Young workers remove invasive species from Port of Tacoma habitat site

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The work was tough, but the rewards were dramatic. 

As crews from EarthCorps and Northwest Youth Corps pulled common ivy from the Place of Circling Waters, a Port of Tacoma habitat site, they could see almost immediately how it made a difference. 

“It looks really good when its gone. It’s like rolling up a carpet, so it’s very satisfying,” said Aaron Gaul, a crew lead with EarthCorps. 

When crew members arrived, the invasive vine choked the ravine. 

“It's pretty much suffocating the trees and not allowing any other plant species to inhabit the area,” said Shay Steeves, urban and community forestry crew leader for Northwest Youth Corps.  

The ivy was so thick, crew members couldn’t even see a running stream beneath it, they could only hear the trickling water. 

In some cases, the ivy was so entrenched, it felt as thick as tree roots. 

“It’s pretty gnarly,” Steeves said. 

The work to pull out the ivy and pile it on cardboard where it will rot without re-rooting is part of the Port’s ongoing stewardship of the Place of Circling Waters. 

The Port bought the former gravel mine and landfill and transformed it into a habitat site where Hylebos Creek and Hylebos Waterway mix, providing an estuarine area for salmon rearing. 

The site was completed in 2011.  

Although the decade of legally required stewardship activities and performance monitoring has passed, the Port continues to bring crews in each year to make sure the site functions ecologically as designed. 

Port biologist Kristin Evered said invasive ivy in the upland areas of the site continues to be a challenge because it siphons energy and nutrients from native plants. 

By removing the ivy and planting native species, we're going to increase the biodiversity in the site and hopefully attract more native birds and insects and other organisms that use the site,” Evered said.  

After the crews pulled all the ivy, they planted native species like willows. 

The Port has constructed, preserved, or participated in building 22 habitat sites, totaling over 233 acres, most recently completing the Lower Wapato Creek Habitat Project. 

Both Northwest Youth Corps and EarthCorps put young people to work on outdoor conservation projects 

Shay Steeves said the Northwest Youth Corps crew members came from across the country, earning money for college and taking part in educational programs in the field. 

We've been working on leadership and team building and just really trying to set people up for success,” Steeves said.  

EarthCorps advances environmental justice as members work on projects across the Puget Sound region, focusing on underserved areas. 

Aaron Gaul of EarthCorps said the ivy removal at the Port was “incredibly rewarding.”