Back to School at Cox Meadow: restoring national forest wetlands in the Okanogan

Back to School at Cox Meadow: restoring national forest wetlands in the Okanogan

Conservation Northwest / Sep 01, 2021 / Forest Field Program, Habitat Restoration, Okanogan Working for Wildlife

Conservation Northwest staff wrap up wetland restoration project building zuni bowls and rock weirs near Tonasket

By Michael Liu, Okanogan Forest Lead

As students begin returning to school, I’m reminded of a sign I had in college that read: Don’t let school get in the way of your education.  The message was clear, learning often happens outside of the classroom. Those unexpected places and moments are where personal experience, observation, and a patient teacher can open a window to something new and exciting.  Consequently, despite a full plate of things to do for this summer, I agreed to take on a volunteer intern.

The stream bed prior to the zuni bowl construction shows downcutting caused from soil erosion. Photo: CNW

My intern Ali grew up in the Methow Valley.  She is a young aspiring environmental scientist and her freshman year at Stanford University was spent online due to Covid. Working with Conservation Northwest’s Forest Field Program team with a focus on projects in Okanogan County was a chance to connect her studies with some real world application.

Unfortunately, area closures and smoke from local wildfires limited our ability to get into the field as much as I had hoped. However, we did manage to hit the woods to look at effects from past wildfire, proposed thinning areas on the Twisp Restoration Project, and take some measurement plots to determine tree density.

Now constructed, the zuni bowl will stop soil erosion and slow water velocity in the stream to keep this special wetland habitat intact.

To take a break from reading and synthesizing research papers on fuelbreaks, thinning, and prescribed burning, we recently spent some time working on a volunteer stream restoration project in Cox Meadow, near Tonasket.

The local Forest Service soil scientist and hydrologist had determined that the ongoing stream erosion and headcutting would eventually lead to a lowering of the water table resulting in a gradual shift from a wet to a dry meadow.  This made stream restoration an important goal for Cox Meadow.  Ali was able to help with volunteer outreach and education and participate in restoration of the eroded stream channel.

All in all, the volunteer event was a success! Partnering with Forest Service staff, numerous volunteers from Conservation Northwest and other community groups gathered and built zuni bowls and rock weirs to slow stream water velocity and soil erosion. Cox Meadow will remain a wetland habitat as a result of our efforts.

Here’s what Ali had to say about the experience:

Zuni bowl construction consists of moving and placing large rocks within the stream bed. Photo: CNW

“…one of the things that I have learned is that all of the systems of the earth are connected, and with that, so are all career fields within the earth systems. At this point in college, I haven’t found a specific career path, but this project introduced me to many of the different facets of environmental science such as restoration, plant, animal and soil ecology, and digital mapping. I learned the points where these connect in the real world… This project was definitely a stepping stone towards integrating myself into environmental fields and figuring out how to turn my passion for the environment into a career.”

In addition, the Co-Executive Director for Okanogan Highlands Alliance had this to say about the volunteer project:

“I had a great day, really learned a lot, and appreciated getting to know everyone. One of the aspects of the day that I really appreciated was the time that was taken to explain the project, the site background, and to answer questions. There was clearly a lot of time, expertise, and collaboration that went into preparing for the day, and it was clear that one of the priorities was to share information about the project and the restoration technique with the volunteers. There’s nothing quite like hauling rocks to build camaraderie and teamwork! I will be interested to see what happens with this site – it is definitely a special place and a valuable project. Holding water in the highlands is so crucial for wildlife habitat, wildfire mitigation, and preserving the cultural and natural resources that make the Okanogan such a special place.”

Here in the Okanogan, school is always in session.

Thank you for partnering with us to protect, connect and restore wildlands and wildlife habitat!


Michael Liu, Okanogan Forest Lead






Support for this project included grant funding from the National Forest Foundation, which also funded fence maintenance and repair of the riparian exclosure protecting the stream that flows out of Cox Meadow. This cattle exclosure preserves riparian wildlife habitat and benefits species such as grouse. THANK YOU!

Visit our Forest Field program webpage to learn more
Volunteers gather to build rock weirs and zuni bowls in Cox Meadow. Photo: CNW