Tribal nursery focuses on native Wash. plants

10/27/2012 8:15 PM
By Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) — Banksavers Nursery is the state's only tribal-owned native plant nursery, and one of the few around that focuses solely on plants native to Western Washington.

Operated by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, Banksavers evolved from educational and social efforts to engage tribal members in learning about native plants and their traditional uses. Then it became a program in which the tribe grew native plants for its own salmon habitat projects, establishing wetlands and forests to mitigate for the tribe's development in the county.

After other jurisdictions began contracting for Banksaver plants and landscaping services, the tribe decided to step out as a wholesale and retail operation.

A few years ago, the tribe bought a former alpaca farm north of Arlington and moved its greenhouses up from the tribe's property along the Stillaguamish River. The business is located at 25525 Dahl Road, which runs along the eastside of I-5 just south of the Stanwood exit.

The 135-acre farm overlooks the Pilchuck Creek canyon on one side. Banksavers has four large greenhouses, potting sheds, landscaping materials and equipment and acres of 63 species of native plants potted up in neat rows. At full capacity, the pesticide-free, organic nursery has space for a half million plants. The operation, which gives preference to tribal members, employs 14 people.

Stillaguamish tribal member Martin Allen has worked at the nursery for about four years.

"It's great to work for the tribe and great that the tribe owns this nursery," Allen said. "And sometimes the work is more than just work. It's heartfelt when we plant cedar trees."

Western red cedars are one of the most important plants to Coast Salish tribes, who depended on the trees for canoes, clothing, homes and spiritual uses.

Banksavers director Mike Simpier and his assistant manager Steven Huntley are focusing now on the promotion of the retail and landscaping side of the business.

Autumn is a good time to plant natives in residential gardens, Simpier said.

"Summer isn't the best time, and it especially wasn't during that long stretch we just had without rain," Simpier said. "But now is a great time, with high rates of longevity and plant health. The thing about native plants is that eventually you won't have to water them. And they're good for the birds."

Plants sold in one-gallon or two-gallon pots go for from $5 to $10, with less expensive prices for wholesale orders. Historically, the Stillaguamish Tribe's nursery focused on salmon habitat restoration, which the tribe has done voluntarily throughout the Stillaguamish River watershed in partnership with regional nonprofits. Riverbanks have been saved from erosion, stabilized with the use of native plants.

Jeff Payne, the nursery's mitigation specialist, has spent the past seven years with Banksavers learning about restoration of clear-cut areas, drainage, salmon habitat and natural beauty.

"Our focus is to emulate nature and restore places to their native beauty and purpose," Payne said. "Washington state has strict wetland legislation and we can help ensure that the laws are satisfied."

Currently, Banksavers is doing some mitigation work for the state Department of Transportation, which plans to replace the one-lane bridge across Pilchuck Creek on Highway 9, work that can't be done without disturbing some of the creekside habitat.

Christine Woodward, director of natural resources for the Samish Tribe in Anacortes, praised Banksavers for its hard work and healthy plants, which can be found throughout the Samish property on Fidalgo Island.

Her sentiment was echoed by Mike Baden, property manager for the Pierce Conservation District in Puyallup.

"They do good restoration work. The conservation district bought an old dairy farm down here so we could buffer a creek and provide for riparian habitat," Baden said. "Banksavers was the only business who could provide all the plants we needed and travel to us to get the work done."


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