Rural Farmland and Urban Backyards Connected by May Creek, KCD, and Orca Recovery

In 2019, we came together across Washington and the Pacific Coast to restore our home in celebration of Orca Recovery Day. We dug out Himalayan blackberry and replaced them with Douglas fir and Western redcedar trees that will live for hundreds of years while providing shade to keep our waterways cool. This year, Orca Recovery Day celebrations look a little different. We weren’t ready to gather with our community in person, but we’re each finding ways to contribute to a healthy environment for each other, for our crucial salmon population, and for our Puget Sound resident orcas.

person planting native plants
May Creek flows through rural farmland in May Valley before passing through urban backyards on its way to Lake Washington. Planting buffers upstream helps keep waters cool and hospitable for Chinook salmon.

KCD and other conservation districts throughout the state are still empowering residents to steward their land. With the help of Washington Conservation Corps crews, KCD is working along May Creek to restore private streamsides on rural farmland and in urban backyards. In rural May Valley, crews removed invasive species along a stretch of May Creek and replaced them with over 2,000 native plants. Meanwhile, KCD’s urban restoration crew got to work in the lower May Creek watershed converting a suburban lawn into a streamside buffer vegetated with a diverse array of native plants to help sustain native wildlife and pollinators.

There are many benefits of streamside habitat stewardship. Unvegetated farmland and suburban lawns lack structure for stormwater infiltration, causing excess nutrients from upstream farms and pollutants from urban areas downstream to drain directly into May Creek. This runoff is problematic because May Creek provides crucial spawning and rearing ground for the king of the Sound, the mighty Chinook salmon – which happens to be the meal of choice of our resident orcas. Luckily, trees and shrubs native to the Pacific Northwest have evolved to capture stormwater by slowing down water flow through the canopy and drinking it up in the ground before it can carry runoff into the stream. Better water quality means more abundant Chinook salmon runs, and in turn, well-fed orcas.

native plant in mulch
As they mature, native plants develop strong roots that promote bank stability, reducing erosion and sediment-sloughing into waterways.

As they mature, native plants develop strong root structures below ground and grow dense canopy above ground. Solid root growth promotes bank stability, reducing erosion and sediment sloughing into waterways. This protects your property as well as wildlife on land and in water. Above ground, when trees and shrubs grow tall enough to shade streams, they maintain cool water temperatures which keeps water oxygenated. High oxygen content in water is vital for – you guessed it: salmon! Streamside restoration protects your property while bringing natural ecological systems into balance.

Though we wish we could have come together to get our hands dirty for Orca Recovery Day, we’re happy to continue to work with King County residents – farmers and urbanites alike – to help revitalize soil, beautify backyards and contribute to the overall health of the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Written by Liz Fredrickson

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