Tents were once again set up on the floodplain between Highway 91 and Boa Ogoi, the site of the Bear River Massacre, recently. But this time, their occupants were members of the Utah Conservation Corps.
“You gotta get a good sleeping bag,” said Virginia native and UCC crew leader Aaron DeLong, “It’s cold.”
This group of about 20 young people have been in the process of eliminating Russian olive trees from the landscape along this section of the Bear River for the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation, which will eventually replace them with willow and cottonwood trees and other native foliage, according to tribal elder Darren Parry.
As a guide for plants to reintroduce to the area, the band is using a list of plants their ancestors used while living there. The list was created by Parry’s grandmother, Mae Timbimboo Parry, and is included in Parry’s book, “The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History.”
Last month, the band was granted $1 million by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove the trees and restore the native plants as part of the process to restore the land to what it was like before 1863.
Parry expects the process of eradicating the Russian olive trees to take years. They can’t just be cut down. The tenacious tree’s stump has to be painted with an herbicide to keep it from growing again.
During the New Deal days, the federal government introduced the Russian olive tree to the West, seeing it as a great windbreak, a source of shade and a way to control soil erosion. Locally, they were dispersed through the Franklin County Extension office by Dan Robertson during the 1940s and ‘50s. In 1954, the Idaho Fish and Game department saw the tree as prime cover and food source for game birds. The trees were prized because they would survive almost anything. And they have proliferated along Franklin County’s waterways.
Participation of the Conservation Corps was organized by Will Munger, one of the graduate students at Utah State University who works with the Shoshone, Parry said.
The corps was onsite several weeks ago, took a week off and came back for another week to finish the phase they started. Their campsite has been supplied with portable toilets and fresh water from a well recently dug by the band, Parry said.
During the summer, the band also bored a well on the bluff west of the highway, hoping it could eventually be used to provide water for a future interpretation center to be built there.
The well struck there was hot, and non-potable. The fresh water found in the well closer to the highway and the Bear River is an artesian well with abundant supply, Parry said.
“We will develop it for locals to use, as well. We’ve had some local land owners interested in purchasing some water, and there is enough volume to do that,” he said.
Eventually, the band wants to reroute Battle Creek back out into the channel where it used to flow down to the Bear River, he said. The band is still working to raise capital to build the interpretive center, as well.
The creek was likely moved out of its original course when the Winder Dam washed out in 1911, changing the course of the Bear River.