By Associated Press • 

Ashland students getting hands-on ecology lesson

Of the Mail Tribune 

ASHLAND — The last time Logan Linker and his fellow Ashland High School students got their hands on the 2-foot-tall incense cedar trees growing in the ScienceWorks’ shade-house nursery, they were little starter plants barely one-third their current height.

“Things grow all the time,” says Linker, 17, as he plops a milk crate full of cedars and similar-sized Ponderosa pines into a pickup bed.

Starting next week, these trees will be growing along the banks of Bear Creek, where they may create shade, cooling and cleansing the creek for future generations of wild chinook salmon.

“Doing this is a way I can help the environment, do something for salmon,” Linker says.

Linker and hundreds of other Rogue Valley students will be doing much of the same over the next seven days as the Ashland-based Lomakatsi Restoration Project embarks on its seventh annual Streamside Forest Recovery Week at five sites throughout the Bear Creek Valley.

Students will take more than 1,000 native plants, ranging from Oregon ash and incense cedar, as well as shrubs such as Oregon grape and Pacific ninebark to fortify streamside riparian zones either torn up over time by development or choked out by non-native Himalayan blackberries.

It's a hands-on lesson in ecology and stewardship for grade- and high-school students who adopt these projects and get to watch them blossom into living sentries warding off stream degradation.

But you can't plant ‘em until you grow ‘em.

And that's just what Lomakatsi workers and their teenage volunteers do painstakingly at four greenhouse sites at ScienceWorks and nearby Wellsprings, as well as at Ashland High and Helman Elementary School.

Volunteers take native starter “plugs” bought from area nurseries and put them in pots for two years of coddling before they are prepped for planting and driven to the restoration sites, where armies of young hands will choose where they will take root.

It's a formula Lomakasti has used, and expanded on, since 1997 at places such as the confluence of Paradise Creek as it wiggles into Bear Creek in southeast Ashland.

“Some of those trees along Paradise Creek are now well over 50 feet tall,” says Alicia Fitzgerald, Lomakatsi's outreach and communications manager.

After Linker and his classmates carry crate after crate of trees and shrubs to a Lomakasti pickup, they get down and dirty with Lomakatsi Education Director Niki Del Pizzo in the nursery's center.

“Now you will be, basically, restoring this nursery,” Del Pizzo tells the group.

Kyle Levin stops taking inventory to take stock in ensuring a Pacific Ninebark plug gets properly potted so its root ball has room to grow for 2016's round of streamside plantings.

“When I think about what's happening to the Earth, it makes me angry,” says Levin, 19, who has volunteered with Lomakatsi for three years. “Being able to do something like this makes me feel better.”

That's a theme among teen volunteers on projects like this, says Jennifer Wahpepah, who teaches the alternative program at Ashland High.

“It's a big self-esteem builder,” Wahpepah says. “They're overwhelmed with a lot of negative things, like global warming. This helps them push through that wall by taking part in small actions to help change things.”

Consider Jesse Applegate a convert.

“They're keeping nature as close as they can to original, not artificial,” says Applegate, a 15-year-old sophomore. "I love what they do, and I'm excited to be part of it."

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