Native Youth Restore Headwaters


Hope Valley, CA | Sierra Native Alliance

Hope Valley, CA | Sierra Native Alliance

On Sunday, Native youth from the Sierra foothills and American Rivers’ staff got into the mud and planted hundreds of willows along an eroding stretch of Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek is the most recent in an 8-month series of teaching and restoration projects we have worked on with the Sierra Native Alliance Youth Conservation Corps. Youth measured stream flow, bank stability and beaver activity in Hope Valley. We also cleared invasive plants from an infested floodplain, and repaired trails on tributaries to the Yuba River.

But my favorite trip so far was to Bear Valley meadow, with Farrell Cunningham (Mountain Maidu). Farrell taught how the meadow was managed as a food forest for millennia and I shared American Rivers/Maidu plans for repairing heavy impacts there that started during the gold rush. Farrell also rallied us to collect grasshoppers, which we roasted and ate on the spot, and he– who is a master of serendipity—told me of his recent garage sale find: The World’s End by Upton Sinclair, with a letter from the author to my wife’s grandfather.

Our trips are always like this: two-way learning, full of synergy and amazing stories. Did you know that traditional sweat lodges quickly develop into a living framework of willow? The lodges are made of cut willow branches that are stuck into the ground and then bent into a dome that is covered with blankets. Steam dripping off the blanketed roof keeps the ground around the willow branches moist during the 6-years a lodge is typically in use, and the willows take root in the moist ground, reaching their roots deep enough that they can survive when the sweat lodge is moved. I learned this on Wolf Creek, when I was teaching other methods of willow propagation.