Two weeks ago, the Idaho Native Plant Society had its annual meeting. They always have a great program and I learn so much about plants in other parts of the state. This event was no exception.
The group camped at the Clark Fork Drift Yard on the shores of Lake Pend Orielle. Id never heard of a drift yard before. A few weeks ago, I wrote about sunken logs and how some logs are carried into lakes each spring with the heavy snow runoff. The Clark Fork River does more than its share of fallen log transporting. The drift yard is set up so that the logs wont enter Lake Pend Orielle and damage boats. And, yes, you can harvest driftwood from the drift yard.
The Drift Yard isnt the only feature of the Clark Fork River. Before Albeni Falls Dam was constructed, there had been a delta in the area where the river enters the lake. Even though the lake level went up each spring during runoff, the delta remained intact. With the installation of the dam, the water level didnt rise as high in the spring (saving homeowners near the lakeshore a lot of headaches) but it stayed high until autumn. The high water and subtle tides of the lake eroded the wetlands of the delta.
To the north of the Clark Fork River Delta, the Pack River enters Lake Pend Orielle in a large cove and once had a delta along with a few small islands that provided wildlife habitat. After the dam was built, the high water also eroded wetlands in the Pack River delta and islands. As much as 4 feet of land eroded each season. Idaho Fish and Game employees found 1, 205 tree stumps with the soil completely eroded from their roots.
The dam raised the summer level of the lake by 11 feet. About 1,000 acres of wetland was lost under that 11 feet.
A few years ago, Idaho Fish and Game along with the BLM and Army Corps of Engineers implemented a plan to rebuild the delta and islands at the high water level. It took a lot of planning, engineering and the use of strategically placed snags and other natural materials anchored to the lake bed to catch sediments and keep the high water from eroding the land again. The work had to be done in the winter while the lake level was low.
The Pack River delta restoration is working. We toured around the eight islands in small boats, getting off and hiking on the largest island. We saw many of the 70 species of native grasses, shrubs and flowering plants planted with the help of volunteers. We saw thriving water birch, red twig dogwood, alders, roses and many more. Many types of grasses were planted and mosses and mushrooms have volunteered to live on the islands. Willows were planted along shorelines to hide the snags and rip-rap.
Wildlife is moving back in. We saw the nests of killdeer and spotted sandpipers.
Moose tracks were everywhere. I even saw a spider that had drifted on the wind to call the island home. The cove and islands are also home to heron, grebes, loons, ospreys, bald eagles, bear, beaver, fox, elk and deer.
Send questions about gardening for master gardener Elaine Gardener for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.