Work on Yuba River’s Hammon Bar earns high honors

The recently completed Hammon Bar Riparian Enhancement Project on the South Yuba River was designed to demonstrate the benefits of planting large cuttings of cottonwood and willow trees in the floodplain, creating biologically diverse riparian vegetation. Credit: Gary Reedy/South Yuba River Citizen’s League

By Steve Martarano
July 5, 2017

Initially, a single, unassuming twig was observed rising from a sandy gravel beach at the lower Yuba River near Marysville earlier this year.

That lone twig, however, represented something more significant to two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists after the Yuba River had realigned during the massive storm events in February. It meant that restoration plantings for not just one, but hundreds of twigs had survived.

An aerial view of the Hammon Bar Restoration Project on the Yuba River, northeast of Yuba City, Calif. Source: Google Maps

The Hammon Bar Riparian Enhancement Project, completed last fall, was designed to evaluate and demonstrate the benefits of planting large cuttings of cottonwood and willow trees in the floodplain of the lower Yuba River. The main goal was to create new biologically diverse riparian vegetation to enhance fish habitat through additional shading, cover, and food supply.

But for the pair – Alison Willy, a Service employee since 1992 currently in the Bay-Delta Fish and Wildlife Office, and seven-year Service employee Beth Campbell, of the Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office – the survival of many of the plants indicated one of the project’s main goals was accomplished.

“We had been spending years trying to get rivers to have enough woody material, branches and twigs to provide cover for juvenile fish,” Willy said. “This year we saw how dynamic the Yuba River was with high flows and how this project enhanced juvenile rearing habitat during high flows, where juveniles could shelter and forage.”

The high survival of plantings was significant due to concerns that the project restoration efforts would be entirely washed away during the heavy rains of 2016-2017 because the river was so powerful, according to Willy.

Alison Willy (left), a Service employee since 1992 currently in the Bay-Delta Fish and Wildlife Office, and seven-year Service employee Beth Campbell, of the Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office, were honored by the South Yuba River Citizens League for their  work on the Hammon Bar project and their commitment to improving habitat conditions in the Yuba River watershed. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

A single twig will have a constant flow of water around it that prevents the sediment field from growing. In contrast, a group of plantings will hold back sediment by lowering water velocity, which allows the residue to settle out. Vegetation also provides cover and habitat for fish and wildlife and acts a source of nutrients via leaf litter.

“The restoration area was pure river cobble, where no tree or seedling could germinate,” Willy said. “Now there are plantings holding back fine sediments and providing a seed bed for future trees.”

Twigs dot the sandy landscape of the Hammon Bar Restoration Project. Credit: Gary Reedy/South Yuba River Citizen’s League

Hammon Bar is located within the Parks Bar Reach of the lower Yuba River, about four miles downstream of the Highway 20 Bridge. Hammon Bar is considered a pilot project with the goal of providing an understanding of the factors important to designing cost effective projects involving riparian planting and enhancement.

For work on Hammon Bar and other projects, the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL – pronounced "circle") named the Service as its 2017 Partner of the Year, individually recognizing Campbell and Willy for their efforts. The pair was lauded for their commitment to improving habitat conditions in the Yuba River watershed, which is directly in line with and complimentary to SYRCL’s mission. The Service, Campbell and Willy were honored at SYRCL’s 2017 State of the Yuba banquet in April in Grass Valley, California.

"It takes a diverse group of stakeholders to plan any project; we simply cannot plan projects in isolation,” Campbell said.

“This was truly a collaboration featuring so many parties working together on a common goal. That’s what makes me most proud,” says restoration biologist Alison Willy. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

Willy agreed. “This was truly a collaboration featuring so many parties working together on a common goal,” she said. “That’s what makes me most proud.”

The Service has partnered with SYRCL for several years on salmon restoration work across the watershed. That work by Campbell and Willy resulted in several restoration efforts and habitat improvements through an existing hydropower license and the Anadromous Fish Restoration Program.

In the Lower Yuba River, there are now four restoration projects which have resulted in the planting of thousands of trees at Hammon Bar, potentially restoring miles of habitat for salmon at Hallwood and Long Bar, and adding spawning gravels to the river near the confluence with Deer Creek. The Service continues to work with SYRCL and many other partners to develop long lasting improvements in the river.

“The impacts of these agreements will be realized over decades,” said Dan Welsh, deputy field supervisor in the Bay-Delta office. “SYRCL was gracious in extending a personal thank you to Beth Campbell and Alison Willy, who have partnered with SYRCL and have contributed much of their careers to the Yuba River.”

 

Steve Martarano is a public affairs officer for the San Francisco Bay-Delta and Lodi Fish and Wildlife Offices. He is based in Sacramento.