Taking a Dip in Johnson Creek

By SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest Member, Charlie

‘Tis the season for macroinvertebrate surveying in the SOLVE Green Team scene and the students at Valley Catholic High School were the most recent to jump on this buggy bandwagon when they sampled Johnson Creek on Wednesday.

For those of you who aren’t avid Green Team Blog followers and this is your first post you’ve read on macroinvertebrate sampling, here is a brief crash course: Macroinvertibrates (or as we call them, “macros”) are basically bugs (truly, anything without a backbone, which is what “invertebrate” means) that you can see with your naked eye (more or less what “macro” means). Surveying the macros in our streams can give us a pretty holistic indication of how healthy our stream is. Temperature and chemical tests might also give us a good idea of health, but these things often fluctuate over the course of the day and the macros living in the stream itself have to deal with these fluctuations. Therefore taking a look at who is living in the stream along with the knowledge of who is pollution tolerant and pollution sensitive can paint a clearer picture of stream health, and can give an idea of how well our restoration efforts are affecting the aquatic community.

The Method: Students sampled by swishing their nets in and around the vegetation growing on the sides of the bank, dislodging anything that might be crawling on the grass and reeds. Since Johnson Creek is very marshy and slow-moving, like many of the other streams in the Tualitin River Valley, we were unable to take samples from the bottom of the stream, this also had to do with the depth and muddiness of the creekbed. Students did, however, have no reservations about getting in the creek (sometimes past their waders…) to get great samples.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to the exciting part: what did we find??? Insect-wise, students found a lot of damselfly larvae wiggling at the bottom of their samples. Also a lot of aquatic diving beetles were found swimming around the sample tray, and midge larvae twitching around the water. All of these are generally in fairly slow-moving stream environments (like Johnson Creek). Students also found several case-making caddisfly larvae with cases constructed out of sticks and blades of grass. These were exciting to find as these insects are pretty pollution sensitive. However students also found a lot of aquatic worms, snails, and a few leeches which are very pollution tolerant groups of invertebrates. Some other cool finds included a dragonfly larva, a couple of crayfish, and some students found a large gelatinous egg-mass belonging to Northwestern Salamanders! Thank you, amphibian expert, Kris Taylor, for identifying the egg mass!

It’s difficult to make any conclusive statements about the health of the stream from this one survey since this is the first survey at the stream and we don’t know what the invertebrate populations of the stream was historically. However the pollution sensitive caddisfly were exciting to see and might indicate that the stream is not completely degraded, but at the same time we did find a lot of pollution tolerant macros. We will save this data and in future years will use it to compare to future surveys of the stream to see how well Valley Catholic’s restoration efforts of Johnson Creek are improving the quality of the watershed and the health of the stream.

Thank you, Clean Water Services, for funding this project!

New Additions to an “Old” Area

Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest Member, Gina Graziano

AP Environmental Science at Valley Caholic, being the incredible class that it is, and having the leadership of Ms. Cole, our wonderful former SOLVE employee and Green Team leader extraoridnaire, can’t just stick to one section of the site when doing restoration work! They have done such a masterful job taking care of the forested area near Johnson Creek that they were ready and eager to check up on the area of the site VCHS students worked on in past years.

We talked about the urban gardening philosophy, that just like you can’t just plant a tomato plant and expect it to be ready to eat 50 days later with no visits inbetween to prune, weed, etc., you can’t just plant native trees and shrubs in a wetland and expect them to survive without a little help along the way.

Students recovered some pre-made cages in the grass, dug them up (which was no easy feat), and put them together while other students built some cages from scratch. While beaver are a native animal and we are happy they live in Johnson Creek, we need to protect our trees and shrubs while they are saplings so they can be snacks for beavers when they are mature and can handle being chewed on.

We caged Alder, Oregon Ash, Elderberry, and more to cage. And just like that class was over and we headed in! Students even started carrying all of our tools back to the truck before SOLVE staff had to ask for help!

Thank you, VCHS, for all of the spectacular work you do for Johnson Creek, and increibly helpful attitudes every time you come out.

Thank you, Clean Water Services, for funding this project.

Opposite Day at Valley Catholic High School

The day was anything but ordinary out at Johnson Creek. When we arrived, Ms. Cole spotted a Snowy Egret on the water! Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) are a type of native heron which are somewhat rare and sensitve to pollution so it was very exciting to see one at our site!

Next, we learned about the types of plants we were going to be planting. They both have oppositely arranged leaves/ buds. We planted Oregon Ash (Fraxinus latifolia) and Elderberry (Sambucus). We took our oppositely arranged plants and headed for the opposite site of our site, near where the Green Team at Valley Catholic all began about 10 years ago! We passed by mature Douglas Fir trees that were planted by students 8-10 years ago. It was exciting to see that the work of students in the Green Team really makes a difference. We ducked and dodged under and over Armenian Blackberry to get our opposite plants in the ground.

The one thing that was not opposite from normal happenings at Johnson Creek was Valley Catholic students’ positive attitudes, dedicated work, and fun and lively energy. Thanks for a great day!

Thank you to Clean Water Services for funding this project!


Restoring Watersheds Around the World

Its inspiring enough to see students stewarding the stream behind their school, taking care of their own watershed, but to see students team up with more students from half way across the world, to share that challenge and hope is a whole other story. Valley Catholic High School students and Korean Exchange students through Marylhurst University worked to plant around 200 native trees and shrubs along Johnson Creek. VCHS students told the Korean Exchange students about the project and their commitment. We shared how we have been restoring Johnson Creek for ten years, removing invasive species like Armenain Blackberry, planting native trees and shrubs to stablize our stream bank, grow tall to shade the creek to create a cooler and more oxygen-rich stream, and much more. Valley Catholic High School students paired up with the Korean Exchange Students to plant native roses, Nine Bark, Oregon Ash, Ocean Spray, Oregon Grape, and more. Korean Exchange Students had a chance to practice their English language skills and hear about the High School experience in the United States. All in all, it was an inspirationally international day at Johnson Creek!

Valley Catholic Brings Some Holiday Cheer to Johnson Creek

Valley Catholic came out ready and eager to plant trees and shrubs one last time before break.  They brought tons of energy and enthusiasm to the site despite the fact that this was there last day of school before Winter Break.

We even had a student volunteer to do the planting demonstration.  The students vividly remembered taking off all of the nursery soil, digging a basketball sized hole and filling the hole in completely once the roots were covered and the plants was ready to live in its new home.

Students planted vine maple, dogwood, ninebark, roses, and thimbleberry all in their short time out at Johnson Creek!

Way to go, Valley Catholic!! Happy, happy holidays!

Valley Catholic plants some holiday cheer!

Students from Erin Cole’s Environmental Science class at Valley Catholic became well-aquainted with a few of Green Team staff’s best friends… our state tree Douglas Fir and Grand Fir!  Students were planting these species in an area that was once dominated by Armenian Blackberry.  These newly planted native trees (in addition to the other natives we will plant later) will provide better shade, root structure, pollution filtration and habitat than the invasive blackberry ever could.  These students have really begun to transform the forest this year!

Pseudotsuga menziesii (aka Doug Fir) and Abies grandis (aka Grand Fir) are common trees to Pacific Northwest Forests and they are also well-known common Christmas trees.  One thing you can do to make this holiday season even greener?  Buy a living Christmas tree from Bosky Dell Native Plant Nursery!  After the holiday season is over your tree can live on in a forest near you!

Living Christmas Tree!


Valley Catholic: Blackberry Removal All-Stars & Amphibian Enthusiasts

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Valley Catholic High School completely transformed our Johnson Creek site yesterday.  At 8:45am, the site was covered in blackberry.  Blackberry stems were intertwined, covering snowberry, and deeply rooted into the soil.  After the first class, a few snow berries were newly exposed and we could begin to see the origins of each blackberry stem.

Freshmen in Ms. Lacks’ Biology classes continued to cut down and dig out blackberry.  By the time Ms. Cole’s Biology and Environmental Science classes came out after lunch, the site was already looking quite different.  These last two classes helped to make sure all the roots along the path were dug up.  Our soil is just about ready to plant some awesome native trees and shrubs that will stabilize our banks, filter toxins from the school and nearby houses, and shade out invasive species from taking over.  Not to mention, we also built quite an impressive pile of dead blackberry roots, illustrating the extent of the students’ work.

Some adorable Amphibian friends even came out to check out our fantastic work.  Students got to see and hold a couple of Rough Skinned Newts and Ensatina Salamanders living in our nutrient rich soil.  After determining these were quite possibly the cutest Amphibian friends we’ve ever made, we put them in a safe spot out of the way of our restoration.

All in all, students had a very successful day out at Johnson Creek.  Thanks so much for all of your hard work!  Day 1 of restoring Johnson Creek: accomplished.

Here’s to a successful school year!

Thank you Green Team students, teachers, sponsors and supporters for successful year!

West Side Students Share Their Stories!

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Valley Catholic High School’s auditorium was abuzz with watershed restoration terms and techniques last week as students in Green Teams at Valley Catholic High School, Valley Catholic Middle School, Deer Park Academy, Mountain View Middle School and Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School joined together to present on their year long commitment to creeks near their schools.

Each of these groups of students came out weekly, monthly or just a few times over the year and were able to come away with some important lessons.  Over the course of the year, these students planted native trees and shrubs, removed invasive species, enhanced wildlife habitat, bioengineered stream banks, maintained and monitored native plants.  Lori Hennings, senior natural resource scientist at Metro, congratulated the students on their continued efforts and dedication to stream health.

Valley Catholic High School students presented on invasive reed canary grass and how they have begun controlling it at Johnson Creek behind their school with coffee bags and native plants.  Deer Park Academy students shared what they have learned about stream bioengineering, or using natural elements to help stabilize stream banks and provide shade; they did this by installing live willow stakes and fascine bundles in the banks of Willow Creek.  Rachel Carson Middle School students presented their research on native western pond and western painted turtles and how we must provide habitat for them to thrive.  Mountain View Middle School students shared their results from testing a Beaverton Creek tributary for macroinvertebrates and how this is a good indicator of water pollution.  Valley Catholic Middle School students shared their insight on Armenian blackberry removal methods and how important native plantings are for our environment.

Thanks to our friends from Clean Water Services, The Wetlands Conservancy, Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Tualatin Riverkeepers, Friends of Beaverton Creek , Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve and the Tualatin River Watershed Council for sharing the day with us and supporting our students!

THANK YOU, TEACHERS for your support of students and the Green Team program!  THANK YOU, STUDENTS for making your communities healthier places to live, work and play!  Have a wonderful summer exploring and we’ll see you in September!

Spiders, Worms and Midge Larva, Oh My!

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Both Valley Catholic high school and middle school students joined us out at Johnson Creek today.  Students pulled on hip waders and got in the water to sample for macroinvertebrates.  SOLV uses a method of macroinvertebrate testing called Pollution Tolerance Index and this allows students to determine how clean a waterway is by the aquatic bugs and organisms they find.  Students came across a variety of organisms including scuds, beetle larva, aquatic sowbugs (Wide Range species worth 2 points each), snails, midge larva, and aquatic earthworms (Pollution tolerant species worth one point each).  Based on our data the stream rated a 9 which equals poor water quality.  (>23 = Excellent, 17-22 = Good, 11-16 = Fair, <10 = Poor)  We are planting native trees and shrubs along Johnson Creek to hopefully one day shade the stream and filter pollutants to improve water quality in Johnson Creek.

Students also coffee bagged and mulched native trees and shrubs they planted earlier in the year.  The coffee bags were donated to us from Boyd’s Coffee Company and when placed around our new plantings they shade out weeds, especially invasive Reed Canary Grass, and prevent competition.  Mulching our plantings is a critical part of the restoration process.  The mulch mimics growing conditions in a healthy riparian forest.  A healthy forest has a natural layer of ‘mulch’ (leaf litter and decaying organics, or duff layer) that provides a protective covering for immature plants.

Check out the photos below to see just how much students have accomplished in the forest!