcame harsh winds, direct sun, drought and frost heaves — it’s a testament to how resilient the plants are.”

Volunteers and Yakama Nation staff planted 7,000 plants in 2.8 acres on Northwestern Park near the head of the reservoir. PacifiCorp planted about 14,000 in about 60 acres.

The Yakama Nation selected 34 varieties of plants with cultural value to the tribe, meaning they could be harvested for medicine, food and ceremonies, Burkhardt said. They anticipated high plant mortality because of the harsh landscape and soil composition, so they planted densely to support biodiversity and jumpstart the area’s growth.

The ecosystem rebounded quicker than scientific modeling projected it would. Although there were trees and shrubs that had a zero percent survival rate, many of the species matured and are spreading their seed. Better yet, the lush landscape has been joined by other plants, fungi and pollinators. This presents hope for the environment’s future, as more restoration projects in the basin are underway.

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