Rancher to Rancher Tour
The TF Ranch, Firth, Idaho
The TF Ranch in southeast Idaho picked the last warm and honey laden day in October to host a rancher-to -rancher work event for Country Natural Beef. Today’s task would be preparing and planting willows along a stretch of the Blackfoot River, which after tumbling down a rugged lava canyon, spreads on to the larger Snake River plain and winds through the ranch.
Review of Earlier Project
Our first stop was to view an earlier project where mature Russian olive trees, invasive in this environment, were pulled up by a tractor and laid trunks-up on an eroding bend of the river. Sediment has been deposited around the limbs and riparian grasses are rooting here.
Chris Hoag, Wetland Plant Ecologist, with NRCS, USDA and Justin Krajewski, Idaho’s Interagency Team Leader of Stream Condition Assessment of Idaho’s Soil Conservation Commission were our teachers for the day. We learned how to identify the selected cuttings of coyote willows, an easy species to propagate. Autumn is the best time to plant cuttings, after the leaves have fallen off ensuring that the plant’s energy has been stored for next year. It also allows us to find the lowest water table so that our plants get water all year. Our target planting area was the over-bank zone, which will flood every 2-5 years. Willow works especially well for this area as their flexible stems bend instead of break when water flows over them.
Our group learned four planting strategies. First we prepared vertical bundles; live branches bunched three at a time and tied with biodegradable baling twine. The bundles triple the number of buds and safeguard against rodents and beavers killing the whole planting. These were laid in vertical trenches, the bottoms submerged at low flow and anchored solidly with a stake. The stems were covered with mud slurry to ensure good soil to stem contact followed by sod. Finally the tops were trimmed to allow stem energy to be routed to the lateral buds for more rapid sprouting.
Our hope is that they will carry forward the ideals of our cooperative, those of a sound land ethic and the willingness to build relationships and share our accumulated knowledge with one another.
The next method was pole planting, whereby live cuttings, 2-5 ft long, with their side branches re- moved, are inserted into the stream bank at a depth sure to reach moisture at low water. A water drill was used to prepare the holes.
Next we stood 4 people in a line to build a fascine. Limbs were laid first one way then the other to fashion a long sausage-like bundle tied with twine every 2 feet. We laid this lengthwise in a trench to provide immediate erosion protection and the opportunity of sprouting all along its length.
The last method was taking a clump of willows out in a root ball with a tractor and loader and transplanting them to the bank. This is the most successful strategy, but care is needed to make sure that the area they are taken from is protected.
As the adults ran shovels, the youngest members of the crew, 16 month old Maura Braatz from Nevada and the TF’s own Fred Reid, age 22 months, got acquainted. Our hope is that they will carry forward the ideals of our co- operative, those of a sound land ethic and the willing- ness to build relationships and share our accumulated knowledge with one another.