News From Native California Volume 31, Issue 3 - Page 45

mett Hartt Jr. ( coor din a chase choate, environmental director of the tor ), J a re d Ha to ft Em oate, e Ch s a Ch ht: rig By Mickey Ellinger ive salt cedar and phragm Invas ites clo g the ba nk s o f N O R I V A QUECHAN TRIBE EN M Quechan Tribe, looks at a new pile of bulldozed salt cedar on the bank of the Colorado River: “It’s slow work, but every acre of riverbank we bring back is an acre that has come back to life.” The Quechan people have farmed the banks of the Colorado River since they came down from Avikwame at the dawn of time (their name means “the people who came down”). They were growing corn, squash, beans, and melons in the rich river-nourished soil when they floated the settlers and stock of the Anza expedition across the river on barges in 1774. Then, the Colorado was almost a hundred feet deep and a mile wide. The river is now much diminished; what little is left after seven states suction up most of its flow is choked with invasive salt cedar and phragmites. But here at the historic Yuma Crossing and for a handful of miles downstream, native vegetation has been restored by the Quechan Tribe’s environmental department. Since 2007, Choate and a staff of four have cleared one hundred and fifty acres along the California bank, bulldozing the salt cedar into windrows. He says they will keep clearing and planting as long as they can find the funding. The restoration crew plants honey mesquite (a Quechan food staple and cultural resource for thousands of years), cottonwoods, and willows, all irrigated by the tribe’s water rights. In a few years the trees survive on their own, with native coyote bush, wolfberry, and arrowweed growing in their shade. Rattlesnakes and cottontail rabbits thrive. Last spring the crew saw a ba dger with two babies; the crew has also seen bobcats and perhaps a young cougar. Rush milk- weed, favored food of declining monarch butterfly caterpillars, grows in a few places, and the crew is planting more. The restora- tion work has also encouraged native California fan palms, whose seeds are used in the gourd rattles of traditional bird singers. Anya Nitz Pak (Sunrise Point Park) is built around a marsh and small lake, with benches, picnic tables, and explanatory signs tucked into the native greenery. One section is called the Elder’s Village, where volunteers have created a ramada over picnic tables and a re-creation of a mud house (dampened with river water to keep cool in the summer) and a shade house. The work is slow, but Choate is stubbornly optimistic: “I want to create more enthusiasm for environmental proj- ects, particularly among young people. I decided to become a scientist when I went on a preschool field trip to see silk moths; maybe if I do some work with youth, some of them will get excited about it.” SPR IN G 2 018 ▼ 43