During our finalist visit with John Oxley at his Sandpoint, Idaho, property, we reviewed his conservation project wish list. John had access issues getting to parts of his property, so building trails would be one project. Water was a bigger issue, however. The Upper Pack River runs really fast through there, eroding the riverbank. Hillside runoff was damaging roads. And, over time, unwelcome ATVs and dirt bikes had come in and knocked down a planned wildlife viewing area. In each case, erosion control measures were called for on this beautiful northern Idaho property.

Our crew arrived on Sunday, eager to get started. Monday was unbelievable — the ground was dry and easy to work, and we finished a lot of our prep work. That early progress made up for the all-day rain on Tuesday. Still, we kept busy — with much credit to the three Bobcat compact track loaders we had brought. Track loaders are designed to still perform well in wet weather.

Three-and-a-half Miles of Trail

John Oxley’s land had a lot of water running through it, so the first thing we did was install culverts — five in all — to open up access. Later John told me, “I’ve never been back in this area before.” It was cool to be with him when he saw some of his land for the very first time. Over the next few days, we cut three-and-a-half miles of trails with the compact track loaders. Two specialized attachments — a forestry cutter and brush cutter — allowed us to clear trees, branches and tall weeds, leaving behind only mulch.

On any day you may spot moose, mountain caribou, white tail deer, mule deer, and even bears on John’s property. At the spot where we had put in a culvert, the next morning we spotted tracks from bear, moose and deer that had crossed over during the night.

Drain Tile and Conservation Plots

Elsewhere, hillside springs had washed out an access road. Installing drain tile would solve the erosion issue and direct the spring water to an existing pond. Using the Bobcat mini-excavator, we trenched in almost 500 feet of corrugated drain tile. We dug down about two-and-a-half feet, laid in the pipe and backfilled it with pea rock. We covered that with larger rocks harvested from other projects using a rock bucket.

We also cleaned out the pond and planted a conservation plot next to it. Today, the springs feed the pond and irrigate the plot, providing a sustainable habitat. We built two other conservation plots, clearing land with the track loader and rotary cutter, and sifting rocks from the soil with a rock bucket. We used the Toolcat utility work machine and tiller to prepare the seedbed, and followed up with the seeder attachment, planting a mix of native grasses and alfalfa, mixed with radishes and other annuals.

Tree Transplanting

Erosion control again motivated us in transplanting trees. Not wanting to harvest trees along the river, we used the Bobcat tree spade to dig trees from up the hill and then carried each one a mile down to the river’s edge. We used the Bobcat digger attachment — which works like an oversized shovel — to move smaller saplings.

Eroded Hill Restored for Wildlife Viewing Blind

Not being a hunter, John has set apart his whole property for enjoying nature. Still, there was a specific hilltop with an unobstructed view of the valley below that he wanted to develop as a wildlife viewing area. Unfortunately, uninvited “guests” ran their four-wheelers on it and eroded the hillside. We came in with an excavator and pulled the dirt back up the hill. Once it was stabilized, we planted it with native grasses and rolled out an erosion control mat to hold the seed in place, retain moisture and encourage fast germination.

The final touch was a wildlife observation blind — provided compliments of Create & Conserve sponsor Redneck Blinds — accessible from behind so John and his grandkids can sneak in and out without disturbing the wildlife below.

Congratulations, John Oxley, 2015 Bobcat Create & Conserve Contest winner!

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