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The melodious call of the western meadowlark signals the arrival of spring in Oregon.
Photo courtesy of Greg Gillson

On the Ground: The Oregon Conservation Strategy at Work

May 2010

Field season is underway in Oregon, and the Willamette Valley Strategic Partnership is on the ground working to restore native prairies and wetlands. The group is comprised of biologists and staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.


The Power of Three
Mapping Western Meadowlarks
Have Truck, Will Travel
One Small Thing

Kate Halstead
ODFW Technician Kate Halstead surveys for western meadowlarks on the Finley National Wildlife Refuge.
— Photo by ODFW—


Their objective is full of the usual group-speak words: organize, prioritize, synergize and economize, but you won’t find a bureaucrat in the Willamette Valley Strategic Partnership work group.

To hear NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program Manager Dannelle Aleshire describe it, “It’s a really great forum to get things done. We gather around one table to talk about restoration projects and how we can work together to make them happen.”

But, the more you listen to her, the more you realize there are few tables involved with this group’s meetings.

“I try to pull the partners together at the first project site visit so we can get everyone’s input into the initial design,” Aleshire said.

For Steve Marx, ODFW watershed manager, the group’s mission is clear. “We are implementing the Strategy in the Valley, focusing on some of our most critical habitats—wetlands and prairies. All three of the agencies bring something to the table.“

And, there it is again, the table that isn’t.

Dannelle Aleshire
Dannelle Aleshire, NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program manager, at work on a restoration site.
— NRCS photo —

But, things get done—a number of projects in the first three years have benefited Oregon chub, grassland birds, reptiles and butterflies. NRCS provides funding, project design and technical advice through the WRP. USFWS staff work with landowners on project implementation. ODFW offers species advise and habitat staff provide expertise and equipment to get the job done.

“By working together, we are getting these things done a lot faster,” said Steve Smith, USFWS biologist. “The key to working in the Valley is in working with private landowners and that is the strength of the partnership.”

Many other groups including The Nature Conservancy, Institute for Applied Ecology and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board work with the Willamette Valley Strategic Partnership on a project-by-project basis to maximize resources, make projects more competitive for funding, increase matching funds and speed completion.

Learn more about the NRCS in Oregon, on their website.

Contact Steve Marx, Steven.d.marx@odfw.oregon.gov, Steve Smith, Steve_Smith@fws.gov or Dannelle Aleshire, dannelle.aleshire@or.usda.gov.  

William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge
William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, south of Corvallis, is home to one of the largest western meadowlark populations remaining in the Valley.
— Photo by ODFW—


Fresh from the raucous highway, one steps out of the car at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge into a great wall of silence. Then, the bird song rises—a red-winged blackbird, a spotted towhee, a western meadowlark. Almost immediately, from 180 degrees, another meadowlark announces his position.

It’s the melodious call biologist Ann Kreager is waiting for on this cold, damp morning in May. While not a great day to be in the field, it is meadowlark breeding season and Kreager consistently monitors Finley’s fields and wetlands. She and technician Kate Halstead are out early several times a week conducting surveys.

“We are spot-mapping the territorial behavior of the meadowlarks to estimate their density and distribution in the landscape” says Kreager, ODFW Willamette Valley Grassland biologist.

While Finley Refuge has one of the largest contiguous populations of western meadowlarks in the Valley, population surveys have not been conducted to accurately assess the actual number of meadowlarks that breed here. To Kreager’s knowledge, meadowlarks have never been mapped in this way in the Pacific Northwest. 
“We know that meadowlarks require about 12 to 20 acres per breeding male, but that they also tend to occur only in those areas where more than 100 acres of contiguous prairie habitat exists.  This survey will help determine the landscape variables that contribute to occupation of their sites: Why are they using one site over another? If habitat is improved on a site, will they occupy it?”

Steve Smith
Steve Smith, USFWS private lands biologist, works with landowners interested in creating fish and wildlife habitats on their property.
— Photo by ODFW—

The surveys at Finley are only part of work being done on western meadowlarks in the Valley this spring. A roadside territory study is also underway. Eighteen volunteers are monitoring approximately 100 sites known to have been occupied in previous years to assess the continued presence of meadowlarks, document habitat types and map territorial movements. Vegetation parameters are taken that will be compared to previous years’ data to see if there are differences.

Kreager says survey work will continue through July. Resultant data will help inform prairie and wetland restoration projects and advance knowledge of the Valley’s remaining meadowlarks.

The meadowlark and other grassland birds are in decline throughout western Oregon due to the loss of wet and dry prairies and oak savannas to development and cultivation. Although it would be impossible to recreate the patchwork of lost prairies, many grassland birds can live alongside people if the habitat is suitable. Suitable habitat can be provided in fallow fields, lightly-grazed pastures, other uncultivated areas and even some cultivated fields.

For more information on the western meadowlark and to see the Landowners Guide to Grassland Habitat, visit ODFW’s website. E-mail Ann, Ann.Kreager@dfw.state.or.us 


The interior of Steve Smith’s truck looks what it is—his office. Boots, coat, hats, clipboards, binoculars, coffee cups, cell phone, rain gear and who knows what fill the back seat.

Steve Smith
Restoration work is scheduled to begin this summer on property adjacent to the wildlife refuge. It is currently farmed for grass seed.
— Photo by ODFW—

A USFWS private lands biologist, Smith works where the work gets done—outside, in a farmer’s field or in a partner’s conference room. 

“I work with people who want to create habitat value for fish and wildlife on their property,“ says Smith. “No wildlife refuge is large enough to handle the needs of the suite of species that need help.”

Working through the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, Smith focuses on four native habitats in need of restoration: oak woodlands and savanna; upland and wet prairie; riparian and floodplains and wetlands.

This year, Smith and the Willamette Valley Strategic Partnership are working on a laundry list of projects in various stages of development. Three landowners who are ready to start work this summer are a sportsmens’ club, a farmer near Dallas and a vineyard owner.

The land belonging to the sportsmens’ club is adjacent to Finley and provides an opportunity to extend native wet prairie. It has been already been surveyed and restoration work will begin as soon the grass seed crop on the property has been harvested.

“When we’re done, it will be interesting to see if the grassland birds will expand into this area,” says Smith looking at the club’s property which has been ditched, cultivated and encroached on by invasive blackberries. ODFW biologist Ann Kreager, who has been surveying the adjacent field for meadowlarks, will be watching, too.

Smith does in fact have an office at the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. E-mail Steve, Steve_Smith@fws.gov

For information about Partners for Fish and Wildlife, visit the USFWS website.


The Oregon Conservation Strategy takes an ecoregion approach to conservation. Learn about your area in the Ecoregion section of the Strategy and discover what fish and wildlife species and habitats are in need of help; what invasive species threaten native habitats; and what areas can benefit most from conservation activities. And, if you are involved with conservation education, find flyers for youths on ODFW’s website.


On the Ground newsletter archives


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.


Meg Kenagy
Oregon Conservation Strategy Communications coordinator
(503) 947-6021

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