Be ready to evacuate during wildfire

By Michael Ahr, Forest Conservationist, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District

Many of the woodland owners in the Tualatin Mountains have deep roots in Oregon. We’re sure many of you have close family and friends who have been greatly impacted by our recent wildfires. It’s warmed our hearts to hear stories of people on the hill taking in friends as well as livestock owned by loved ones – another example of the strong connections and community spirit in the Tualatin Mountains.

Reports are suggesting that this will be the deadliest wildfire season in Oregon’s history. The stories we’re reading are heartbreaking.  The West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District is known for recommending actions that reduce wildfire risk, but rather than stressing those actions at this time, we prefer to encourage all of our Skyline Neighbors and nearby woodland owners to focus on human safety and prioritize their evacuation planning before they worry about land management this fall and winter. Have emergency kits ready and your “go bags” packed. These will help in wildfire evacuation as well as earthquake preparedness. Make sure you know every possible way to leave your property for a safer place. The Skyline Ridge Neighborhood Emergency Team (SR NET) has been helping people prepare for disasters like this for years. Get information from this NET at https://www.srnpdx.org/be-prepared.html.

As we recover from these fires, we’ll hear stories of homes being saved by the actions people took to reduce fuels in their forest or trimming trees around their house. However, we’ll also hear many stories where people took these protective actions and still lost everything including human life. It’s natural to ask questions like, “Why were these fires so damaging?” or “Why did they overwhelm fuels reduction projects?” There are many reasons for this, many of which land managers and scientists will be learning more about as these fires are further examined. Below are just a few thoughts for now…

  • Much of the fire risk reduction that we do on forest land is related to mitigating risk from surface fires. These are the fires that burn sticks, shrubs, and other plant material lying on the ground. These fires might cause property damage, but can also help rejuvenate the ecosystem and offer benefits to many species of plants and wildlife. We thin forests to create wider tree spacing and pile slash in an effort to make sure that surface fires will burn with lower intensity and not significantly damage living trees.
  • When a fire climbs a tree and starts burning the upper branches in the canopy, it will spread quickly. As these fires spread, we call them crown fires. The fires in September were crown fires which can be very damaging and unpredictable.
  • One factor that leads to a surface fire becoming a crown fire is wind, and winds continue to cause problems after reaching the crown. As trees burn, strong winds can carry burning embers up to one mile away. This means that embers can literally fly over all the good forest management that you’ve done, land on your deck, and start a fire. Note that burning embers and strong winds were a major reason why the Beachie Creek, Riverside, and Holiday Farm fires grew in size so quickly. This is also why we hear frightening stories from those who evacuated of new fires starting all around them as they were driving to safety.
  • During intense fires, some of the actions you’ve taken at your house might be more important than the actions on your woodland. Cleaning gutters, sweeping your deck, and several other tasks are very important. See a great list of recommendations here.

To stay safe during wildfire, the actions you take on your woodland and around your home are important. If a backyard campfire or overheated car starts a fire near your home, these measures can help offer great protection. But keep in mind that catastrophic fires are known to occur in western Oregon, and have occurred for centuries, which means that you should be prepared to evacuate. Sometimes nothing you do in preparation or to combat an active fire are enough to keep you and your family safe. Please consult the resources provided in links above to craft an evacuation plan and pack emergency items. Stay safe!


A community approach to native bee research in Portland

If you were to guess how many species of native bees there are in Portland, how many would that be? And where do these bees prefer to nest? Local emerging entomologist, Stefanie Steele, a Master’s student at Portland State University (PSU) studying native bees in the Portland area, is working to answer those questions.

At the garden at Green Anchors in North Portland, one of her research sites, Steele slowly makes her way among the abundant flowering plants, inspecting them for tiny buzzing pollinators. A quick flick of her insect net captures a long horned bee (which turns out to be Melissodes sp., an Asteraceae plant specialist) that she carefully navigates into a clear plastic vial for safe transport back to the lab for identification.

magnified view of bee head and mandible

The 5-dentate (“tooth”) mandible is visible on this Megachilidae bee. The number of teeth and shape of the mandible is a key feature for identifying this species, as the number of teeth can vary depending on the genus and species.

“It’s very hard to identify them in the field,” says Steele. “You need a microscope to look at very small morphological features such as the venation on their wings – maybe they have two or three submarginal cells, or if specific veins are curved or arched. Or other very small details, like the size and density of the punctures on their integument (the “skin” on the abdomen) or counting the number of teeth on the mandible.”

It all started with honeybees

Steele’s interest in bees began at a young age when she was part of her school’s bee club which kept several honeybee hives on the school roof. “Have you ever been inside a honeybee hive?” asks Steele. “I recommend it to everyone. It’s a full immersive experience, seeing all the bees walking around, seeing how they’re communicating with each other, even the smell of it and the sound of them. It’s a really, really cool experience. And they work together cooperatively so well. Their whole social system is really amazing and intriguing to see. That’s what got me hooked.”

Steele moved to Portland to try out a different location after two years at the University of Cincinnati. Like many others, she was drawn to all the different natural environments in Oregon. She went back to school at PSU to finish her bachelors in biology and during that time was inspired to start the Bee Task Force (scroll down on page linked here to find the Bee Task Force) with help from other students and faculty. The Task Force was focused on maintaining honeybee hives and creating pollinator habitat for the honeybees and for native bees in that area. It was through this work that Steele met Susan Masta, PSU Associate Professor and head of the Masta Lab where Steele’s graduate work is now based, and where her research expanded to native bees.

Portland bee survey

Bee collection and identification are key components of a 3-year survey of bees in urban Portland that Steele developed as an undergraduate with Masta. Before this project, no one else in the Portland area had published a survey to determine what native bee species reside in our area, as bees on the west coast are far understudied. They are looking to discover what bees are found here, when they are active, and also what their floral and other plant associations are – which plants and flowers they use for nectar, pollen, nesting materials, or nesting sites.

Through the Portland bee survey, Steele, Masta and team have so far found over 100 species of bees in urban Portland. The survey team is still working to identify the species they collected, and as they learn more, they expect those numbers to increase. The next step will be to publish the results of the first three years of the survey. Future research may depend on available funding and staffing to collect and identify new specimens.

2 side-by-side photos of capturing a bee in a small plastic vial

Steele collects an Melissodes sp. for identification.

One challenge that Steele and colleagues face with identification is the lack of a comprehensive species list to reference for Oregon. “There is still so much to be learned about the bees of Oregon,” Steele explains. “We’re still working on identification in general within the U.S., but the east coast overall is well studied. The west coast is far less studied, so a lot of the morphological cues that we’re using to identify the bees comes from the east. There is some overlap within species, but they aren’t all entirely the same.”

Steele is helping to grow that state-wide knowledge. Some of the species she has collected will be housed within the invertebrate collection at the Portland State Museum of Natural History where they can be used for education, research, or historical state records.

Native bee nesting research

two people standing in a garden next to tall wooden post

Masta Lab volunteers Dan Mullen and Erica Rudolph setting up a post with nest blocks at the PSU Community Orchard.

Steele’s graduate work with Susan Masta grew out of the Portland bee survey. Steele is focused on investigating the nesting height and diameter preferences of solitary cavity nesting bees. Her research is sited at 14 locations around the city including Green Anchors, the PSU campus and community orchard, and friends’ and colleagues’ homes that have gardens designed to attract pollinators. She erected posts with 54 wood nesting boxes set at 3 different heights, each with trays that had 31 cavities of varying diameters ranging from 3 to 10 millimeters.

Volunteers helped monitor the boxes throughout the nesting season, recording which of the cavities contained nesting material, adult bees, or wasps that also nest in cavities. Once nesting activities were complete, Steele collected the boxes for incubation in the lab. Overall, her nests had good occupancy rates—about 28% and successful incubation reared fifteen species of bees. She did see some loss of specimens due to mold that may have developed because of weather at the end of the nesting season or was introduced by the female bee. “The adult bee may inadvertently collect pollen that has mold spores on it,” Steele explains. “As she moves throughout the cavity, building separate cells for each egg, she can distribute those mold spores throughout the entire nest.”

During incubation, Steele also saw some parasitism, which can be a sign of a healthy ecosystem. In some of her nest trays, tiny wasps (likely Melittobia) or the bee fly mimic (Anthrax) had infiltrated the nesting cells while still in the field and laid their eggs on top of the bee eggs. The larvae of these parasitoid insects feed on the larva of a host bee or wasp, eventually killing it. In one case, an undergraduate assistant counted 80 of the 1-millimeter wasps parasitizing one bee larva. Steele comments, “Just imagine all of these wasps completing their development and then moving on to the next developing bees. Crazy.”

2 side-by-side photos of tiny wasps. Larva on left adults on rightva

(Left) Parasitoid wasp larvae feeding on Megachile angelarum (bee) larva; (Right) Adult parasitoid wasps

Awaiting results

Aside from these losses, Steele’s research, timeline, and goals stayed on the course she had set initially. She is currently analyzing the massive amount of field data she and her volunteers collected. One early takeaway that the research confirmed is the importance of available cavity nesting habitat. Bees only get a short window as an adult to find suitable nesting sites to create the next generation of bees. “Most of a bee’s life is spent in diapause when they’re essentially inactive and at a more vulnerable state as a larva – about ten or eleven months out of the year,” Steele says. “And then for four to six to eight weeks, they’re active flying adults.”

Yard features that are sometimes considered unattractive, like dead leaves and logs on the ground, dead tree limbs, or even entire snags – standing dead trees – actually provide important bee habitat. “Beetle larvae will excavate tunnels in downed logs or standing dead trees, and when the beetles are gone a bee will find that unoccupied cavity, and that is prime habitat,” explains Steele. Deadheaded hollow or pithy stemmed plants are also great habitat. “Some bees, like small carpenter bees in the genus Ceratina, will chew out the pithy stemmed plants and then nest inside,” she says.

“About 70 percent of bee species nest in the ground,” says Steele, “but 30 percent nest in cavities, and with all that perpetual yard tidying, nesting habitat is severely limited. So, you could change your habits, but you could also provide artificial nesting structures.”

For gardeners looking to provide nesting structures, offering a variety of cavity hole sizes is important, especially smaller holes. In Steele’s study, the 3 and 5 millimeter diameter holes were used most. “The female bee wants to ensure a tight fit to reduce moisture and parasitism and still allow space she needs to lay eggs and fertilize some of them,” says Steele. She found that a greater number of smaller rather than larger bodied bees occupied the nests she put out. “Osmia lignaria is the mason bee that a lot of people are familiar with. They are a little bit smaller than a honeybee. I found them nesting in the five millimeter size, six millimeter size, and the eight millimeter size cavities. So if you provide a diversity of sizes, then greater numbers of bees would be able to utilize those spaces.”

Placement of cavities is also important to consider. Facing holes southeast is ideal to catch some heat from the morning sun, and prevent overheating as south-facing holes may experience. Boxes should be sheltered and angled slightly downward to prevent rain from getting inside. Steele also recommends providing a selection of plants and flowers that will bloom throughout the growing season. “There’s less floral nectar available at the end of summer season into fall, so providing more forage for them throughout the entire season is very important,” she says. (See our Pollinator Plants & Bloom Periods chart for guidance.)

Communities in science and nature

Steele’s own community plays an important role in her research. The Oregon Bee Atlas designed and donated 30 of the 54 nest boxes, and are also leading a state wide survey effort of the bees of Oregon. Steele also found help from woodworkers at Green Anchors with the proper tools to build the remaining boxes. Her volunteer monitors were also essential for helping collect data.

The greater scientific community however, has presented a challenge for Steele. She is often one of the only BIPOC at a workshop or conference in her field, and she finds it discouraging and uncomfortable at times. However, she feels fortunate for the colleagues, mentors, and advisors in her life that encourage and elevate her. She also finds joy in engaging young people in the fascinating world of bees, and showing them that she too is what an entomologist looks like, a woman of color. Steele looks forward to connecting with more BIPOC in her field and related fields.

Steele also hopes her research will help inform gardeners and others looking to support our local native bee populations with information on suitable habitat and how to make outdoor spaces more attractive to cavity nesting bees.

For more information and project updates contact Stefanie Steele, steelestk@gmail.com.


Monitoring Understory Seeding Project Plots, Spring 2020

By Hannah Spencer, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, Field Conservationist Intern

One of the first projects I worked on as a new intern with West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (WMSWCD) was the Understory Seeding Project headed by staff conservationists Laura Taylor and Michael Ahr, and I was absolutely ecstatic at the opportunity to be involved. Officially part of the District’s Forest Understory Vegetation Enhancement Project, this project was funded through a federal Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant, and was undertaken to figure out how to increase native groundcover using native seed mixes, especially on sites that had once been overrun by invasive species. Several properties had been selected as study sites in 2018, and this spring I went with Laura to check on their progress.

The first site we visited was a narrow forested patch between two homes. The understory was fairly clear and open, with some large shrubs and a thick layer of leaves on the ground. The site had recently been cleared of ivy and vinca, leaving a blank slate on the forest floor for the native seeding study. When we arrived, I saw that this site was already showing signs of success. In the first plot was a circle of bright, new green with a neon pink flag in the center to mark it as one of our study plots. In all, there were six plots at this site: two were seeded with a native seed mix; two were raked first, then seeded with natives; and two were raked but not seeded, as control plots. Not all of the plots at this site were covered in bright green baby plants, like the first one. For example, it looked to me like the plots that had been raked first, then seeded with natives, were more densely peppered with seedlings than plots that had not been raked first. However, we were here to do more than just visually evaluate the greenness of the various plots. This was science! We had data sheets that needed filling.

Before I could really be useful collecting data, I needed to learn to identify the plants we were observing. I was already comfortable identifying a lot of the native plants found in the Pacific Northwest, but I discovered that seedlings can look vastly different than adult plants; some of the seedlings were so tiny, they could have fit on the head of a nail! It’s difficult to tell them apart when they are that small. Luckily for me, Laura is an incredible botanist and a wonderful teacher, and I soon learned to pick up on details like the hairs on a tiny stem, or a notch in the tip of a leaf. As we started to count the plants in each plot and record them on our data sheets, I began to feel more confident. There is something so joyful to me about identifying plants, like the feeling of meeting a new person you can just tell you’re going to like.

Over the course of a few weeks, we monitored all eight sites. Some were mostly bare, with islands of seedlings, like the first site. Other plots were covered in grasses, and we had to hunt for our neon pink markers. In some cases, our markers had been eaten by elk, and we had to find the plots using photos from previous years!  Once we found the plots, we surveyed them for plant diversity and density, paying closest attention to species that were present in the seed mix we had used. We also noted if other plants, such as ivy or vinca, or natives not present in the seed mix, were present in the plots. Once we had collected data from all eight sites, we were able to look at trends across the whole project.

The data showed that my impression at the first site was correct: raked plots typically had more plants on them then plots that hadn’t been raked. This is probably because raking away debris before planting helps seeds get better access to soil, making it easier to establish than if they had to contend with dead leaves and branches. This means that if a landowner wanted to maximize coverage in their seeded areas, giving the ground a thorough rake before seeding might be worth their while.

The downside to this is that raking an entire forest would be extremely labor intensive, not to mention extremely disruptive to plants, animals, and soil. The best way to use raking is to choose small patches scattered throughout the understory, and rake and seed those. But what about those unraked parts of the forest (which will be the majority of the forest)? Can property owners do anything to improve the understory that has to be left unraked? Well, another trend we found was that plots which were not raked but were seeded still had a higher density of native plants than the control plots. As a bonus, they also had a lower density of exotic plants than either the control plots or the raked/seeded plots. This means that simply seeding their land without raking can be significantly beneficial to a landowner’s understory. This method won’t provide the same diversity or density that raking first would, but it will still help promote native plant populations. A landowner could even use a combination of raking small plots and seeding the rest of the understory to maximize native understory plant coverage

person holding an inside-out flower

Inside-out flower in seed (Vancouveria hexandra)

Another interesting result was the discovery of which species performed best in our plots. The seed mix used on the plots contained 17 different species, but some species didn’t perform well—or at all. For example, we did not see a single penstemon in any plot. (Such an underachiever.) Native understory seed mix is currently pretty hard to find, and expensive when you do come across it, so it’s important to know that your money is being spent on seeds that will perform well. According to our plots, the best investments seem to be: inside-out flower, small-flowered nemophila, miner’s lettuce, western fescue, pathfinder, sweet-cicely, Columbia brome, and blue wild-rye. Even though these species may be difficult to find as seed in stores, WMSWCD recommends that landowners who have these plants present on their properties can try collecting their seed and spreading it to bare areas of their properties. Just be very careful not to collect seeds from a plant you aren’t sure about—you don’t want to accidentally collect and spread an invasive species!

WMSWCD will be publishing a formal, detailed report on their findings later this year, so the entire community will have access to the information gleaned over the course of this study. And landowners can expect understory seeding to be included in more of the projects they undertake with WMSWCD. As WMSWCD shifts to exploring understory seeding in practice, other partners will continue exploring experimentally, such as Erin McElroy, a graduate student with Portland State University’s Department of Environmental Science and Management. Erin has been monitoring plots of her own using a similar protocol to the one WMSWCD used, but she has been including even more variables, such as the presence of worms, the soil profile, and aspect at her sites. Her research will help fine-tune the ways in which land managers can make their understories as successful as possible. She is also contacting local nurseries to talk with them about their interest in producing and selling native understory seeds, so she could have a direct hand in making seed more accessible in the Portland area. I feel so lucky to have been able to contribute to this project, and I’m excited to see how Erin, the WMSWCD staff, and the rest of the Understory Seeding Project partners continue to explore this topic.


You can create reptile habitat in your small forest

Photo by Pat Welle, Western painted turtle

Article by Michael Ahr, Forest Conservationist, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District

Woodland owners are increasingly being encouraged to build brush piles for wildlife. At West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, we often discuss their importance for an array of wildlife. Mammals can live in the piles. Songbirds feed on insects and other organisms in brush piles. Amphibians will seek shelter under the brush and you’ll also find them being used by reptiles…the class of wildlife that we often don’t talk about nearly as often in our forested uplands.

Perhaps we have some bias. Frogs and salamanders (which are amphibians) have a certain charisma and even a level of cuteness. Reptiles like snakes and lizards don’t conjure that feeling for many of us, and might even startle us in the woods. Reptiles, however, are an important part of the woodland ecosystem. They eat many of the rodents that crawl through our woodlands and end up being prey to raptors and larger mammals.

In the Tualatin Mountains, our common snakes include various garter snake species, rubber boas, and ringneck snakes. We have alligator lizards and skinks, and if you have enough sun around a pond on your property, you may find western painted turtles.

To encourage these species on your property:

  • Build brush piles with the slash from the trees you cut. Start with larger piece on the bottom of the pile and work your way up to finer branches, and even conifer branches that still have needles, near the top to create a roof.
  • Maintain downed wood and snags. We often hear about snags relative to songbirds, but reptiles may use them too.
  • Minimize disturbance around any known hibernation sites.
  • If you have a pond, provide basking structures for turtles.
  • We don’t have much exposed rock in the Tualatin Mountains, but if you do have some, you can try to expose it so the sun warms it more for reptile basking in the summer.

For more information, view the newest publication “Reptiles in Managed Woodlands” by the Woodland Fish & Wildlife Group. To find many other wildlife publications for family woodland owners, visit woodlandfishandwildlife.com


Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project update, June 2020

By Scott Gall, Rural Conservationist

It has been over a year since the completion of construction on the Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project. After a decade of partnership building, planning, fundraising, and engineering, and just over four months of construction over the summer and fall of 2018, led by Columbia River Estuary Study Task Force (CREST), the Dairy Creek channel reopened to tidal flow between the Columbia River and Sturgeon Lake on Sauvie Island in fall of 2018.

What started with a few shovelfuls of sand, resulted in the replacement of two failing culverts with a 96-foot channel-spanning bridge, restoration of a half mile of channel by removing 22,000 cubic yards of sand and sediment, installation of a debris boom at the mouth of the creek to prevent logs and other large objects from floating into the creek, and planting of over 40,000 native plants and shrubs across 15 projects sites that encompass the restoration project.

As the second full winter winds down, the complete effects of the tidal flow from the Columbia River on Dairy Creek and Sturgeon Lake are just starting to become evident. With the reopening of Dairy Creek, after 30 years of being blocked from tidal flow, the tide has once again become an influence on the channel and the lake, changing the flow direction of the creek on a daily basis during low Columbia River levels. Both of these conditions have had an obvious impact on the elevation and shape of the Dairy Creek channel.

Data on channel elevation – the elevation of the channel bottom relative to sea level – collected in 2017, 2018, and 2019 have shown that while the excavated channel has changed from the design configuration, it is simply moving towards an equilibrium. For the most part the average elevations and widths of the bottom of the channel have stayed relatively consistent. Meanwhile, along the stretch of creek between the bridge and the lake, a section not touched during construction, sediment has moved out, lowering the creek bottom 6 to 12 inches in most spots. This new, lower elevation is roughly the same as the excavated channel which would be expected in a tidal system that flows both directions.

Observation of changes within Sturgeon Lake have been harder to come by. The 3000 acres lake has few roads that reach the shoreline. This is a great feature for wildlife and quiet recreation but it makes monitoring the lake much more difficult. West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District and CREST are employing aerial drones to cover larger areas than would be possible by foot. But each drone flight only covers about 50 acres, so even these are just snapshots. Initial data has been relatively inconclusive, showing neither an increase nor decrease in sediment in the areas monitored. Our hope is to see a flushing out of lake sediment over time. We intend to take drone photos every year to see the incremental change over time, and our next flights are scheduled for this fall.

Work on vegetation restoration began a year before channel construction, and in these past three years, we have successfully helped reestablish 40,000 native plants throughout the 15 project areas, including Alder, maple, willow, snowberry, red-flowering currant and many other native trees and shrubs. With this focus on restoring native plants, grasses, and forbs, we are now seeing native plants covering 80-90% of the ground in most places along Dairy Creek. As a result, there is more evidence than ever of wildlife utilizing the site. Prominent wildlife trails have popped up all along Dairy Creek with evidence of tracks from otter, beaver, deer, skunk, and raccoon. Additionally this spring, a platform installed at the mouth of Dairy Creek is now home to its first pair of nesting osprey.

Next steps include installation of a fish monitoring device known as a Passive Integrated Transponder, or “PIT” tag array at the site of the new bridge, though this has been slowed in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supplied $40,000 for equipment, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff intend to install it this summer, hooking into a power supply we recently installed. Our goal is to have the array up and running by this winter.

At this time, all signs and data point to a very successful project. Staff at WMSWCD and CREST will continue to monitor Dairy Creek and Sturgeon Lake for years to come, and the lake appears to have a bright future.

view of a creek from a kayak

Facing the mouth of Dairy Creek and the Columbia River


Update on restoration of Lower McCarthy Creek wetland and oak habitat

By Kammy Kern-Korot, Senior Conservationist

McCarthy Creek flows from NW Skyline Boulevard to Multnomah Channel across from Sauvie Island. This creek is unique to the area in that it is considered essential salmonid habitat, especially for coho and Chinook salmon. At the bottom of the watershed is 121 acres of privately owned land — most of which is wetlands and within the 100-year floodplain — protected by a conservation easement. West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (WMSWCD) manages the land on behalf of the landowner and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the federal easement holder. We continue to actively restore native wetland and oak habitat on this site.

This project site is important because it hosts an array of wildlife species and because it is large and adjacent to an even more significant wetland complex, called Burlington Bottoms. A primary ecological goal for both properties shared by the owning and managing partners is to return more natural flooding to portions of the site(s) and, in so doing, create additional aquatic habitat and displace the incredibly dominant and invasive reed canary grass with native wetland vegetation. Species that benefit from this restoration include fish, salamanders, frogs, beavers, waterfowl, herons, bald eagles, turtles, songbirds and insects. WMSWCD’s objectives also include restoring native vegetation along the creek, as well as the upland areas that don’t flood, to a diversity of native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees, most notably Oregon white oak.

The District secured funding in 2015 from NRCS to improve approximately 5 acres of riparian (streamside) area and 3 acres of uplands. Since then, we’ve been treating invasive blackberry and reed canary grass, Canada thistle, and other weeds to restore riparian areas and create Oregon white oak savanna and native plant “hedgerows” for pollinators and other wildlife. We took 2 years (2017 – early 2019) to plant 12,000 woody and herbaceous wetland plants along the creek and followed with upland plantings. We did this with the help of paid crews and area native plant nurseries. The total NRCS project is valued at $123,000, which includes $100,000 of NRCS funds and contributed District staff time.

2 people in a field planting tree saplings

Photo by Pat Welle: Crews planting alder saplings and willow and dogwood cuttings.

We had the good fortune to find additional partners and funding that allowed us to embark on a new phase of restoration, which was begun in 2017 and completed in February 2020. In this project phase, we removed two culverts that were no longer needed, one of which impeded fish movement; added habitat features such as basking logs for turtles and structures to encourage and mimic beaver dams; and performed 4.8 acres of “marsh plain lowering” which greatly enhances wetland habitat. Invasive reed canary grass and more than 15,000 cubic yards of soil were scraped away to lower the surface elevation 2 to 3 feet in key wetland areas and to make the streambanks less steep. The areas lowered will now be inundated with more water and for longer periods than before, which provides better access and habitat for juvenile salmon and facilitates establishment of native wetland plants such as wapato, bulrush and bur-reed. The excavated soils were redistributed to cover invasive grass and replanted with native plants in both adjacent wetlands and the uplands.

wetland creek with vertical sticks in water to mimic a beaver dam

Photo by Pat Welle: A newly installed beaver dam analog, which is designed to saturate the site with more water and encourage beavers to create and maintain natural beaver dams, outcomes which better support native plant communities and make for healthier wetlands.

For this latest stage of restoration, we planted more than 8,000 new native trees, shrubs, and forbs (wildflowers), including over 30 species of forbs. We also seeded 100+ pounds of over 20 different species of native grasses and forbs in almost all areas of disturbed soil, both wetland and upland. Finally, we planted more sedges and rushes near the creek, to supplement earlier plantings there. More than $250,000 was invested in planting, maintenance, and wetland enhancement by Bonneville Power Administration via our partner Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce, which facilitated the engineering and construction work.

The restoration work described here expands upon and connects to other restoration projects upstream, which are part of our Healthy Streams Program that aims to improve water quality and restore habitat along more of McCarthy Creek. The restored riparian forest keeps the water cool for fish, provides a corridor and connectivity for wildlife to move uphill where air temperatures are cooler and where habitat is available, and it helps keep the climate cool for us humans, too!

After 10 years of District involvement, the landowner, our staff and board, and all of the project partners are thrilled with the progress we are seeing on the property. Native plant communities are getting established where we’ve done weed control, enhanced the water levels, and added new native plantings. While monitoring project progress on-site this spring, we observed beautiful blooms on the lupines and heal-all (prunella vulgaris), and strong presence of meadow barley and American sloughgrass, among the many species we seeded. We’re even seeing additional native plants, such as sneezeweed, beggar’s tick and native buttercups, already returning and expanding on their own. We look forward to more good things to come!

Visit our YouTube channel to see what the site looks like and to learn more about this project in a video featuring Senior Conservationist, Kammy Kern-Korot.

A few of the plants and flowers now growing on the restoration site:
4 photos in a grid: 2 purple flowers, 1 yellow flower, creek with green plants


My First Garlic Mustard Season (during quarantine)

By Cole Carr, GIS & Field Conservation Intern 

A global pandemic hits, putting the world in quarantine. The streets of Portland are at a standstill, minus the occasional bicyclist. What does that mean for a soon-to-be college graduate? Three months of doom, doing homework, staring longingly out the window?

There’s no time for that, not with all of the Garlic mustard that has spread around Multnomah County.

The internship I had just started with the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (WMSWCD) had saved me from the COVID-19 lockdown. After getting used to Zoom-based meetings and trainings, it was time for me to head out into the field for essential work of helping manage Garlic mustard, as part of WMSWCD’s Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) program.

Wait…outside? During quarantine? Sounds good to me! Now, what’s Garlic mustard?

Admittedly, as a geographic information system (GIS) intern, who knows way more about orthorectifying aerial imagery and geospatial analysis than plant identification, I was a little overwhelmed at first. But, after seeing the plant in person, and writing an essay for my biogeography class, I began to understand Garlic mustard quite well, and developed a keen eye for it.

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is an invasive plant that is found all over North America, including Oregon. Like other invasive species, Garlic mustard negatively impacts the health of forests and water resources. It dominates shaded woodland areas, reducing the ability for native plants to thrive while also decreasing biodiversity and impacting available food supplies for native foraging animals.

I was able to learn about Garlic mustard and all of its phenological stages. My first day out in the field, I was taught how to spot Garlic mustard seedlings and rosettes.

Wait… that’s Garlic mustard? How would I be able to spot it when it looks so much like other small plants?

After even a few days in the field, I began to get the hang of it. The particular leaf pattern, heart/kidney shapes, the lack of leaflets, the purple tint by the roots, the special garlicky smell… Seedlings and rosettes quickly became more familiar and easier to find and remove.

Spotting Garlic mustard got even easier once the plants started flowering. Garlic mustard is biennial, meaning that the plants don’t seed until the second year. The second year, flowering plants are tall with easy to recognize white flowers with four petals. They would show up sometimes in large patches,  and this was the key time to remove the plants, before they set seed. The plant’s tiny pepper flake sized seeds can lie dormant in the soil for up to 10 years, leading to greater infestations.

I am so grateful for all of the time outside this spring, even during the spell of very warm weather. I’m grateful for the opportunity to foster friendships with my co-workers and also to be friendly with the district residents that we served this season. I feel like there is a world out there beyond my bedroom window, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to be out and part of it, of course, while also practicing safe distancing and other precautions during the time of COVID-19. I’ve gotten to hike, to exercise, to meditate, to laugh and joke with others, to drive through beautiful landscapes, and to make a difference by removing some of the most invasive plants in the region.

The EDRR program has done amazing work to remove Garlic mustard within the district. To date this season, we have removed 1820 pounds of Garlic mustard across 10 acres! To be able to participate in the program has been a wonderful privilege that I will never forget. It has given this stressful, difficult time in quarantine purpose and inspiration. A special thanks to West Multnomah SWCD for allowing me an opportunity to be their GIS intern, to the wonderful staff for being my friends and “partners in crime”, and to the residents that have made this work possible! Stay safe out there!


Notice of Election for District Directors

Notice is hereby given that on November 3, 2020, Multnomah County will hold a general election including several West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Director positions: Zone 1, 4 years; Zone 2, 4 years; Zone 3, 4 years; At Large 1, 4 years

Zone boundaries, eligibility requirements, and copies of the required elections forms may be obtained by sending a request to the WMSWCD office located at 2701 NW Vaughn Street, Suite 450, Portland, Oregon 97210, by calling 503-238-4775, or by emailing WMSWCD at info@wmswcd.org. Please note, there may be a delay in response to mailed requests at this time, due to office closures during COVID-19.

Election forms and information may also be found at: oregon.gov/ODA/programs/NaturalResources/SWCD/Pages/Elections.aspx

Each candidate must file a “Declaration of Candidacy” and a “Petition for Nomination Signature Sheet” with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Division. The filing deadline is 5:00 p.m. on August 25, 2020. A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) sheet can be found here. Topics addressed include obtaining and verifying signatures for the Petition for Nomination Signature Sheet, write-in candidacy, and appointing directors after the election.


Notice of Budget Hearing

A public meeting of the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District will be held via conference call on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, at 6:00 PM. Any person may attend the meeting by calling 1-800-309-2350. A conference ID will be required to access the conference call. Interested attendees may request the ID by emailing info@wmswcd.org with the subject line “Request for Conference ID” or by calling 503-238-4775 and leaving a voicemail message at extension 100, no later than 5:00 PM on Tuesday, June 16. A summary of the budget is presented here. The budget summary may be mailed upon request by calling 503-238-4775 and leaving a voicemail message at extension 100, no later than 5:00 PM on Tuesday, June 9. This budget is for an annual budget period. This budget was prepared on a basis of accounting that is the same as the preceding year.


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.