On three January days, volunteers braved cold, mud, and sore backs in order to clip and collect 30,000 cottonwood stem cuttings from donor trees to be replanted in the Missouri River Valley.
Plains cottonwood was once the Missouri River’s dominant floodplain tree. Now, the Missouri River Valley has lost 40-80% of its forest and shrubland habitat since 1892, and existing cottonwood forests are dying faster than they are regenerating. Historically, the Missouri River Valley’s floodplain forests were more than ½ mile wide in many places. Today, the average width of these forests is less than 200 feet. The forests that remain are isolated and reduced in size, rendering them less valuable to wildlife.
Cottonwood forests support a wide variety of wildlife. Bald eagles, migratory songbirds, and many other species rely on cottonwoods for nesting, roosting and wintering. Submerged cottonwood snags provide important habitat for numerous aquatic species. In total, more than 530 species of plants and animals are associated with cottonwood forests in the Missouri River Valley. Additionally, riparian forests can improve water quality, reduce flood damage to adjacent lands, and provide valuable recreational opportunities.
"In a sense, the remaining large cottonwood forests are a legacy of the past. They currently support a large number of plants and animals, but are unlikely to be replaced by regeneration in the future," said Tyler Janke, Wetlands Restoration Specialist for the Conservancy.
That is why Janke recruited volunteers (many of them Conservancy members or Master Naturalists) to collect the cuttings.
The Nature Conservancy has partnered with The Arbor Day Foundation and the Nebraska Forest Service to restore 300 acres of cottonwood forests and promote riparian forest restoration throughout the Missouri River Valley. In fact, staff members from The Arbor Day Foundation spent a chilly Wednesday with trimmers to help. "They believe in trees and have supported this effort with grant dollars and elbow grease," said Sara McClure, Director of Major Gifts.
The cuttings will be transplanted in the months to come. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Joe Pettit at firstname.lastname@example.org or (402) 342-0282 x 1012.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.