Brett Tallman/For the Capital Press
CARLTON, Ore. — Until last fall, both banks of the North Yamhill River west of Carlton were a thicket of blackberries and reed canary grass. But thanks to an agreement between three area landowners and the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, a 2.3-mile-long riparian buffer will be planted there this spring.
“It took some convincing,” Josh Togstad, a Riparian Specialist with YSWCD, said. “The landowners are losing some production. The buffer will be at least 50 feet from the top of the riverbank and up to 225 feet, depending on the meander of the river.”
The project is funded by a $177,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. It’s part of a million-dollar set aside to help private landowners meet DEQ water-quality standards in what the ODA calls Strategic Implementation Areas.
All told, 33 acres belonging to the Sitton family, of Carlton, Kathy Magar, of Gaston, and a third landowner will be planted with 60,000 native plants and shrubs such as Oregon ash, red osier dogwood and big-leaf maple.
“We’ve done projects like this before,” Togstad said, “but the average is probably five acres. It’s the first project of this size in our area.”
Intact riparian buffers, Togstad said, are the last line of defense for clean water. They cool streams, stabilize banks, and filter runoff.
“A (100-foot buffer) filters something like 90 percent of phosphorus and 90 percent of nitrogen out of runoff,” Tog-stad said.
YSWCD will also plant perennial grasses on bare soil between shrubs and trees. Grasses not only prevent weeds from seeding in, but also filter sediment from surface runoff.
“After about five years, trees will be big enough that they won’t be killed by mice or smothered by weeds,” he said. “After 15 years, they’ll be tall enough to provide shade.”
Though shade is good for the river, it is often a source of concern for farmers.
“There was some worry it would throw shade on fields,” Togstad said, “so we’re tapering the buffer, with the tallest trees right along the stream.”
“The other concern was clogged tile lines,” he said. “Most of that land is tiled for drainage, so we’ll leave some open sections for tile lines, probably 10 to 15 feet wide.”
Once the buffer is planted this spring, YSWCD will maintain it for five years.
“After that,” Togstad said, “the established buffer won’t need much more than mowing and spot spraying.”
Though the maintenance agreement with YSWCD ends after five years, landowners also have a 10- to 15-year agreement with the FSA. Through their Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the FSA pays a one-time, $500-per-acre payment for enrolling, as well as an annual, per-acre payment for the duration of the contract.
“It’s pretty appealing,” landowner Lester Sitton said, “and it’s a good thing to be doing. I forget how many generations (of the Sitton family) have been farming here. Several, anyway. Thinking long term, we’d like to sustain several more. That’s what was done for us and that’s what we’d like to do here.”