Way of the Willow

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

John Senne had two problems. His land in Shannon County included Barren Fork Creek, a tributary to Sinking Creek. Heavy rains transformed this meandering creek into a river that carved soil from the banks and deposited large piles of gravel over Senne's road.

Following local advice, Senne tried to straighten the creek. People told him that this would eliminate the bends where the water was cutting into the soil and would speed up the movement of water and gravel past his low water access point. Senne described this advice in one word, "Wrong!" After several years of bulldozers and shovels, he admitted defeat and let the creek chose its own path.

Now a stream team member, Senne has a different philosophy. Part of helping nature along, he believes, means understanding the intricate connections between biotic and physical functions. Senne attended stream team and tree farming meetings to learn how land and trees on or near the banks of rivers and streams normally function. He needed trees. The streamside forest had been removed, and trees, shrubs and grasses were gone.

Armed with this new information, he allowed willows to naturally "spring-up" along the banks and planted other trees along the stream in a belt about 100 feet wide. Thirty years have passed and Senne feels he has done the right thing. Although he now has a concrete passage over the creek, gravel does not pile up like it did.

The volunteer willows and planted sycamores and other tree species help hold the stream bank in place. Yes, there is still some erosion, and occasionally a big tree falls into the river. However, when compared to the damage the creek was doing 30 years ago it seems insignificant.

Not only has Senne solved the problems of stream bank erosion and gravel deposition, his decision to restore a riparian forest helps nature provide cover and food for wildlife and clean water for stream life.

Lakes, rivers, streams and ground water supply the essential volumes we use for drinking, washing and cleaning. The water treatment plants we depend on to clean the water and make it safe for our consumption face a growing challenge. Cities generate magnitudes of polluted water. The city of Columbia even uses wetlands to help clean the water. And, in some rural places, soil and chemicals flow unchecked into our steams as a result of intensive grazing and row cropping.

The wetlands approach not only reduces the demand

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