Ducks Unlimited recently completed the restoration of wetlands on 238 acres owned by the Inland Northwest Land Trust in the channeled scablands region near Cheney, Washington. This parcel of land contains a large, wet meadow that was drained several decades ago to improve forage for livestock surrounded by Ponderosa pines forest. Ducks Unlimited purchased the land and saved it from development in 2003 with a federal grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and subsequently donated the land to the Inland Northwest Land Trust for safekeeping.
The previous owners had subdivided the tract into ten-acre lots for home sites with plans to convert the drained meadow into a golf course. Restoration of this land for wildlife, including ducks, geese, shorebirds, deer, elk and wild turkeys, began in the Ponderosa pine uplands surrounding the wet meadow. The uplands were ecologically in "poor shape" as a result of decades of severe overgrazing and several poorly executed logging events. Remnant stands of native trees and shrubs were interspersed with extensive areas of weedy plants such as thistles, as well as numerous slash piles left over from the logging.
The first step in the restoration process was to remove livestock grazing from the entire property and to manage vegetation in the meadow by mowing, rather than grazing. Upwards of 20,000 migrating waterfowl, including northern pintails and tundra swans, use the meadow during the spring, when the mowed herbaceous plants are covered by a sheet of water. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is also assisting INLT and DU with the uplands restoration by spraying noxious weeds and burning the slash piles. The uplands will naturally recover when the livestock are removed and the weeds are controlled.
Wetlands restoration was recently completed in the meadow by excavating several low-lying areas to a depth of three to four feet to help maintain water in the meadow throughout the summer. As a result, nesting ducks such as mallards and teal now have a place to rear their broods safely. Wetland plants that are abundant on the site will recolonize the excavated areas within one growing season, allowing them to function as natural depressional wetlands. The newly created depressions are connected by a series of shallow excavated swales that will allow nesting ducks and their broods to travel safely between the excavated depressions. All of the excavated organic soil was placed in selected uplands locations, where it will be reseeded with native grasses and forbs by the Spokane County Conservation District and replanted with native trees and shrubs by students from Cheney High School.
The Land Trust hopes eventually to donate the land to the City of Cheney or the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. In the meantime, the Land Trust allows limited public access for activities such as hiking and bird watching.