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Elk Head CONSERVATION
Native fish, wildlife and their habitat
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On the Ground: The Oregon Conservation Strategy at Work

June 2009
                                                         
In October 2008, in honor of the state’s sesquicentennial, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced 16 grants for the conservation of Oregon’s symbolic species—the western meadowlark, chinook salmon, Oregon swallowtail butterfly and American beaver. This month, we checked in on the grantees to see how work is progressing. More information on grants and state species .

Middle fork John Day River
Aerial photos taken in 1940 and 2005 of the middle fork of the John Day River show the loss of vegetation over time.

CONTENTS

  1. Turning back time on the John Day
  2. Omeg Orchards attract butterflies
  3. Rancher puts beavers to work 
  4. Seeking beavers to shelter coho
  5. An oasis for songbirds
  6. Revitalized sage steppe supports many wildlife species
  7. Returning meadowlarks to a fragmented landscape
  8. Crabtree Creek salmon habitat restoration
  9. Volunteers help restore Beaver Creek
  10. Delta Ponds come to life
  11. River delta revives
  12. Krautmann Farm gives meadowlarks a foothold in valley
  13. Rancher manages habitat for birds
  14. Restoring spawning beds for chinook
  15. The Nature Conservancy reimagines the Valley
  16. Nez Perce Tribe conserves critical habitat

1. TURNING BACK TIME ON THE JOHN DAY

“We’re gearing up big time” said Mark McCollister, wild fish program director for The Freshwater Trust, about the restoration project he is managing on the Middle Fork John Day River. “We have a lot to do in a short time.”

Work, which includes reactivating two river meanders that were dried out decades ago when the river was diked and straightened, will begin July 5.

“We are trying to recreate the diverse, well vegetated flood plain and in-stream habitat complexity that was here originally to reclaim chinook salmon spawning grounds and juvenile rearing habitat,” said McCollister. “When the channels have been reshaped and reflooded, native trees and shrubs will be planted and large wood placed in the meanders.”

The project area is within a Conservation Opportunity Area as defined in the Strategy, and is part of a larger conservation action—many partners and groups are at work on the John Day for the benefit of fish and wildlife species.

The Freshwater Trust, a non profit organization created by the merger of Oregon Trout and the Oregon Water Trust, is administering the grant.

Oregon swallowtail
The Oregon swallowtail became the state’s official insect on July 16, 1979.

2.  OMEG ORCHARDS ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES

Mike Omeg plans to restore two acres of native grasslands in his orchards to benefit the Oregon swallowtail butterfly and other native insects and wildlife. As part of the project, wildflowers that provide nectar for adult butterflies and wild tarragon, the host plant for swallowtail caterpillars, will be planted. Milkweed, which benefits both Monarch butterflies and Oregon swallowtail, is part of the planting prescription.

Today, Omeg is busy gearing up for the cherry harvest, but site preparation work, contracts and permits are in place so restoration work can continue in the fall.

The Omeg orchards are located just south of The Dalles, in the historic range of the Oregon swallowtail. While resources for the butterfly have been limited by conversion of land to residential and orchard use, Omeg's habitat improvements are expected to attract the swallowtails which inhabit the area.

Wasco County Soil and Water Conservation District is administering the grant.

3. RANCHER PUTS BEAVERS TO WORK

The Ernst Ranch wildlife restoration project uses beavers to do what they do best—build dams.

"There’s a great role for beaver on Dry Creek which runs through the ranch," said Ron Graves, Wasco County Soil and Water Conservation District manager. "Dams built by beavers will saturate the flood plain and later in the summer when things dry out, the cooler, high-quality water will seep back into the stream, helping with stream flow and temperature."

The project design is done and permits have been obtained. Work, which includes riparian plantings along the creek to increase food sources for beaver and planting of native vegetation on an adjacent 35 upland acres to benefit western meadowlarks and Oregon swallowtails, is scheduled to begin in the middle of July.

Wasco County Soil and Water Conservation District is administering the grant.

American beaver
American beaver.

4. SEEKING BEAVERS TO SHELTER COHO

Wayne Hoffman of the Mid Coast Watershed Council has a number of theories why beaver have disappeared from many of the creeks that feed into the Yaquina River, but whatever the reason, he wants them back.

“The decline of beaver ponds in this area has reduced that amount and quality of salmonid rearing habitat, especially for coho,” said Hoffman. “The site we chose to rehabilitate is representative of former beaver pond habitats that have not naturally regenerated with the willows and other hardwoods beavers like.”

The main culprit is an aggressive invasive plant, reed canary grass, which dominates the stream corridor and has prevented redevelopment of the woody riparian growth that beavers feed on and use for dam construction.

Work in the area began last winter with deep scalps though the reed canary grass to give the trees and shrubs that were planted a chance to get established. Large seedling stock was used to help deal with competition from the grass, and the plantings were caged to reduce animal damage. Monitoring, weeding and invasive species removal will continue until the trees are large enough to survive.  At that point, the cages will be removed and, hopefully, the beavers will return.

“We’re hopeful we’ll get some dam builders back in the area,” said Hoffman. “We also need more research to figure out what we are dealing with—are beaver ponds declining because of predation or trapping or are disease, invasive species and forest management practices affecting animal populations? Is beaver decline part of a natural population cycle? There are lots of questions we don’t have the answers to.”

The grant is being administered by the Mid Coast Watershed Council.

5. AN OASIS FOR SONGBIRDS

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are working to reclaim a native grassland on the Wanaket Wildlife Area to benefit the area’s breeding population of western meadowlarks, quail and other grassland species.

Invasive cheatgrass was removed this spring and a suite of native grass species— bluebunch wheatgrass, Sandberg bluegrass and sand dropseed—selected for replanting.

“We’ll plant late in the fall and pray for rain,” Jenny Barnett, biologist and project manager.

Various plots will be monitored before and after replanting, invasive weeds will be controlled and bird species surveyed. “We want to provide a natural grassland oasis for birds because much of the surrounding lands are agricultural and so much of Oregon’s native grasslands have disappeared.”

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is administering the grant.

Sage steppe
Juniper trees will be removed from shrub steppe habitat to benefit neotropical migrants, mule deer, short-eared owls, pronghorn and bighorn sheep.

6. REVITALIZED SAGE STEPPE SUPPORTS MANY WILDLIFE SPECIES

Near Paisley in the Summer Lake watershed, the Upper Sycan Watershed Council is using its Oregon 150 grant to restore sage steppe habitat on a private ranch. The bulk of the work involves removing juniper trees that have expanded into the area negatively impacting water supply, killing off the native understory, contributing to soil erosion and opening the door to invasive species. And, once the junipers took over, the wildlife species that evolved in sage steppe, moved out, behaviorally unable to adapt.

“This area of sage steppe is important to a lot of species—neotropical migrants, mule deer, short-eared owls, pronghorn and bighorn sheep,” said Craig Foster, ODFW wildlife biologist, Lakeview. “This specific project is targeted to improve meadowlark nesting habitat, but it will benefit all these species. The bighorns are really going to like this project.”

“We know from pre-monitoring that there are meadowlarks in the area,” said Anna Kerr, watershed council coordinator. “And, there is a good proportion of native grasses so we really believe this is an excellent restoration site that will provide good habitat pretty quickly.”

Kerr expects juniper removal to continue throughout the summer and early fall. Monitoring will continue to assess the success of the project.

Meadowlark habitat restoration
Earlier this month, OSU students assisting IAE’s restoration biologist  in removing invasive species such as reed canary grass, curly dock and meadow foxtail from a wetlands restoration site.

The Fort Rock/Silver Lake Soil and Water Conservation District is administering the grant.

7. RETURNING MEADOWLARKS TO A FRAGMENTED LANDSCAPE

The Institute for Applied Ecology received an Oregon 150 grant for its work to enhance western meadowlark habitat by linking and restoring Willamette Valley grasslands.

“Wet prairies are among the most endangered habitats in the west,” said Matt Blakeley-Smith, IAE restoration biologist. “The 150 grant will help fund our work on some of the few remaining breeding areas for the western meadowlark in the Valley.”

This season, IAE staff are working with three private landowners enrolled in the NRCS Wetland Reserve program, focusing on controlling invasive species such as reed canary grass, teasel and Himalayan blackberry. Once the invasives are controlled, about 8,000 native wildflower plugs will be planted. Plans are also being finalized to remove brush and trees that act as dispersal barriers to the meadowlarks which prefer grasslands of 50 acres or more.

The grant is being administered by the Institute for Applied Ecology.

Crabtree Creek
An eroded section of stream bank along Crabtree Creek is slated for restoration by the South Santiam Watershed Council.

8. CRABTREE CREEK SALMON HABITAT RESTORATION

Crabtree Creek, which flows through Linn County, was named for pioneer John Crabtree, who bought property in the area in 1846. Still a historic destination for its covered bridges, the creek is no longer as pristine as it was when Crabtree first wandered into the Oregon Country.

“There are salmon, steelhead and some native cutthroat trout in the creek,” said Eric Hartstein, South Santiam Watershed Council coordinator. “But, we have to improve the overall health of the creek to maintain populations.”

Later this summer, the large wood that will form habitat structures for the fish will be placed in the stream. Invasive Japanese knotweed will be removed in the fall, and in winter, native vegetation will be planted to restore riparian buffers.

“It’s a great project because we have landowner interest and good partner support,” said Hartstein, who was just pulling into Corvallis to acquire the permits he needs for in-stream work when we talked. “Although the primary benefit will be to salmon, habitat for beaver will improve as well.”

The grant is being administered by the South Santiam Watershed Council.

Reynolds Natural Resource Academy
Reynolds Natural Resource Academy Green Team volunteers will remove invasive species from lower Beaver Creek this fall.

9. VOLUNTEERS HELP RESTORE BEAVER CREEK

Beaver Creek enters the Sandy River a few miles from where it, in turn, flows into the Columbia. Once an ideal habitat to rear and refuge native chinook salmon, the creek is now overrun with invasive reed canary grass which has formed a thick mat and choked out native plants and shrubs. 

Beaver Creek is in an environmentally important confluence area, one that SOLV, who was awarded an Oregon 150 grant, has been working in for a number of years. The project involves work in and along the lower creek—invasive species will be removed, an existing alcove will be enhanced and large woody debris placed.

Fueled by the power of an army of Green Team volunteers, Steve Kennett, SOLV program coordinator, said work will begin this summer.

“After the reed canary grass is gone, we’ll plant densely with ash and willow trees. Over time, the native trees will shade out the reed canary grass,” said Kennett. “This project will benefit many fish and amphibian species, and it links up well with other projects in the area.”

The grant is being administered by SOLV.

Delta Ponds
Native riparian tree and shrub plantings at Delta Ponds, a side channel of the Willamette River, will benefit a host of wildlife.

10. DELTA PONDS COME TO LIFE

The Eugene Delta Ponds occupy what was once a side channel of the Willamette River. Purchased by the City in the 1970s from a sand and gravel operator, the site has been the focus of significant restoration work. Over the last five years, more than two miles of the side channel was reconnected with the river, invasive species were removed and large-scale riparian work done.

“This is a large, phased, multi-year project that involves many partners,” said Eric Wold, Eugene’s Natural Resources manager. “The great part is that at every point, we see results—the first year after the channel was reconnected, we saw salmon return.”

Wold is using his Oregon 150 grant for riparian and wetland restoration and to plant “thousands and thousands” of native trees and shrubs.

“We work with our local ODFW fish and wildlife biologists on monitoring and to make sure we are doing the right thing for our native species,” said Wold. “The grant is for the benefit of chinook and beaver, but a lot of bird, reptile and amphibian species are benefiting. Western pond turtles are being helped through improved nesting and basking habitat.”

From gravel pit to wildlife refuge, fishing hole and bird watching retreat—it’s a long, expensive road, but to visit Delta Ponds today and see the progress illustrates what is possible.

The City of Eugene is administering the grant.

11. RIVER DELTA REVIVES

The Columbia and Sandy rivers converge a few miles from the city of Troutdale. The confluence, once a rich river delta, suffers from habitat degradation and infestation of invasive species. Its restoration is a long-term, landscape-scale project.

“There is a lot of energy and momentum to return the delta to historic conditions,” said Melissa Rowe Soll, Ash Creek Forest Management program manager who, with staff members Matt Stine and George Kral, is implementing an Oregon 150 grant.

“The funds have allowed us to control invasive weeds and plant more than 70,000 native trees and shrubs in 70 acres of riparian forest. Over time, we expect to see significant improvement in habitat structure, soil conservation, shade and forage—all critical for fish and wildlife,” she said.

Ash Creek staff have been working in the area for more than five years with a number of partners including BPA, the Forest Service, ODFW and OWEB and are confident that they can extend successful restoration across the entire 1500-acre delta.

“Once restored, the delta will represent the largest hardwood forest under the Pacific flyway—good habitat for neotropical migratory birds and migrating salmon,” said Rowe Soll.

The grant is being administered by Ash Creek Forest Management.

12. KRAUTMANN FARM GIVES MEADOWLARKS A FOOTHOLD IN VALLEY

Anyone involved in fish and wildlife conservation in the Willamette Valley can tell you that more than 95 percent of it is privately owned, creating challenges to conservation actions. But, Mark and Jolly Krautmann, co-owners of Heritage Seedlings, will tell you that private landowners are committed to soil conservation, water quality and wildlife habitat, and are very interested in wildlife conservation projects.

The Krautmanns, recipients of an Oregon 150 grant for upland prairie restoration to benefit western meadowlarks on their Jefferson Farm property, clearly walk their talk. Last fall they began tackling fields of hay and bentgrass, intent on restoring the land to native prairie. A regime of spraying and burning will be used over a period of at least a year to ensure that when native grasses and forbs are planted the land is well prepared.

“The grassland is adjacent to a 1350-acre oak savanna remnant being restored with other funding, so we will have a wonderful landscape, ideal for meadowlarks,” said Lynda Boyle, Heritage Seedlings habitat restorationist.

Oak savanna habitat
Oak savanna habitat, a mixture of oak trees and grasslands, is being restored on a private ranch in Douglas County.

Heritage Seedlings, Inc. is administering the grant.

13. RANCHER MANAGES HABITAT FOR BIRDS

Jim Lee, Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District project manager, is quick to list the species that will benefit from restoration work being done on a private ranch outside of Oakland—Columbian white-tailed deer, vesper sparrow, western meadowlark, white-breasted nuthatch, raptors, owls and woodpeckers among them.

“These are species with a preference for our historic oak savannas and woodlands,” said Lee who is working with a rancher to restore such a site.

“The savanna has been overrun with English hawthorn and its friends scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry,” said Lee. “We are in the process of removing the invasive brush species, retaining the large oaks and preparing the land for replanting with native plants.”  

14. RESTORING SPAWNING BEDS FOR CHINOOK

Stout Creek
Reed canary grass will be removed from along Stout Creek to make way for native plantings. Large wood placement will help with gravel retention for chinook salmon.

 “Stout Creek is one of the grand opportunities,” said Liz Redon, North Santiam Watershed Council coordinator. “We have some really nice habitat areas interspersed with degraded areas—once we connect them, we’ll have great habitat for chinook salmon as well as beaver.”

The Watershed Council is currently working with landowners to restore the lower two-and-a-half miles of the creek before it flows into the North Santiam River. Work funded by the Oregon 150 grant includes bank shaping, vegetated soil lifts, invasive plant removal and native plantings.

“We are working with four landowners now and will be placing some wood in the creek later this summer. We know there is a lot of gravel flowing out of the creek. If we can use large wood to hold it, we can provide gravel for salmon spawning. The wood will also provide cover and additional habitat,” said Redon.

The project is part of a 10-year effort that includes invasive species removal and control; re-establishment of native plants along the riparian buffer to provide bank stability, shade and fish and wildlife habitat; and exclusion fencing of livestock to improve water quality.
 
The North Santiam Watershed Council is administering the grant.

15. THE NATURE CONSERVANCY REIMAGINES THE VALLEY

Willow Creek Preserve before
Willow Creek Preserve after
Before and after photos show the dramatic improvement as Willow Creek Preserve in Eugene. Restoration included mowing, prescribed fire and replanting.

The Nature Conservancy is at work at four sites in the Willamette Valley restoring native grasslands and oak savannas to benefit the western meadowlark, a species once plentiful in the valleys of western Oregon but now in dramatic decline due to urban and rural development, land use changes and fire suppression policies.

“With all of the development in the valley, there is still room to make a difference for the meadowlark and other grassland birds,” said Jason Nuckols, Willamette Valley Preserve manager for The Nature Conservancy. “We are working on both private and public lands, trying to link grasslands and open up some historic habitat.”

Grant work includes shearing trees and shrubs; mowing and spraying invasive blackberries and Canadian thistle; burning designated areas of prairie and savanna; thinning oak woodlands to savanna conditions; and reseeding acres of land with native grasses and forbs.

Pre- and post-restoration monitoring is being done at each of the sites.

The Nature Conservancy is administering the grant.

16. NEZ PERCE TRIBE CONSERVES CRITICAL HABITAT

A change in land use and management around the Chesnimnus and Swamp creeks in the Upper Joseph Watershed has opened an opportunity to restore riparian areas to benefit steelhead, beaver and other species. Degraded by livestock grazing and elk damage, the creeks are getting new life through a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the Nez Perce Tribe. 

This spring about 1400 native trees and shrubs including dogwood, cottonwood and several species of willow were planted and caged to prevent browsing by wildlife. Once the plantings are well established, the cages will be removed.

“The beaver will be back. We expect they will move up the creeks on their own, if not we’ll reintroduce them,” said Rick Christian project manager, Nez Perce Tribe.

Chesnimnus and Swamp creek restoration
Wire cages were constructed to protect native plantings from wildlife browsing as part of the restoration work on Chesnimnus and Swamp creeks.

“We are seeing fantastic success in this area already,” said Cynthia Erickson, Riparian Native Plant specialist, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. “We have a wonderful diversity of riparian species now.”

The grant is being administered by the Nez Perce Tribe.

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ABOUT THE OREGON CONSERVATION STRATEGY

The Oregon Conservation Strategy provides a blueprint and action plan for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a non-regulatory, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by ODFW with the help of a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, conservation groups, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, and representatives from agriculture, forestry and rangelands.

EDITOR

Meg Kenagy
Oregon Conservation Strategy Communications coordinator
(503) 947-6021
meg.b.kenagy@state.or.us

FOR PHOTOS OF THE PROJECTS

Contact Meg Kenagy

FOR STRATEGY INFORMATION

Contact Michael Pope

FOR A COPY OF THE STRATEGY

Contact Karen Buell at ODFW.

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