In May, I did my first riparian planting as a watershed coordinator.
Prior to working in the Captina Creek watershed, I worked as a watershed coordinator in the Grand Lake St. Marys and Wabash Watershed.
The stance on riparian areas is different in the flat parts of Ohio.
East and west
So much so, that when I began working in the rolling Captina watershed, someone asked me what I thought after seeing my first tree. I laughed and replied that things certainly are different here.
Of course, we have trees on the west side of Ohio, not nearly as many in the eastern and southern parts, but the land serves a different purpose.
Flat land allows for expansive fields, while the hilly land allows for untouchable ravines and “hollers.”
But I am not here to talk about geography. Rather, I want to talk about the differences I have experienced in trying to implement a riparian project on the west and east sides of the state of Ohio.
First, some basics. A riparian area is an area of land adjacent to a river or a creek.
Riparian areas are important for a variety of reasons: to act as a buffer zone between the water and the land use, provide terrestrial habitat, enhance aquatic habitat, and reduce soil erosion and undercutting of banks.
As a landowner, when a soil and water conservation district contacts you, whether by phone, in person, or by mail, these are probably some of the thoughts you have.
What do they want now? I never got any letter. I don’t want government money. My creek bank is fine, but what about this other non-related issue?
What you may not realize is the work that goes into picking your property as an ideal site for, in this case, a riparian enhancement project.
I spent hours looking at current and historical imagery on Google Earth and referencing various sections in the Captina Creek Watershed Action plan for areas identified when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency did a comprehensive study on the watershed for stream attainment statuses.
I spent time working with GIS data to determine low percentages of canopy cover and areas of high-risk habitat impact and researching tree species ideal for certain riparian uses.
On the western side of the state, sites were looked at based on erosion potential. Because of the large expanses of land, fields are cultivated up to the edge of the stream bank (the last point when equipment can safely be maneuvered).
There are varying reasons why this happens: the shade of the riparian areas decreases crop yield, I have viable ground, I’m going to use it, and it’s been this way forever.
On the eastern side of the state, to which I am still adapting, sites were evaluated on lack of tree cover.
Because of the topography of the land here, riparian areas are utilized as pasture ground (or a field if the parcel is big enough) or kept clear in lower parts of yards.
The reasons are about the same here: I have ground, I’m going to use it, and the ground is more productive in the bottom lands.
It is difficult to convince a farmer to take land out of production in any part of the state — which I get.
After all those hours, what did I learn from my first project? I worked closely with the Captina Conservancy and we were very grateful to receive a grant for this project.
Our intention was to do a meaningful restoration of riparian areas, but our funds could only get us so far.
After doing some site visits and windshield tours of other locations, we realized that several sites needed work beyond the capabilities of our funds.
We’re talking earth work to counter some extensive erosion. It wasn’t worth anyone’s time and money to try to establish vegetation in some of those locations only to have it washed out in the next heavy rain, which there has been no lack of this year.
Reaching out to land owners proved difficult as well. We attempted to involve landowners who had not been targeted in prior projects, and we also placed articles in the local papers to help call out to anyone we might have overlooked.
A letter was sent to identified landowners with a detailed project plan along with a map of the ideal riparian focus areas.
With no response and the timeline constraints of the grant funds, we resorted to enhancing known riparian areas that were getting thin.
This was a first-time project for all involved partners and has provided a valuable learning experience for future riparian-focused projects, especially plantings.
So, when you get those letters from your Soil and Water Conservation District or Land Conservancy, don’t disregard them.
Your land is important to us and was identified for a purpose. You might not know it, but you might be sitting on top of an ecological gold mine.
Or we might have been trying to protect you from paying for land that is slipping away with every rain.