Volcano's once barren landscape now teeming with fresh life

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on May 18, 2010 at 7:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 18 at 4:28 PM

Ash, rock and pieces of trees were all you could find in the once sterile landscape around Mount St. Helens after the eruption, but there's been a remarkable resurgence of life in the blast zone.

The Mount St. Helens eruption is considered the largest landslide in recorded history. This is the inside of the mountain blown inside out - the hummocks of Mount St. Helens.

"And they're actually chunks of the former top and inside of Mount St. Helens," said XXX.

The recovery of Mt. St. Helens started on the fringes and moved inward. The hummocks are in the deepest scar of the blast and the last to heal.

"This is a hemlock tree, a western hemlock, that's been repeatedly browsed back by elk," said XXX.

The difference in just the last ten years is epic. The wasteland we surveyed during the 20th anniversary is sprouting the surface for new forest, and happening in front of our very eyes. Pioneering plants and animals have grabbed hold of the wasteland and refused to let go.

Everything that lived here 30 years ago was smothered under a 150 ft. wave of mountain debris. Nothing survived. The stark, barren landscape has turned into lush mosses, grass and trees, all forming a new forest. It didn't happen overnight, but it began soon after the eruption - a rebirth that arrived on the wind.

The first settlers were tiny spiders that were carried here by the stiff Mount St. Helens breezes. That got the attention of hungry birds who came to eat spiders and left behind previous meals, including seeds of native plants.  Trees and grasses began to grow and attract more insects and birds.

More than a hundred large craters in the hummocks began to fill up with the first rains. Ponds, the critical incubators of life, sprang up and would soon be expanded by nature's master builders.

"Well beavers are amazing engineers in natural systems and these beavers have come in here in this wetland and essentially transformed it by the dam they've built," said XXX.

The recovery accelerated. The beavers created the perfect habitat to bring back another eruption casualty. The frog population that was wiped out from the blast is rebounding and becoming one of the healthiest in the West.
     
"Elk. We've seen a couple elk," said one hiker. "You can go down there and see them standing down along the river there."

Elk brought in remnants of healthy grasses and left them on the rocky soil in their droppings. Nature, on its own, replanted itself. The mountain side that suffocated all living things is itself now buried under layer of fresh life.

 

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