Watershed alliance, others join to save lower Fisher Creek

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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Surrounded by hundreds of subdivision homes and crisscrossed by miles of roads is Fisher Creek, a modest stream hidden among lush flora and tall trees and a vestige of what once was.

The 4-mile-long waterway is one of a few bands of natural habitat along the increasingly urbanized boundary between Vancouver and Camas and one of just a handful of waterways that directly connects to the Columbia River in Clark County.

But English ivy, reed canary grass, Himalayan blackberry and other invasive plants are threatening to squeeze out native species from the creek’s lower section. Now, the Vancouver Watershed Alliance — a local nonprofit — and a group of homeowner associations are working to push back the intruders and restore the locals.

Officials with the alliance say improving the vegetation along the stream will preserve some of the shrinking urban native habitats for local animals and insects. The local plants better protect against erosion and provide shade to keep water clear and cold, both of which will benefit the Columbia River.

“A river like the Columbia gets in bad shape because of the hundreds of places … like Fisher Creek that aren’t as clean as they could be,” said Tom Dwyer, a program coordinator for the alliance. “It’s the sum of the parts; basically, if you clean up your parts, then your main river system is going to improve.”

Left unchecked, ivy, blackberry and reed canary grass can overtake large swaths of land by out-competing native plants. That’s happening in a few spots along the southern portion of Fisher Creek. In some places, the ivy is like an ankle-deep leafy blanket that sprawls across the earth and climbs up and around a number of trees.

The alliance is removing the invasive plants and replanting hundreds of young native trees and shrubs using funds which Columbia Riverkeeper obtained through a Clean Water Act enforcement settlement with United Grain Corp.

“Our priority was to find a project that was local and community driven and led,” said Lauren Goldberg, staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. “The Vancouver Watershed (Alliance) let us know about some of the great work they were doing to try to address some of the stormwater problems at the heart of our Clean Water Act enforcement action.”

Earlier this spring, the alliance worked with a restoration company to remove invasive plants from 5 acres around the creek and planted 370 native plants. Later this fall, workers will go back and do even more.

To keep it natural, the alliance has created agreements with homeowners associations that surround the area to care for the newly planted vegetation and keep an eye on any recurring invasive ones.

“We want to keep it as natural and as undisturbed as possible,” said Charlie Humble, a board member of Lakes at Fisher’s Landing HOA, one of the organizations the alliance worked with. “Some of our homeowners have gotten in there and done a little by pulling plants on their own. But the amount of work they did — we couldn’t have done it in 10 years.”

Sunrise O’Mahoney, executive director of the Vancouver Watershed Alliance, said the organization’s long-term goal is to see the entire creek restored, but that will take more time, resources and collaboration with other property owners further upstream.

“It’s a multiyear project,” she said.