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Watershed Academy~Job Pathways for Water and Climate Resilience

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Lesson 11 of 22
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Observe and Assess- Reading the Landscape

September 13, 2023

                             Time to look around

Every time we go out to the field, we asses our surroundings. Use these two steps to asses your area:

  1. Read the Landscape and the Room: Observe complex natural systems and the relationships in the area. Remember that people are part of a place and the system includes the human relationships and traditions too.
  2. Recognize & Utilize Regenerative Processes: Notice natural processes (water, biology, soils) where they work well and where they don’t.  Build upon existing processes such as revegetation of riparian areas or supporting river banks with erosion control structures. Think: has work been done here already? If so, did it improve the area or cause more harm?

When we are assessing  place for work we need to identify any existing issues that may be causing the landscape harm and any existing helpful structures that may be natural or man made.

Here are some harmful issues we might find at a site:

  1. Erosion- could be on the river bank, around a place of water, on a road system or on a slope.
  2. Invasive vegetation or wildlife- signs could be the plants themselves growing in the area or signs of damage from invasive wildlife
  3. Lack of vegetation- this can affect our shade ratio around streams and also affect wildlife that rely on vegetation for food or habitat.
  4. Overgrowth of vegetation- This could be a fire hazard especially during droughts and keep forests from being healthy.
  5. Poor water quality- There are many causes for poor water quality, such as nutrient runoff from farms, pollution from industries up stream, fire debris or over use. We know that it can affect fish populations and everyone who depends on the watershed.
  6. Human caused destruction- This could be illegal fire rings, trash, illegal vehicle use or poaching.

What about non-harmful or natural conditions? here are some other role-playing factors found at a site. 

  1. Damns, or human made drainage systems– These can be helpful and sometimes actually problematic.
  2. Beaver damns– Beaver damns actually keep water in an area and can change ecosystems, but they can also cause flooding.
  3. Natural cliffs or rock features- That direct or speed up water.
  4. Soil type– The type of soil found in an area can give us an indication of silt movement and help us decide what kind of methods to use.
  5. Loose soil- Made by animal habitats like gofer holes.
  6. Roads.- Roads can actually act like really helpful small drainage systems

Tools we can use to observe and assess an area include:

  • Drone footage
  • Survey123 surveying
  • Maps
  • Pictures
  • Speaking to locals and wisdom keepers
  • Cross section measurement
  • Data from previous dates and current dates