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Willow Weavers at Work along Idaho Riverbanks

October 18, 2010

BOISE, Idaho - Willow weavers are busy working along Idaho riverbanks this fall. They're not weaving baskets, though. Instead, their work is providing a safety net to improve fish habitat and raise local water tables.

Idaho Fish and Game staff, along with dozens of volunteers, are literally weaving repairs into eroded zones along the Little Salmon River. The weavings will reduce sediment, and the clearer water is expected to benefit steelhead and chinook salmon.

Volunteer coordinator Michael Young describes the work.

"We are staking down willow pole ends and that will result in a conglomeration of willows to protect the streambank from further damage. All those willows have a chance to root out, and eventually it will be a big willow bush."

Young says they've seen success with the method in recent years. It's preferred over using rip-rap or heavy equipment because it carries a low environmental footprint, he adds - plus, it's inexpensive.

Willows often get a bad rap when they flourish along riverbanks because people think the plants "take" water from the system. In reality, they play a beneficial role, Young explains.

"Riparian vegetation enhances the overall amount of water a system can hold, shading the creek as well as the roots to kind of create an underground reservoir."

Work is also being done along the Little Weiser River, and more volunteers are needed for both projects. Young is enrolling volunteers who call him at 208-327-7099. Crews will head out to the Little Salmon River on Oct. 23.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID