If you are a mountain biker, you are likely familiar with the great trails on the K2 Ranch land along Westside Road north of Rushmere. What you might not know is that the trail system is just a small publicly accessible* section of an even larger block of private land being maintained and restored for the benefit of fish and wildlife. This month’s “watershed hero” story is about K2 Ranch owners Bob and Barb Shaunessy and their extensive watershed restoration work.
Restoring Streams, Protecting Fish
Fish in the Lake Windermere watershed need cool water to live in, clean gravel to spawn in, and plenty of streamside vegetation to provide them with food. The area immediately around a stream, known as its riparian area, is particularly important in maintaining the environment that fish need.
When the Shaunessy’s bought the land in 2003, the 10,000 acre parcel was degraded due to recent poor logging practices, which compromised the stream habitat. The loggers had driven trucks directly through the streams, removed trees and smaller plants in the streams’ riparian areas, and failed to protect the soil during upstream logging. These activities caused the creeks to fill up with sediment, covering important fish spawning gravel.
Bob Shaunessy, and avid fisherman, could not let the streams remain in that condition.
With the help of a fisheries biologist, the Shaunessy’s came up with a plan to bring Brady Creek, the major stream system on this land, back to its former state. The goal was to have this stream a become good home for westslope cutthroat trout once again. To reach that goal, they planted trees along the stream margins and brought in fresh, clean gravel to cover the previously silted beds. They also added 75 culverts and deactivated many old logging skid trails to reduce erosion into small creeks. Since 9,500 acres of this ranch are still actively used as a cattle ranch, to prevent further damage, they constructed fences around 1,000 acres of land in the Brady Creek watershed so that cattle wouldn’t trample the stream or its riparian area.
The fish are the best ones to attest to the success of these efforts. The fish have returned, and are thriving.
Restoring Land, Protecting Water
Soil and vegetation play a very important role in maintaining water quality and regulating flows. Soil stores and releases water like a sponge, and filters out contaminants on the way. Vegetation keeps that soil in place, and also helps filter water. Poor logging practices remove soil and vegetation’s ability to perform these functions.
The Shaunessy’s have been doing work on the rest of their land to protect the soil and vegetation. They removed slash left from the logging, which had been preventing new trees from growing back. They also spread native grass seed to stabilize the soil. With the soil in better condition from these two actions, natural re-seeding from the trees remaining on the property have allowed young trees to start regenerating the land back into a forest.
When asked why they undertook the work they did, Bob Shaunessy replied: “as the oldest working cattle ranch in the Columbia Valley, dating to 1898, the K2 Ranch deserved to be restored to her former glory.”
This incredible work on the K2 Ranch has now restored 12,000 acres of the watershed to a better condition.
While not all of us have so much land to care for, the Shaunessy’s provide good examples of protecting and restoring soil, vegetation and fish habitat that can be applied anywhere. Even small efforts such as planting a tree can help make our watershed a better place.
* The land in the Saltar Creek area and between Westside Road and the lake are being graciously offered for non-motorized recreation, including biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Motor vehciles are not welcome, and trespassers are not permited on the rest of the ranch.
Author’s note: If you or someone you know has a watershed hero story you’d like to share, please contact me: (250) 341-6898 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full story in the Columbia Valley Pioneer!