Gearing up for Garlic mustard

Conservation staff are getting ready for this season’s invasive weed field work. Garlic mustard is at the top of our list again this year for special attention.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an aggressive invasive species in the Pacific Northwest. Originally introduced in North America for culinary uses, it has escaped cultivation to become a very serious invader in many states. Garlic mustard is a groundcover that can grow in established forests, wetlands, disturbed soil, and people’s yards.

Garlic mustard has few known locations in the Pacific Northwest and urgent action is needed to prevent it from gaining a foothold.  The key to controlling garlic mustard is to attack infestations early in spring before the plants have a chance to go to seed.

Garlic mustard is a priority for control because it quickly invades shaded woodland habitats, displacing other plants by monopolizing light, moisture, nutrients, soil, and space. Once established, it also hinders natural forest regeneration by releasing chemicals into the soil that are toxic to other plants and are particularly harmful to soil fungi that are vital to native plants. That makes the woods less hospitable to our native plants and dramatically decreases forage for native animals. This noxious weed impacts sensitive natural areas as well as suburban landscapes, and all known populations in our district are targeted for removal.

We offer FREE assistance to help manage this invasive plant before it becomes established and too difficult to contain. And we are asking local residents – important stewards of the land – to help us locate and manage this invasive plant by allowing us to come to your property to remove or kill all known infestations. Without immediate attention, this noxious weed will become a very serious threat to our native ecosystems.

During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, we are putting extra precautions in place to carry out time-sensitive garlic mustard control work by relying on phone/text communication with landowners and by practicing social distancing. As we begin the 2020 Garlic mustard treatment season in a couple of weeks, we will share updates and frequently asked questions on our website: https://wmswcd.org/species/garlic-mustard/

If you think you have Garlic mustard in your yard, or if you have any questions or concerns about treatment, please contact Michelle Delepine, Invasive Species Program Coordinator, at 503-238-4775 x115.

Are you able to identify Garlic mustard?

Garlic mustard is a biennial plant with two different forms in its first and second years. The first year it forms a small rosette of round, kidney-shaped leaves, with scalloped edges. In the second year, an elongated flower stalk appears (growing 12- 48 inches) with alternating leaves along the stem. These leaves are different from the first year growth in that they are toothed with a triangular shape. Plants have long, flowering stems with several white flowers. Each flower has 4 white petals in a cross shape. When crushed between the fingers, the plant gives off a distinct garlic smell, distinguishing it from look-alikes. Garlic mustard stems and leaves lack the tiny hairs of similar looking native plants.

Look-alikes

fringecup green plant next to similar looking garlic mustardGarlic mustard resembles a number of native plants, including wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), the piggy-back plant (Tolmiea menziesii), and fringecup (Tellima grandiflora). It also looks like the ‘money plant’ (Lunaria annua) or ‘creeping Charlie’ (Glechoma hederacea) when it’s young. Make sure to check for the garlicky smell, smooth stems, and the white flower to confirm garlic mustard.

When to Remove

The most important consideration when dealing with garlic mustard is to prevent flowering plants from going to seed. Hand-pull plants that have bolted and stop before the seed pods harden. Handling garlic mustard when seed pods are opening will scatter seeds; avoid pulling at this stage. First year growth will generally not produce seed and may be removed any time the soil is moist. Second year growth must be removed by late April or May.

Contact us for help

Contact Michelle Delepine, Invasive Species Program Coordinator, at 503-238-4775 x115 to get started on treatment.


Spring Forest Maintenance in the Tualatin Mountains

(Photo: Ivy vines cut from a tree.)

By Michael Ahr, Forest Conservationist

Spring inevitably brings on the urge to get outside and work the land. Our forest and habitat restoration work often encompasses invasive species control, planting of native trees and shrubs, and control of any competing vegetation that might threaten our desired plants. This spring, we encourage you to get outside and here are some tips for making your projects a success.

Invasive weeds and competing vegetation

You may encounter invasive weeds recurring in your planting areas, or invading new areas of your property. The first step is to identify them and then determine the best time of year to tackle what you have.

  • Spring is an ideal time to treat many weeds and grasses before they go to seed and disperse into other areas. Controlling grasses around new plantings at this time of year allows the spring rains to benefit the new plants rather than weeds and competing plants.
  • Don’t apply herbicides if the weather is cold. Temperatures should be above 45F and ideally the temperature would get above 50F later in the day. A hard frost is not conducive to herbicide uptake, nor the consistency of herbicide in the tank.
  • Always follow the guidelines and restrictions on herbicide labels and wear personal protective equipment.
  • If you find any new weeds that you cannot identify, please contact the Multnomah County Master Gardeners.
  • In the spring, we have less fire risk than in the summer. However, it is still a good idea to check Oregon Dept. of Forestry regulations before beginning work.
  • Birds are beginning to nest, and you should be careful when performing any vegetation management during the spring and early summer. We are currently in the early nesting season (Feb 1 – April 15). Late nesting season is from April 15-July 31 and disturbance should be avoided if possible, with steps taken to minimize impacts when appropriate. Find more guidance on protecting nesting birds at portlandoregon.gov/bes/article/322164.

Grasses and forbs: Grasses and various weeds can steal moisture from your newly planted trees and shrubs. You can control this competition by hand pulling, mowing or cutting. Adding mulch or wood chips can help as well. Another option is herbicide treatment within about 3’ of each plant. Different herbicides are formulated for various kinds of vegetation. Contact us for guidance on herbicide selection and best practices.

High priority weeds – Garlic Mustard, spurge laurel, and other weeds that are new to our region:

Certain weeds are a very high priority to control because of the rate at which they can spread or their toxicity to people or other native plants (or other reasons).  Contact us if you have Garlic mustard, spurge laurel, Giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, Orange hawkweed, American pokeweed, or False brome. We can help control many of these weeds at no cost to you, and we want to know where these weeds are growing.

Himalayan (Armenian) & Cutleaf (Evergreen) Blackberries: Although fall is often the best time to control invasive blackberry, there is some work you can do in the spring as well.

  • Dig up small patches when soil is moist and easier to work, particularly in areas where digging won’t lead to erosion or jeopardize slope stability. Once the main rootwad has been extracted, the blackberry cane should not return.
  • For larger patches, following a fall cutting, herbicide is an option for treating new spring growth. If you wait until the fall to treat this growth, you’ll undo much of the benefit of the cutting. Contact us for guidance on herbicide selection and best practices. Utilize only aquatic formulations when spraying near waterways. Plan to treat when no rain is forecast for at least 24 hours.

Scotch broom: This can be treated similarly to blackberry. Don’t mow it in the spring or it will sprout vigorously and you might stir up the seed bed. Disturbance can lead to a great deal of new growth from seed.

English & Irish Ivy: Focus efforts on vines that are climbing up trees to prevent the spread of mature fruits which typically only form when the vines reach sunlight. Sever vines from the roots by carefully cutting an 18” section out of each vine at about chest height. Pull back the rooted vines to at least 6’ from the base of the tree, uprooting them if possible, to create a “life saver” ring around each tree. For more ivy removal techniques, see this Best Management Practice Guide. Alternatively, apply 50% triclopyr, (e.g. Garlon 3a or Vastlan), or 50% glyphosate immediately to the freshly cut rooted vine.

Shiny Geranium and herb-robert: These two plants are actively growing right now. Keep an eye out for new patches and handpull small areas. Large infestations can be treated in the spring before flowering.

Thistle, teasel, poison hemlock, and tansy ragwort: Every spring and summer we get questions about these weeds and they could be encroaching on your property, especially in cleared areas. In general, a 1-2% mix of triclopyr can work well on these weeds before they flower, or just as they’re beginning to flower. This timing is also good if you’re planning to cut the weeds rather than use herbicides.

Tree cutting

If you have hazard trees that may be at risk of damaging property, falling into a road, or hurting desirable vegetation, I recommend that you deal with these as soon as you identify the risk and can remove them safely. Often times this means hiring a trained arborist to assess the risk or remove the trees.

Otherwise, I would encourage you to focus on tree cutting in the fall. Two main reasons for this:

  • Many species including Douglas-fir are more sensitive and more prone to damage in the spring while they are actively growing. Summer can be too hot and risky for tree cutting. Oregon Department of Forestry or your local rural fire department may have restrictions on using power driven machinery during this time when wildfire risk is high.
  • Much of the tree cutting occurring in the West Hills is restoration based. This can often mean that a landowner is cutting hardwoods to provide space for conifers. It is best to cut trees in fall when they are less likely to sprout from the stump and surrounding roots.

But wait, a logger just told me that we should do our logging job in the summer?!?! Smaller scale tree cutting described above is best for fall, however if you’re hauling logs away, summer can be a good time. In the Tualatin Mountains, we often don’t have adequate forest roads for log trucks to perform winter hauling, so we have to work in the summer when the ground is dry.

Caring for New Native Tree and Shrub Plantings

If you’ve recently planted new trees and shrubs, watering can be very helpful. If you can get a hose or a sprinkler to a planting, go for it. You only need to do this a few times over the summer when temperatures have become hot and we’re not getting rainfall. When you water, give the plants a thorough dousing where the ground around the plants is visibly wet. If you aren’t able to water don’t worry too much. Many of our restoration sites with native plantings are not near a water source.

In all situations, weed control around new plants is very important, even if you’re able to water. The watering is helpful for the first couple years, and then you should back off and let the plants grow on their own so they can establish root systems that are adapted to the natural moisture available on site.

Contact us for help or guidance!

Good luck with your spring forest work! I’m available to answer any of your questions. Call me at 503-238-4775 x109 or email me at michael@wmswcd.org.


An Interagency Partnership to Reboot Two Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Tax Incentive Conservation Programs

Guest post by Derek Palmore, ODFW Wildlife Habitat Conservation Management Program Intern, July-November 2019

West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (WMSWCD) partnered in 2019 with other Lower Willamette Valley conservation districts in an intergovernmental agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) to assess the current status and future viability of two private landowner tax incentive programs administered and regulated by the ODFW.

The first program, Riparian Lands Tax Incentive Program (RLTIP), created in 1981 (ORS 308A.350-.383), offers an incentive for improving or maintaining qualifying riparian lands. The Wildlife Habitat Conservation Management Program (WHCMP) passed legislation in 1997 (ORS 308A.400-.743) and is aimed at rewarding landowners for stewardship of native wildlife and habitat on their own land. Both programs provide soil and water conservation districts with an additional set of tools to encourage landowners to proactively manage their land for conservation benefit.

The challenge was ODFW had lost the capacity to implement and regulate the programs due to a loss in staff funding, which had left the current status of both programs uncertain. Records for how many enrollees were in either program or if the conservation plans were being adhered to had become outdated. This meant that ODFW was unable to accept new enrollees in the WHCMP program and many conservation opportunities were being lost. The first step in getting these programs back online was to reconcile the paper trail.

My internship began in July of 2019 when I was tasked with assisting ODFW North Willamette Watershed District with discovering and rectifying their WHCMP plans; another intern was tasked with the RLTIP plans. Headquartered in the ODFW Clackamas Regional office, I compared hard-copy files to an internal database looking for errors and duplicates, updating the physical files with newer information from the database, and entering new information into the database from physical documents. I then worked with tax assessors from seven counties to audit last known owners, discover current enrollment status, and correct discrepancies between the WHCMP plans and the respective county tax assessor records.

Not all of my time, however, was spent digging through files and data. I had the opportunity to participate in outdoor conservation work like helping with biological sampling, bird count surveys, bear trapping, rescuing deer from Willamette Falls, and scouting potential beaver relocation habitat in a remnant old-growth stand. I also had the unique opportunity to watch the different federal, state, regional, municipal, and non-profit agencies work together on these programs.

By October, enrolled plans in both tax incentive programs had been mostly accounted for, dusted off, and placed back in orderly fashion for review.

The interagency group of Lower Willamette Valley SWCDs and ODFW have now finished the discovery phase of their agreement and are in discussions for the next phase, including what options there are for a permanent position to manage the programs.

Editor’s Note: Both interns – The ODFW Wildlife Management Conservation and Management Program Intern (Derek Palmore) and the Riparian Lands Tax Incentive Program Intern (Jake Lovell) – were temporary employees of the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District.

Photo credit: Western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) by Jerry Kirkhart; tinyurl.com/western-pond-turtle


Office closed through March 31

The health and safety of our community is very important to us. Given the rapidly escalating situation with COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the Portland area, and our strong desire to do our part to keep people safe and healthy, we have closed the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District Office through the end of March in order to help slow the spread of this virus. As of now, we are tentatively planning to reopen at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 1, but please note this may change. We are developing contingency plans in case the situation continues to escalate.

Our District staff will all be working remotely during this time and can be reached by email or by leaving a voicemail message. For the most up-to-date information on how to reach us during this closure, please check this webpage.


Former holly orchard will nourish a new forest

Guest post by Laura O. Foster

In a blue-sky week in early November, a Rayco track mulcher began chewing up mature holly trees in a 13-acre orchard on McNamee Road. With the last commercial harvest from the orchard almost 10 years prior, the property owner, Dr. Ivan Law, had decided to repurpose his land. “I had been thinking of clearing it out for a while,” Law said.

He found a partner for the job in the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (WMSWCD). Michael Ahr, Forest Conservationist at WMSWCD, explains how the process worked for Dr. Law, and how other landowners can work with the District on projects to improve their land’s value and wildlife habitat, and to improve regional water quality.

14 months in the planning

When Law contacted the District in September 2018, Ahr and his team jumped into action. Holly is an invasive species, and not the highest economic use for Oregon forestlands. The first step was to survey the property and create a management/conservation plan, based on the owner’s priorities. In this case, the plan recommended holly removal (along with 4 acres of blackberry) and replanting with either timber or pollinator species, in accordance with Law’s goals for his land.

Once a conservation plan is in place for a property, federal funds can be accessed. In this case, Law applied for a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) grant. Ahr, who is certified to write NRCS conservation plans, helped with technical details.

Requests for proposals went out in late winter 2019. Ahr didn’t specify in the RFP how the holly should be removed, but did require it either be hauled offsite or chipped. After reviewing six bids, Ahr awarded the contract to Hillsboro-based V & K Construction, owned by father-son team Vernon and Kerry Nussbaumer. They also did recent grading work at the Skyline Grange.

Instead of cutting and hauling, Kerry Nussbaumer chose a track mulcher, which chews up a tree from the top down and spits out material fine enough to replant in. The finer material leaves nutrients in place and decomposes faster, resulting in less debris that could fuel a forest fire. The mulcher also eliminates the carbon impact of scores of truckloads of debris being hauled offsite.

As the mulcher began chewing through the orchard, one happy surprise was revealed: many thriving alder, Douglas fir and cedar that had volunteered and grown hidden for decades. Nussbaumer deftly maneuvered the mulcher around the trees, saving them, and giving Law an unexpected head start on reforesting his land. “These guys are very professional,” Law said, as the tree-clearing work proceeded into mid November.

“Weed pressure” as Ahr calls it, is always a problem after invasive species are removed and before new plantings mature. Carefully targeted use of herbicides is often the most effective treatment for certain invasive species. In some cases one spraying is not enough. For Law’s site, emerging weeds (and any holly that resprouts from stumps and the seed bank) will be sprayed only as needed over the next five years. Replanting in February 2021 will likely be in a Douglas fir mix, because fir grows fast and gets above the weeds, shading them out.

WMSWCD has funds to help landowners complete projects

Dr. Law’s land is some of the 14,000 acres held as nonindustrial private forests, or what Ahr calls family forests, in western Multnomah County. Of these, only 10 percent, or 1,400 acres, have a conservation or management plan in place. (Another 600 acres are currently in process of formulating a plan.) Along with giving landowners fascinating insights and details about their land from an experienced forester, the plans are the beginning point for accessing funds for forest, field or watershed improvement projects.

Property owners have worked with WMSWCD to remove blackberry, holly, and ivy, and to plant pollinator and timber species. Other projects have been to repurpose Christmas tree farms. Projects are often multi-year, with stages for removal, spraying if required, replanting, and respraying as needed. The District provides expertise, buys plant material at costs below what a landowner would pay, hires contractors, and is a conduit for federal and state funds. Landowners contribute via their own labor on parts of the project, and sometimes with a cash outlay that represents a small part of the total financial costs. Most forest improvement projects, Ahr says, are in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.

Much of the acreage in Skyline family forests was last commercially logged in the 1980s or 1990s, before timber companies sold the land to be developed. “Our wheelhouse is to work with landowners whose trees were planted in the 1990s,” Ahr says. “You might have 200 to 300 quality trees per acre, but they’re not thriving because of competition from shrubs and less desirable trees like bitter cherry or maple.” Many of those acres need thinning. The District can help with costs and logistics to make a forest more productive, if harvest is the goal.

Most WMSWCD projects are much smaller than Dr. Law’s orchard replanting.  For example, Ahr says that for many properties, the transition zone between forest and residential areas is filled with non-native Himalayan blackberry. Removing it and replanting with pollinator species such as snowberry and currant is a small, easy-to-implement improvement that enhances property aesthetics and value, and creates good habitat for wildlife.

Start with a plan!

If you have a project for your land, and want to access WMSWCD’s expertise and funding, contact them right away. Developing a plan and applying for available funds takes time. Ahr says, “Now is a great time to contact us.”

Laura O. Foster is the author of eight Oregon guidebooks and has worked with WMSWCD on conservation projects on her own property.  


2019 Holiday Office Closures

Happy Holidays everyone! Our office will be closed Tuesday, December 24 and Wednesday, December 25. We will reopen with normal business hours (9 am to 5 pm) on Thursday, December 26.


Understory Seeding Project Update

Two of our conservation staff – Michael Ahr, Forest Conservationist, and Laura Taylor, Conservationist and Education Coordinator – are in the second year of a forest understory seeding pilot project that kicked off in September of 2017. We are working on trial sites with eight landowners in the Tualatin Watershed to look at the effectiveness of establishing native understory plants from seed. We hope to learn which species perform best, which species are suited to certain growing conditions, and if so, what are those conditions.

Biodiversity is important for wildlife habitat and ecosystem health, and native plants are under constant pressure from invasive plant species like ivy (Hedera species), garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), and invasive geraniums. And in cases where we have helped remove invasive plants from forest understory, we want to be sure to replace them with native plants. Planting from seed offers a number of benefits over planting seedlings. It would be less labor intensive, seeds more quickly replace the herbaceous layer of the forest compared to seedlings or shrub plantings that would grow into a much different forest layer, and finally with seeding, we have a better chance of not introducing new pests that might come along with soil from a nursery.

Seedlings on forest floor

So far, establishing native understory plants from seed appears to be working, especially on test plots where the ground was cleared of dead leaves and sticks. Of course, raking the forest is not a realistic activity nor recommended on a large scale as it disturbs soil structure and wildlife — salamanders, newts, insects, and other macro invertebrates in particular. However raking small patches would be helpful for germinating seeds. Landowners looking to establish native seed plots can cast seed into areas where bare soil is already exposed, or consider raking 3-foot by 3-foot areas here and there to create pockets of native understory that would hopefully spread.

The pilot will continue through September 2020 and beyond. We hope to learn which seeds are the most successful, so we can incorporate use of those seeds into future forest restoration projects, and eventually also find a source for seeds. Many of the seeds used in the pilot are very difficult to find commercially, so another long term goal will be to encourage nurseries to cultivate more of the desired native species for seed collection.

This project is funded by a Conservation Innovation Grant of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Learn more about the project in this presentation.


Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project Dedication

In June, alongside many partners in the Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project, we celebrated the completion of the decades-long project to reconnect Sturgeon Lake to the Columbia River.

West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District and partners restored a stream system that allows natural flow from the Columbia River through Dairy Creek channel into the lake and out the Gilbert River. This hydrologic connection will increase water quality in the lake and wetland.

Past efforts to restore a direct hydrologic connection between Sturgeon Lake and the Columbia River were thwarted by a flood in 1996 that deposited sand and woody debris at the mouth of Dairy Creek and blocked the flow of water from the Columbia River. The solution was to replace two failed culverts under Reeder Road with a new bridge, remove the sand and debris plug from the mouth of Dairy Creek, and create a permanent channel for low flow and high flow water levels, planted with native trees, shrubs, and grasses.

At the celebration, we heard a heartfelt presentation from our Zone 4 Director, Brian Lightcap, who has been involved with the project from the beginning. We are pleased and honored to share a transcript of his presentation here.

Good afternoon. This a good day for West Multnomah SWCD, the public, salmon, sturgeon, waterfowl and lamprey.

I had to ask myself, “Why am I standing here?” Well, you will be spared from all the unsavory adventures of my efforts to restore the lake. But, I’ve an intimate connection with water adventures for 60 years. I came to Portland in 1970, married in 1971 and built 2 canvas kayaks with Alaska yellow cedar ribs in 1973. My late wife, Christine, and I explored rivers and lakes together.

Guilds Lake was long gone, and Smith and Bybee Lake lost 50% of its wetlands as I watched from my kayak and also in my official duties with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). I saw tidal influence snuffed out with a small dam to control botulism, which still occurs under the watchful eye of grass carp. The study I required of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and contractor Paul Fishman, was to study existing fishery conditions, which revealed that during the Columbia River spring freshet, millions of juvenile salmon used these lakes for several weeks, then swam out. That turned out to be important new knowledge.

Vancouver Lake is a whole other can of worms as apparently the complex structure to allow water to flush the lake eventually had problems. That left only Sturgeon Lake which had been impacted by dikes built in the 30’s.

I was asked to be on the SWCD board in 1982. I was known because I was a farm cooperator and also apparently valued as I worked for the USACE and actually I got some funding and work done by the Corps and Port of Portland to add to the EPA Clean Lakes grant.

Today, we, especially thank Joe Lucas and Frank Newton (need to add affiliations here), who got much of the backing from many other financial contributors, enough to finalize studies, especially how the tidal and river flow could positively influence the lake by gradually flushing out sediments. There were many voices close to this project that advocated for dredging and even having gravel sales to pay for the work.

The project began with the U.S. Forest Service Spider (equipment) that removed logs debris. We got quite delayed when a 150-foot-long ship was found. It apparently was the foundation for a barn over Dairy Creek! The ship was built with Alaska yellow cedar. Project got completed and the rest is history. The creek began flushing the lake in ’93, and then the 96′ flood plugged it up again.

Mark Nebeker (of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) and I worked our tails off seeking funding. Later our new District Manager, Dick Springer, put his shoulder to resurrecting forward progress, especially trying to find the right person at Bonneville Power Administration to work with. And, finding a dedicated lawyer, Fritz Paulus. Dick knew a lot of people. For years, it was tough sledding to get my conservation district colleagues to believe in this project that had a scary price tag.

I went to a salmon summit at Skamania Lodge around 2010 and learned not all the salmon pros were on the same page. They didn’t believe in the significance of “off channel” lakes in the downstream migration of salmon.

Well, at one time there were 4 major lakes: Smith & Bybee Lakes, Vancouver Lake, Guild’s Lake, and Sturgeon Lake. Guild’s is history, partially filled with sediment from hydraulic blasting of the hillside, Smith & Bybee was blocked by improvements to North Portland Road after the Vanport flood, and Vancouver Lake was dredged for recreation with minimal consideration of salmon use. It now has a serious toxic, algal bloom issue.

But, today, I’m proud of the dedication of our many partner agencies, organizations, and private donors who were determined to believe that Sturgeon Lake, the fourth lake would be the one lake left standing, in spite of all the doubt from fishery and hydrology professionals. We all saw this through and will stand together as the destiny of Sturgeon Lake unfolds.


August Board meeting update

Due to weather, the meeting will be held in Suites 452 A & B, at the Montgomery Park building, 2701 NW Vaughn Street.