Jason Buckingham and a few dozen more volunteers were on hand last month planting new native trees and shrubs on a Key Peninsula farm during a event Pierce Conservation District event. Photo by Ed Johnson, KP News

About 30 volunteers, organized by Pierce Conservation District, gathered recently at a Longbranch farm to plant more than 450 native trees and shrubs alongside an agricultural ditch draining into Filucy Bay.

The goal of the project was to protect soil and water quality, as well as provide a connection between two large parcels of forested land. Over time this will expand habitat for native species and provide a shaded corridor by which amphibians and small mammals can access the bay.

Farmers David and Susan Scott purchased the 20 acre farm behind the Longbranch fire station a little more than a year ago. They began grazing cattle and other livestock on the field, but were soon contacted by the health department, whose testing revealed high levels of bacteria in surface water draining from the property.

That’s when the Scotts turned to Pierce Conservation District for help.

The non-regulatory district promotes the conservation of renewable natural resources in Pierce County. They educate farm owners about best practices in mud, manure and pasture management, and work with farmers to make ecologically sound renovations to existing farms. Susan Scott has been happy to work with the organization. “It is a wonderful opportunity to help small farmers who may not financially be able to do it themselves,” said Erin Ewald, a small farm planner with the Pierce Conservation District.

The Scotts’ farm drains into Filucy Bay, a productive shellfish harvesting location. Maintaining the bay’s water quality is, therefore, important not just for ecological reasons. There is an economic aspect to it, and it is tied to human health as well.

A Pierce Conservation District representative visited the Scotts’ land, took a soil sample, and worked with the Scotts to understand what their short and long term goals included. Using this information, they put forth their suggestions for creating a more sustainable farm.

Ewald says their goal is not to tell farmers what to do with their land, but to help farmers to make informed decisions. The Scotts were amenable to making the suggested changes. “They have taken the information and adapted it to their own property,” Ewald said.

The Scotts temporarily reduced the size of their herd until they could improve their other pastures, and put in the suggested fencing to protect the ditch. They also helped out with the tree planting too.

The crowd of volunteers was made up of eager volunteers ranging from Boy Scouts seeking community service projects, to members of Harbor WildWatch. Also present were local citizens concerned about water quality and helping out neighboring farms. “It was a wonderful turnout of volunteers,” Susan Scott said.

Provided with shovels and a brief lesson on how to successfully transplant the saplings from pots into the ground, the volunteers spread out on either side of the ditch and got to work.

Jerry Kersting, another Key Peninsula cattle farmer, was among those who turned out for the tree planting. He had been consulting with the Pierce Conservation District about his own farm, and was eager to get involved with what he sees as a worthwhile organization.

“I was not aware that this help was available. It’s fun to join in with others in the community,” he said.

The work was finished by afternoon. “We did get all the plants in the ground, tubed and mulched. It was a great event,” Ewald said.

For information about upcoming volunteer opportunities visit piercecountycd.org. Ewald can be reached at erine@piercecountycd.org.

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