Conservation Corner

Welcome to our online newsletter where we will keep you updated on everything the Pierce Conservation District is working on, from our work On the Farm to Water Quality Improvement. The Conservation Corner highlights our most interesting stories, but does not include everything. Find our other stories linked in the sidebar and below. 

The latest from...

May 18

How to Plant Sticks: a Guide to Livestaking

Posted on May 18, 2023 at 2:57 PM by Camila Matamala-Ost

By Sage Friedman

Washington Conservation Corps members crossing South Prairie Creek Preserve. One of them is carrying a bundle of livestakes tied with twine.
Washington Conservation Corps members crossing South Prairie Creek Preserve with a bundle of livestakes to plant.

When I first came across the phrase livestake, it sounded more like the name of a health insurance agency than a restoration tool. It wasn’t something I’d used, or even heard of. I never would have expected them to be one of the quickest, cheapest, and most effective riparian restoration methods in the toolbox.

Livestaking, or live pole planting, is a method to efficiently plant trees in riparian buffers and wetlands. To make a livestake, a tree branch is cut into a straight pole, approximately 3 feet in length. The pole is then pounded into the soil so that at least half of it is underground. These poles will push out a root system, new leaves, and given time, an entire new tree will grow from that original branch.

This process doesn’t work with every tree or shrub. The most effective species to use for livestakes are those that grow next to bodies of water. These plants have adapted to sprout from branches that break off, letting them establish elsewhere in the waterbody. In the environment, this can be caused by wind and water erosion, as well as sediment deposition. Beavers can also help.When a beaver creates a dam, sticks will inevitably come loose and wash downstream. Some of these will establish and grow new trees. This lessens the impact that beavers have on these species.

Most commonly, livestakes are cut from willow (Salix sp.), cottonwood (Populus balsamifera), and dogwood (Cornus sericea). All three of these will readily sprout when planted as a livestake—often, even more robustly than when planted as a traditional sapling in a pot. Livestakes have considerably more caloric energy stored than a sapling does. Coupled with thicker bark, a livestake is more tolerant of poor conditions and drying out than a sapling is. There is a caveat to that, however. Because they have no roots when first planted, livestakes must be planted in wetlands or riparian areas where they can absorb enough water in their first year.

Livestakes provide a variety of ecological functions. They can serve as a line of defense against bank erosion. Because they develop a root system quickly, livestakes can hold soil together in places that lack large trees. Livestakes also provide shade, which is vital for keeping water temperaturescool in salmon-bearing streams. Livestakes also have many wildlife benefits. They are a great fast-growing food source, and we often struggle to stop elk from eating them.

These benefits make livestakes a great option for riparian plantings, both in restoration and home gardening. And the best part: they’re free! That is, if you have willows or cottonwoods on your property and want to thin them by cutting and planting some livestakes. If not, we always have pacific willow livestakes available for purchase at our native plant sale.

A livestake with small buds recently planted in a grassy area next to South Prairie Creek
A livestake soon after being planted
The same livestake, but time has passed and it has grown twigs with leaves.
The same livestake showing signs of growth.
May 08

County Council proclaims May “Wildfire Awareness Month”

Posted on May 8, 2023 at 5:15 PM by Camila Matamala-Ost

County Council and PCD staff holding the Wildfire Month proclamation.

The Pierce County Council this week proclaimed May as Wildfire Awareness Month due to the increasing wildfire risk and severity in Western Washington. The proclamation urges residents to be prepared to survive wildfire by working together to prepare their homes and communities. If you want to start preparing for wildfire season and don’t know where to start, you can sign up now for a free home wildfire risk assessment by one of the experts from our Wildfire Ready Neighbors team. Visit WildfireReady.com to learn more.

May 08

Earth Day is Our Super Bowl

Posted on May 8, 2023 at 5:14 PM by Camila Matamala-Ost

By Cecilia Black

Earth Day is the Super Bowl of conservation efforts for PCD’s Water Quality Team! The months leading up to this event are filled with promotion and planning, no easy task when juggling logistics for seven project sites. This year, volunteer sign-ups required us to purchase more tools to fill the demand. The new shovels, wheelbarrows, and grass knives will be used by volunteers in the future.

A young woman volunteering at Bradely Lake Park smiles with a shiney new shovel on Earth Day.
We were so pleased that we stocked up on tools because the Habitat Stewardship events alone were attended by 95 volunteers!

We were able to remove a whopping 4,000 square feet of invasive plants (primarily blackberry), at the time when they come out of dormancy and start trying to take over again. This huge upwelling of volunteer support means invasive removal this summer will be much more manageable. Early-season help for native plants impacts their long-term survival. Invasive species are especially harmful to our native plants during the growing months (late spring to early fall) because water resources are increasingly limited. Additionally, invasives are great at shading out native plants, which reduces the capacity of these beneficial species to establish themselves.

We look forward to seeing our Earth Day volunteers return throughout the year and would like to thank everyone who attended to support the important habitat restoration work we do.

A large group of volunteers at an Earth Day event.
We were happy to support several large community groups who used this event as team bonding and community service!
A PCD staff person stands next to a beauitful red flowering currant bush at Silver Creek.
At the events volunteers and staff alike were thrilled by the blooming red flowering currants, which were brimming with bees and even a few hummingbirds.
A child at Silver Creek holds a worm in gloved hands.
The critters were well and truly out to celebrate spring. Worms and snails and snakes Oh My!