Phoenix students work with Lomakatsi along Bear Creek near Ashland Pond
High school students recently helped Ashland-based nonprofit Lomakatsi Restoration Project restore areas of Bear Creek near Ashland Pond that were burned by the 2020 Almeda Fire.
Working in partnership with United Way of Jackson County on March 19, a dozen youth from Phoenix High School and Armadillo Technical Institute braved a light rain to plant native trees and shrubs along the Bear Creek Greenway.
The event was made possible by a private donation. The students’ efforts support the broader Ashland Creek Ponds Ecocultural RestorationProject, led by Lomakatsi in partnership with Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission, The Freshwater Trust, the Inter-Tribal Ecosystem Restoration Partnership, tribal community members and others.
In the morning, students toured the work site and learned about streamside ecology and ecocultural restoration with Lomakatsi tribal staff and riparian restoration experts. Lomakatsi Tribal Partnerships Director Belinda Brown talked about the importance of riparian areas as a source of cultural beneficial resources, including first foods and fibers used in basketry, the role of fire in shaping and maintaining the landscape, and the importance of ecological stewardship.
“It’s amazing to see youth out on the ground and just really doing something positive for the community,” said Brown. “Seeing youth out doing healthy work is always a win-win situation for families, communities, and for the earth.”
Lomakatsi Riparian Restoration Manager Niki Del Pizzo and Restoration Technician Sequoia Ahimsa led a discussion about streamside ecology, the impacts of the Almeda Fire on the work site, and how to bring a firewise lens to riparian restoration.
Over the next few hours, the students planted 250 native trees and shrubs at two sites on either side of the Greenway path. Supporting the goals of the broader Ashland Pond post-fire restoration effort, the plantings along the confluence of Ashland Creek and Bear Creek are designed to help re-establish healthy streamside vegetation essential for salmon, wildlife and water quality. They are replacing trees lost in the Almeda Fire, some of which Lomakatsi and community members planted over the past 16 years of working at the site.
Once established, the new trees will provide shade, cooling the water temperatures and providing a source of woody debris to support salmon spawning pools. The native shrubs will help stabilize the streambank and provide food and cover for fish, birds, and other wildlife.
“It’s really exciting to see young people outside, even in rainy weather, with their hands on the land, hands in the dirt — taking care of their land, taking care of the ecosystem, supporting their community,” said Lomakatsi Executive Director Marko Bey.
On the north side of the path, students planted milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants at the site of a pollinator “waystation” installed in 2018 by Lomakatsi in collaboration with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and other partners. Such waystations are located along monarch butterfly migration paths to provide them with a source of food during their journey, with added benefits for local wildlife. Robert Coffan, Chair of Western Monarch Advocates, spoke with students about pollinator ecology and restoration projects to restore monarch habitat.
The event stemmed from a long-standing relationship between Armadillo Technical Institute and United Way of Jackson County, who have been supporting local students and providing career coaching. A focus of the event was to give the students an opportunity to make a difference stewarding the local ecosystem while they learned about natural resource career paths.
During the workday, Sen. Jeff Golden, who represents Ashland and District 3 in the state legislature, stopped by to offer words of encouragement to students. “What we’re doing here is starting to build the workforce that we need for the 2020s, 2030s and 2040s” said Golden, “if Oregon is to be a safe, healthy forest and fish state again.”
In addition to the work done March 19 with the high students, over the past two months Lomakatsi has planted 5,000 native trees and shrubs near Ashland Ponds in partnership with The Freshwater Trust, to help establish a healthy streamside forest. In the fall, Lomakatsi will continue work on the broader Ashland Pond project with restoration and tribal partners, restoring habitat and making the area more resilient to wildfire while incorporating ecocultural plantings that have cultural and beneficial uses to tribal communities.