Group finds: Build it (pond) and they will come

Birds and other animals have already discovered three ponds that were made last October.

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A party of damselflies jockey for prime real estate, a stick protruding out of one of three man-made ponds located off of Reser Road.

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Mike Denny of the Walla Walla Conservation District leads a field trip to the new conservation easement. Bottom right, a frog sits still near the banks of the pond, just before diving in the cracked mud to hide from the intruders.

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A frog sits still near the banks of the pond, just before diving in the cracked mud to hide from the intruders.

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Mike Denny of the Walla Walla Conservation District leads a field trip to the new conservation easement.

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Mike Denny of the Walla Walla Conservation District and participants are reflected in a pond while on a field trip to the new conservation easement.

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Mike Denny of the Walla Walla Conservation District.

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A view of the new conservation easement.

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WALLA WALLA - Blue Mountain Land Trust held a field trip Saturday to show off three new ponds, all three of which seemed to be experiencing a population boom of dragonflies.

"They are a good sign of a healthy system," said Mike Denny of the Walla Walla County Conservation District, adding that dragonflies eat mosquitoes larvae and other undesirable insects.

Denny had just finished leading the field trip for about half dozen land trust supporters, who had just spent an hour walking through prickly grasses and wild flowers that did not smell anything like roses.

"They call it dog fennel because it smells like wet dog," Denny told the class earlier, while leading the tour through the field of little yellow flowers that looked something like chamomile, often stopping along the way to point out an animal sign or native plant.

Then all at once, nestled between two knolls of land that most likely had been farmed as wheat or lentils for the last 100 years, the pond seemed to appear out of nowhere, as the party climbed up the man-made earthen dam and saw the first signs of water, as well as the multitude of damselflies and dragonflies that danced above.

Up until the 1980s, when it was made illegal, most farmers did their best to fill in marshy areas to increase their tillable lands, Denny said.

This tract of land, however, refused to give up its wetness, mainly because of the numerous springs underneath.

So when the Blue Mountain Land Trust, the Tri-State Steel Headers, Ducks Unlimited and the Washington State Department of Transportation were searching Walla Walla County for a spot to conserve and turn back into a marsh or pond, they picked a spot off of Reser Road.

It was the Department of Transportation that coughed up $300,000 for the project, in part to make up for the loss of other wetlands due to the widening of U.S. Highway 12.

Over the next couple of years, a conservation easement was agreed upon and paid to the owners from the $300,000, with the remainder of the money used to dig the ponds.

"When we started putting these in, after we dug, they (springs) started coming up out of the ground, dozens and dozens of them," Denny said.

The result was that in about a month the ponds were full, and over the next several months the animals started moving in.

Proof of their presence came almost immediately, as Denny started the tour and three white tail deer scampered away from the intruders.

Other sightings or signs of life included a Northern Shoveler duck, two Western Sandpipers, frogs, elk dropping, fresh gophers mounds and, of course, dragonflies.

Other animals sighted recently around the ponds have included moose, coyote and migratory birds.

In the future, rushes, willows and black oaks will be added to the area to increase cover for animals.

What won't be added are signs.

"No. It would draw attention to it. Most people don't even know it is here," Denny said.

Even if they did, the three ponds are technically still on private property because the state only purchased an easement, which it plans to turn over to Blue Mountain Land Trust in five years.

For those who want to see the ponds, there is still hope.

This was the first time the land trust started giving field trips.

"We have a pretty good size membership, and we have a number of conservation easements. And we have a need for our members to know more about what we are doing ... but also for the general public, for them to see the possibilities of conserving," land trust Executive Director Tom Dwonch said.

Next month, the land trust is planning a half-day field trip up Tiger Canyon to discuss the importance of watersheds.

People interested in the field trip or who want more information on the land trust can call 525-3136.

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