Sauvie Island Academy students celebrate success of Ruby Lake restoration efforts

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF ALY FERRIS - Sauvie Island Academy students celebrate a year of wetland restoration at Ruby Lake on their first sunny field day since February.Sauvie Island’s Ruby Lake has gone through major changes at the hands of the Columbia River Estuary Taskforce and the Portland-based private firm, PC Trask and Associates.

And the efforts of both groups have been bolstered throughout the year by Sauvie Island Academy students.

“The main goal of the restoration project at Ruby Lake is to return the lake to its original (higher) water level in order to make it a more hospitable environment for juvenile salmon,” wrote Sauvie Island Academy sixth- seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Aly Ferris in an email to the Spotlight. “Pieces of this project include removing invasive species (primarily reed canary grass) and re-planting native ones (such as willows and wapato).”

The lake’s previously low water level discouraged the presence of salmon and encouraged the growth of invasive reed canary grass.

Ferris’ students had their end-of-year celebration at the lake Thursday, May 22. Ferris said her students selected Ruby Lake among two other potential projects after representatives from CREST and PC Trask visited Sauvie Island Academy to explain the project. Ferris and her students have been at the site periodically since September.

Last November, CREST and PC Trask completed a project to raise the lake’s water level.

The project involved removing a water control structure that ran across a tidal slough on the lake. The structure was meant to control the lake’s water levels, but it wasn’t working as intended, said Tom Josephson, project manager with CREST, in an earlier interview with the Spotlight.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF ALY FERRIS - Sauvie Island Academy students sow native grass seed on a muddy path near Ruby Lake.By limiting water flow, the structure caused reed canary grass to flourish and limited fish passage. With more water, Josephson said the invasive grass will likely be choked out, encouraging native growth.

The project was funded by the Bonneville Power Administration to improve fish passage in the area.

Aside from pulling invasive weeds and planting natives, students in Ferris’ class learned how to take high water marks and vegetation surveys, she wrote.

“They learned how to take different types of qualitative and quantitative data and even got to take a field trip to Bonneville Dam, where they got a special tour,” she wrote. “BPA has filmed our last two field studies, as they are putting together a short video about the Ruby Lake restoration project. Some of my students have been interviewed for this video, which should air on BPA’s YouTube channel when it is finished.”

Ferris has already been discussing future field studies with CREST and PC Trask for the 2014-15 school year, she wrote.

“We foresee more data collection, vegetation surveys, and undoubtedly more mud,” she wrote.

Ferris wrote that bringing grades six, seven eight together for the project has been positive. She added the “cross-grade group” allows older students to gain leadership experience and provides comfort to younger students.

“The students are all excited to see the changes that the site will undergo by next fall, and even some of the graduating eighth-graders plan to come back and check on things,” she wrote.

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