Now that I’ve slept, maybe I can share some of the depth and variety of the things I learned at the Bandera County Watersheds Riparian Training I attended on Wednesday, March 6. The event was held in Bandera (one of the most attractive small towns I ever saw and VERY consistent in its cowboy theme), and the weather improved enough that the outdoo parts were not unbearable. There were at least 30 participants, ranging from fellow Master Naturalists to water management professionals to interested landowners.
Much of the day was spent indoors, however, as a team of water management experts from many different agencies shared their knowledge of managing the areas alongside rivers, creeks, and streams. These are called riparian areas, and they are a very important part of water management, but one that has been misunderstood a lot in the past.
Sadly, the beautifully manicured lawns and parkscapes we often see, where people walk up and down to admire the view, are not actually what our waterways need. The need a riparian buffer of plants that love water or theive near it and trees that are of various ages, so that when they die or fall into the water, there are future trees to replace them.
My biggest takeaway
What I just wrote hit my biggest takeaway from the day: the big chunks of logs and tree roots that “clog up” Walker’s Creek are doing it good. Their job is to slow the flow of water and to catch silt and other runoff, to rebuild stream beds after floods and other events.
So, no more thinking about getting rid of all those limbs!
It turns out that the plants that grow alongside creeks, etc., serve as “riparian sponges,” and help retain water in the water table, rather than rushing it away as fast as possible. And that flood pain that everyone around us refers to as “unusable land” is providing a vital service by slowing floodwaters down, slowly soaking water into the water table, and replenishing the soil layers. The riparian borders and flood plains to an amazingly efficient job of filtering pollutants, including heavy metal and (most relevant to me) cow poop. So there.
I also now know why a healthy stream meanders (sinuosity) and changes shape over time. It’s all part of being a natural, healthy waterway. Human attempts to straighten waterways only serve to move water too fast to do any good along the route of the watr (making future droughts worse) and also don’t give the water a chance to get filtered.
My brain was so full by the end of the classroom sessions that my head actually throbbed. I’m glad there were notes and handouts.
Then we took a trip
For the hands-on portion of the day, we drove to the nearby Mayan Dude Ranch, whicsh is along the Medina River. It sure looks like a fun place, judging from the amount of horse poop we saw.
I probably enjoyed the presentation on managing feral hogs the most. The speaker’s main point was that to really do anything about the population, you can’t “manage” them, you have to totally eliminate them. It made sense to me. Harvesting just a few leaves lots more to reproduce.
He talked about effective traps, making it clear that you have to have a trap big enough to catch ALL the hogs in the group, because escapees will take their knowledge of traps back to their friends (or something like that). He actually said the helicopter and aerial methods are the best, then you shoot the few that are left from the ground, then you send in dogs to locate any stragglers. It sounds expensive and messy.
We also took a walk along the edge of the river, which was not a great example of a riparian sponge, but did have some absolutely HUGE pecans and cypress trees. We did find sawgrass and other good edge grasses, and some pennywort.
My favorite part was the dead hog, followed by the armadillo hole, and then all the cool bones laying around. I admit I wandered around taking pictures of plants and such for iNaturalist. There were some new ones!
The third outdoor session was a nice man telling us all about the programs that we could use to help us with our land and projects on them. I’m glad it’s all in my book, because I was too tired to listen by then.
I realize I didn’t put any names and credentials in here. These are just my raw impressions. I’ll write a more detailed synopsis for the Master Naturalist blog later, which will include people’s names and such.
But I’ll tell you what. I know a LOT about riparian systems, and am proud of mine!