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.

Are you ready for fire season?

Hot and dry summer weather will be here before we know it, so here are a few tips for keeping your property free from fire hazards. Practicing good vegetation management near the home is an important first step, taking care of trees and shrubs, and keeping the lawn mowed. Prune back any branches that hang over the roof, and remove dense blackberry that grows within 30 feet of the house.

Take a look at what kind of shrubs you have planted. Species like ornamental juniper can be highly flammable. When planting within 30 feet of your house, we encourage you to choose from our list of locally available, fire-resistant native plants. Fire resistant plants tend to be low in volatile oils and resins and they’re also known for readily shedding dead leaves and branches.

Your top priority may also be to clean gutters and sweep leaf debris away from the house. Also be sure to store firewood at least 30 feet from the house. This time of year, it’s important to be thoughtful of fine fuels building up in cracks on the roof or wood decks. Burning embers could land and ignite a fire.

Map of a portion of western Multnomah County with phone numbers for fire management agenciesThe best way to find out what fireproofing steps you can take for your property is to talk to your local fire department about a home-wildfire risk assessment. Depending on where you live, Oregon Department of Forestry (Columbia City: 503-397-2636; Forest Grove: 503-357-2191), Portland Fire & Rescue (503-823-3700), or Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue (503-697-9418) will come out to do a checklist and consultation.

Learn more about preparing for wildfire on our website. Also view publications from the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise USA® program: How to Prepare Your Home for Wildfires, or Oregon State University Extension Service: Keeping Your Home and Property Safe from Wildfire. Both guide residents on how to maintain three zones of defensible space around homes: the Immediate Zone: 0 to 5 feet around the house; Intermediate Zone: 5 to 30 feet; and the Extended Zone: 30 to 100 feet.

2018 Water Quality Monitoring Report

Since 2009, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District’s (WMSWCD) has been monitoring water quality in the rural part of western Multnomah County on perennial streams that flow directly into the Multnomah Channel. This report focuses on sites where we performed continuous temperature monitoring between May 18th and October 10th, 2018, including Crabapple Creek, Miller Creek, Sheltered Nook, and McCarthy Creek. (To be consistent with past monitoring years, data presented in our report cover the period of May 22nd through October 7th, 2018.)

This summer 2019 will be the 10-year anniversary of the first sampling on McCarthy Creek, and we’re excited that we are getting close to having enough data to see trends. We’re watching for increases in-stream temperature that affect water quality and organisms that live in or depend on the stream for part of their life cycle. This is particularly true for salmon and other fish species that depend on cold water habitats. Warm water also contributes to the growth of algae. Tracking in-stream temperature trends informs future conservation planning for waterways and helps us assess the potential success of efforts to shade and cool streams with streamside tree canopy cover.

2018 weather summary:

The summer of 2018 was another hot and dry one, marking the second such summer in a row. Air temperature was above the average for the study period, including 29 days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (U.S. Climate Data, 2018; Weather Underground, 2018).

Precipitation was below normal for the study period. Only 22 out of the 139 testing days reported a precipitation event, totaling only 2.89 inches of rainfall throughout the study period (Weather Underground, 2018).


The warm air temperature and lack of precipitation from just prior to May through October of 2018 likely resulted in the higher water temperature we measured in McCarthy and Crabapple Creeks. Changes in water temperature during the sampling season are directly correlated to precipitation events; the water temperature plummets at times when there is precipitation to cool the stream down (Figure 1).

Data continues to point towards relatively cool water in the headwaters for McCarthy, which has abundant forest cover and steep slopes that keep the water moving quickly. Conversely, in the mid-section of McCarthy Creek we see significant warming, likely from inadequate forest cover and riparian vegetation on both the mainstem creek and tributaries. WMSWCD has performed riparian restoration work on this middle stretch of creek to provide shade and habitat, and of all the sections of the creek that we are monitoring, it is the only section that shows temperatures lower than the average temperatures measured to date. Measured temperatures in the lower sections of McCarthy Creek are also high, likely due to a change in stream character with slower flowing water with more pools where water surface temperature tends to heat up.

For more detailed findings, download the full report. For more information on the water quality monitoring program, methods used, and the watersheds in the study area, please visit our Water Quality Monitoring page.

Introducing our 2019 Conservationist Interns

We are pleased to introduce Indi and Sam, our 2019 Conservationist Interns! They will be with us through the fall of 2019, working alongside and supporting the work of our staff conservationists. Our six-month internship program is designed to provide experience and learning opportunities in the areas of field monitoring, invasive species management, habitat restoration, water quality data collection, stormwater management, forest stewardship, agricultural best management practices on private land, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping.

photo of intern IndiIndi Keith, Field Conservationist Intern

Whether she’s in the field or the office, Indi is excited to be supporting the District’s work and the success of local collaborative resource management as a Field Conservationist Intern. Indi grew up in the Willamette Valley and has backpacked, built trails, and pulled weeds across the Pacific Northwest. She studied economics and organized for gender equity at the University of British Columbia for two years before returning to the University of Oregon, where she graduated with a B.S. in Planning, Public Policy, and Management, concentrating in environmental policy. In between classes, she spent two seasons in the field with Northwest Youth Corps, leading crews of youth on projects that ranged from invasive species removal to backcountry trail maintenance to developed recreation reconstruction. In her free time, she loves to camp, cook, and scuba dive.


Sam Mularz, GIS & Field Conservationist Intern

Sam’s love of the natural world and environmental stewardship began during childhood when he spent much time playing and learning in the mountains of southern Oregon. He has a BA in Environmental Science from Willamette University. Sam highly values learning about multicultural and international perspectives on natural resource management, and he has also studied at Tokyo International University in Japan. After graduating, he volunteered at a marine protected area in Naples, Italy, where he used his language skills and passion for environmental history to educate visitors about natural and cultural resources. Before coming to WMSWCD, Sam pursued his love of service by joining a Northwest Service Corps conservation crew, traveling around the Pacific Northwest to manage invasive species and restore native vegetation. When not at work, he can often be found volunteering at Hoyt Arboretum or studying languages.

Do you have native oak on your property?

We have funding for oak habitat!

And the deadline to apply has been extended. Contact us by April 10, 2019 to find out if you are eligible for funding.

If you have native Oregon oaks on your property, you have something special. Oak woodlands and mature trees are increasingly rare in the Willamette Valley – less than 10% remains of what we had in 1850.

West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District seeks rural landowners with native oak woodlands who wish to restore or create healthy oak habitat on their land.

If you have 10 or more acres that can support Oregon white oaks, we have funding to help create or enhance oak habitat. If your oak trees are being overtaken by conifers like Douglas fir, your land is highest priority for funding. Average funding for 2- to 5-year projects is $500 to $1,500 per acre per year. Projects may include weed control, and planting more oaks along with native shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers.

We can assess your property’s potential, identify possible funding, and create a plan for your oak. Contact us for more information and to schedule a site visit: Kammy Kern-Korot, Senior Conservationist, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District , (503) 238-4775 ext. 108 or

Learn more about oak habitat.