Day in the life of an intern

By Jordan Delawder

As a Field Conservation Intern with West Multnomah SWCD, I have ample opportunities to learn from the land itself, having direct encounters with the air, water, soil, and numerous beings that dwell therein. I spend most of my days outside, observing, asking questions, or using my hands. There’s never a dull moment, and every day is different. Although my internship is just beginning, I have already worked on a handful of engaging projects and gotten a taste of the various programs that the District offers.

3-image collage of snail on green leaf, white trillium flower, yellow skunk cabbage flower

Left to right: Oregon Forestsnail, western trillium, skunk cabbage. Photos by Jordan Delawder.

Since it’s spring, the majority of my time is devoted to EDRR (Early Detection and Rapid Response) invasive plant control. Shadowing my wonderful mentors, Ari and Michelle, I have learned how to identify high-priority invasives along with their native counterparts, and how to tell them apart. The number one culprit is Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), but at this point in the season, we are also keeping an eye out for lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), spurge laurel (Daphne laureola), and knotweed (Polygonum sp.). Before doing this work, I mostly saw a “green blur” of nondescript weeds, but now, I see discreet plants with names and ecological contexts. When we encounter invasive plants at a site, we determine the best method of removal. We then record the prevalence of these species on a geospatial database so that they can be better managed the following year.

person putting plant sample into a bag

Jordan takes a sample of a grass for identification.

Occasionally, I tag along with staff members to conservation sites within the district. Some of the sites have not previously had a management plan and require us to have conversations with the property manager or owner. We work with them to determine their goals and then craft a conservation plan that suits their needs. I enjoy chatting with these folks, because they often have long-term relationships to the places where they live. They share stories and casual forms of ecological knowledge that can only come from extended observation. Other sites are part of ongoing restoration projects, many of which took years of planning and patience. Seeing examples of successful restoration efforts firsthand has been inspiring and nudged me to learn more about the underlying theories and processes behind this work.

Luckily, the District supports interns with educational opportunities, including workshops related to our interests. Most recently, I attended a Wetland Delineation field practicum, which was not only a delightful day sloshing around in waders, but also a chance to gain hard skills that can serve me in my future career in conservation.

At the end of the day, I feel gratified knowing that I contributed to meaningful conservation efforts in the Portland community alongside an exceptionally kind and passionate team. It has been a pleasure interning with WMSWCD, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season brings.


Climate lens for conservation

Cover crops on a farm field help capture carbon and retain nutrients in the soil.

West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District is currently developing a “climate lens” for conservation with the help of our Climate Change Intern, Emma Russell. The Climate Change Strategic Direction included in the District’s 2021-2025 Long Range Business Plan is to “promote resilient environments and communities in the face of climate change.” The completed lens will help us achieve this strategy by informing and guiding how we develop future conservation plans.

We are following three main steps to develop this lens. The first step involves gathering information regarding climate change impacts and the vulnerability of different ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. This information prompts questions about how to address these impacts and what adaptations, mitigation strategies, and management practices we can include in conservation plans to reduce climate change impacts. Secondly, we are compiling online tools and resources into the lens to help conservation staff incorporate best management practices—the most effective and practical ways to manage land—into conservation plans. The resources will also help our staff and land managers measure the effectiveness of these practices. Lastly, through the project, we aim to develop relationships with local partners and organizations participating in climate mitigation and adaptation and increase collaboration around these efforts.

Through the research portion of the project, we learned of several ecosystem changes to be expected due to climate change. In the Pacific Northwest, temperatures will rise, with drier summers and wetter winters with less snowpack. Drier summers will lead to longer and more intense wildfire seasons and more severe drought. These changes will increasingly stress ecosystems and change where plants currently grow, shifting their ranges. Seedlings and juvenile plants will be most impacted by these changes, making it more difficult for new plants to survive. Drier conditions will lead to drought stress, which makes ecosystems more prone to insect infestation, disease, and invasive species. Agricultural crops will also suffer in the summer, with less water availability and increased risk of erosion and low crop yields. Wetlands and riparian areas are also expected to experience shifts in their hydrological cycles and are at increased risk of drying out.

The effects of climate change are widespread, leading to an overall reduction in ecosystem resilience and increasing disturbances—short-term events that have a significant impact on an ecosystem, like wildfire or drought. Both mitigation and adaptation strategies can be integrated into conservation projects to reduce the impacts climate change will have on ecosystems.

One of the most significant ways to adjust land management practices to mitigate climate change is to change conventional agricultural practices. Keeping soil structure intact by reducing tillage increases the amount of carbon stored in soil and reduces the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Other ways to increase soil-stored carbon include adding biochar or manure to soils, using organic fertilizers, and incorporating cover cropping and crop rotations into planting strategies. It is also extremely important to protect and restore high carbon-storing ecosystems like wetlands, riparian areas, and old-growth forests.

Adapting to climate change in the context of land management can mean adjusting the way we do our work, what we prioritize, and what practices we recommend to land managers. To increase ecosystem resilience, this could mean reducing soil disturbance in agricultural areas and forests, as described above, as well as taking steps to increase biodiversity and habitat connectivity. Each of these practices increases ecosystem health and promotes evolutionary adaptation and migration—and therefore survival—of plants and animals. Wildlife will shift with plant communities, especially those important to food and shelter along with water sources, as droughts worsen.

Another focus of the project is to identify which communities within our district are most at risk from the effects of climate change. Extreme heat events are expected to occur more frequently with climate change. These will intensify the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect in urban areas.

Within our district, downtown and the Northwest Industrial areas are most impacted by high temperatures and are identified as high risk communities. Efforts to reduce the UHI effect in these areas include protecting existing trees, removing pavement, and promoting light-colored roofing materials. Introducing emergency preparedness and neighborhood response plans can also increase resilience of frontline communities. Lastly, we aim to incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Indigenous communities into our conservation planning and the climate lens in order to learn from and build on Indigenous communities’ long-term and extensive experience managing and living with the land.

With the reality of a changing climate, it is critically important that we use and incorporate a ‘climate lens’ perspective into local conservation practices. Our goal is to develop well-designed and carefully constructed conservation plans, programming, and partnerships that act as instruments in reducing climate change impacts in our local ecosystems.


Meet our 2022 interns!

Jordan DeLawder (pictured left) graduated from Tufts University with a BS in Environmental Engineering. Jordan currently works at a farm and a produce market, and they are interested in bridging the gap between Portland’s urban center and nearby rural areas. Jordan spent several years studying herbalism and is an avid local forager. They are interested in learning to be a better steward of the land to protect natural resources for future generations, and they hope to learn more specific technical skills with West Multnomah. Their reference says that they are a great leader and often teach others about plants!

Shahbaz Khan (pictured right) studied Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and gained experience with forestry work as a student research assistant and volunteer. He most recently worked for a local restoration crew, while also enrolled in PCC’s Geographic Information System (GIS) certification program and is currently taking classes on drone operation. Shahbaz is broadly interested in conservation sciences and is excited about learning more of the various GIS/Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) applications in environmental stewardship, extending outreach to the community, and mentorship opportunities with West Multnomah and its many partners to prepare for graduate school. Shahbaz’s references call him “cool, calm, and collected” and, most importantly, say that he makes work “fun.”

We’re excited to get to know these two interns, welcome them to our staff, and help them both gain the experience, resources, and connections they may need to succeed in their career goals.


Forest Park neighbors join against ivy and wildfire risk

(Photo: Sarah Heinicke is leading the charge for her neighborhood to become a Firewise community.)

The Springville area of Forest Park, in the Linnton neighborhood, is a small community of hilly streets tucked up against the eastern edge of Forest Park, across from the St. Johns Bridge. For several of the residents directly abutting the park, it’s impossible to tell just by looking where their properties end and where Forest Park begins. What is clearly visible, however, is the blanket of ivy vines covering the ground in thick entangled layers and growing up the trunks of many of the trees.

English ivy (Hedera helix) and its cousin Irish ivy (Hedera hibernica) are native to Europe and western Asia and were brought over by colonial settlers. The plants thrive in our mild Pacific Northwest climate and without anything to keep them in check they have become a significant threat to natural areas. They cover the ground, crowding out native flowers, ferns, small shrubs, and tree seedlings, leaving behind a dense monoculture that offers little to no habitat for native wildlife. The vines are also a significant threat to trees. Once a vine reaches the tree canopy, it will grow into a large twisted mass dense enough to block sunlight from reaching tree leaves, eventually weakening infested trees and increasing the risk of tree bark disease and rot. The vine mass can also be heavy enough or large enough to create a “sail effect” that could make a tree more likely to blow over in a strong wind.

Sarah Heinicke, a longtime resident of the neighborhood, spearheaded a community effort to remove ivy and other threatening non-native plants from neighborhood properties. Sarah doesn’t like to see ivy slowly consuming the forest around her and she knows it will take a coordinated effort to see real results across neighboring properties.

Being so close to a forest, Sarah and her neighbors are also aware of the risk of wildfire. Sarah reached out to West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District to see if there was funding available to help remove ivy and create a visible Firewise pilot project that would inspire more neighbors to get involved.

Forest Park Conservancy and West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District have worked together for years on the Canopy Weeds Program to remove ivy and Old Man’s Beard/Traveler’s Joy (Clematis vitalba) from private properties that share a boundary with Forest Park. This project was a perfect fit for both the Canopy Weeds Program and the Firewise program, where residents could learn how to make their homes safer from wildfire by creating defensible space around homes and removing ladder fuels – burnable organic matter on the forest floor that allows fire to climb up into the tree canopy – like ivy.

man with large rake in forest by a line of prayer flags

Dan Sisco uses flags to mark his progress on ivy removal

Individually, some neighbors had already been making progress clearing ivy patches on their own. Dan Sisco is one active participant in ivy removal. He regularly spends hours pulling ivy from his property and sees much benefit in doing so, both for the forest’s health and for his own health. He’s eager to recruit volunteers who happen to be passing by for a hike, and has a clever pitch for people who exercise indoors. “Forget Peloton, they should try ‘Pull-a-ton!’ ” And Dan’s efforts are already paying off. He has found solace and inspiration in the fresh air and hard work, and trillium and other native plants are popping back up in spots he has cleared.

white trillium flower bud with three leaves and forest in background

Native trillium are returning where ivy has been removed

For this pilot project, our partnering organizations are providing crews to remove ivy and other priority non-native plants, installing native plants, and developing conservation plans for long-term management to help prevent the ivy from returning. Portland Fire & Rescue is part of the pilot team providing home assessments and offering ideas for evacuation plans and actions residents can take to reduce wildfire risk to their homes. Homes that are Being in close proximity to the park are at increased risk of destruction by wildfire. All the partner organizations, plus Portland Parks & Recreation, have been key to developing and delivering impactful outreach materials for the pilot. Portland Parks & Recreation is also complimenting efforts with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) supported funding to conduct wildfire risk reduction work in high-priority areas in Forest Park near the Linnton and Springville neighborhoods.

side by side in forest, one side with cleared ground

Before and after ivy removal

Work crews completed the first large ivy removal in February of this year. They cleared ivy from tree trunks and the ground in an area where the work is visible to the neighborhood. Next up for the project will be outreach to 90 more homes to inform them about the pilot and what people can do to reduce fire risk on their properties. Our partners hope to organize additional projects as groups of neighbors express interest. Sarah is hoping more neighbors with gather around the community effort and work alongside each other at future work events.

Learn more about ivy and what to do if you have some in your yard. Also, if you don’t have ivy where you live, consider volunteering for the No Ivy League to help remove ivy from Forest Park.


Ludwigia is on the loose!

If you’re boating around Portland’s rivers this spring, you may see one of the Ludwigia aquatic plant species that live here. There is one native species (Ludwigia palustris) and two non-native species (Ludwigia peploides and Ludwigia hexapetala), also known as water primrose, all of which look fairly similar. Non-native Ludwigia species are on our “Early Detection and Rapid Response” list as a high priority species for control and recently we have encountered  a few detections of the two unwanted species within the Sauvie Island, Multnomah confluence area west of the Willamette River.

Two photos with green plants, one with a yellow flower

Left: Native Ludwigia palustris, by Keir Morse, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) license; Right: Non-native Ludwigia peploides, by West Multnomah SWCD

Ludwigia roots underwater and can form mats over the surface of open water, outcompeting native vegetation, slowing water flow, and raising water temperatures.  If allowed to spread, the mats can be very extensive and dense, drastically altering and narrowing waterways, and affecting the wildlife that needs those areas to survive.

In Portland, Ludwigia peploides and L. hexapetala can be found in abundance in North Portland, in the Columbia Slough and Smith & Bybee Wetlands, where land managers have been working for several years to control these infestations.

For several years within our district boundaries, our annual boat surveys only turned up incidental populations. For example, in 2014, we found and managed a very small patch of Ludwigia in the Multnomah Channel near the southern end of Sauvie Island. Last year we found a more significant infestation (see yellow dots on the map).

While invasive Ludwigia is more prevalent in the upper Willamette River (near Corvallis), prior to 2014 it hadn’t previously been found in the lower Willamette River, where it flows through Portland. We are working hard to keep this invasive aquatic plant from entering the Columbia River. We recently applied for additional funding from Oregon Department of Agriculture, Priority Noxious Weed grant program to expand survey and management work in the greater Willamette-Columbia River Confluence area. This grant will allow us to better address these new patches.

How to manage invasive species is a topic that conservation organizations across our area are regularly discussing at regional meetings. We learn from each other’s work, experiment with treatment methods, and try to consider all the ecological benefits and risks of weed control work. Since Ludwigia grows in water, it can be difficult to access and control. Land managers make informed decisions about the best ways to engage with the non-native populations of Ludwigia and their effects on habitat resiliency and water quality.

New populations of the non-native species are likely to occur on sandbars and mud flats where plant fragments can wash ashore and take root. One of the most important actions that residents can take is report any suspected Ludwigia species to the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline. Since the native species looks so similar to the two non-native species, correct identification by an expert is vital before anyone tries to remove it! And the non-native species are generally difficult to thoroughly remove on one’s own.

Ludwigia reproduces through seeds and through plant fragments that travel by water. Therefore, it’s important to always clean your boots, boats, and other gear after you leave a waterway or natural area, to help prevent spreading any invasive plant or animal species.


Notice of Budget Committee Meeting – April 19, 2022

A public meeting of the Budget Committee of the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, Multnomah County, State of Oregon, to discuss the budget for the fiscal year July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023, will be held via video conferencing. The meeting will take place on April 19, 2022 at 6:00 PM. The purpose of the meeting is to receive the budget message and to receive comments from the public on the budget. This is a public meeting where deliberation by the Budget Committee will take place. Any person may virtually attend the meeting and discuss the proposed programs with the Budget Committee.

A copy of the budget document may be inspected or obtained on or after 4/15/22 on our website here. Interested participants may request a video conference access 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 4/19/22. To request a copy of the budget, submit written testimony, or sign up to provide verbal testimony at the virtual meeting, please contact us at info@wmswcd.org no later than 4/15/21.


Winner of the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for 2021-2022 budget

image of award certificate

We are pleased to announce that the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has again awarded our District the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award, this time for our fiscal year 2021-2022 budget. This is the third consecutive year that we have been awarded this honor. The award represents a significant achievement by the District. It reflects the commitment of our Board of Directors and staff to meeting the highest principles of governmental budgeting. In order to receive the budget award, we are required to satisfy nationally recognized guidelines for effective budget presentation. These guidelines are designed to assess how well an entity’s budget serves as: a policy document; a financial plan; an operations guide; and a communications device.

Budget documents must be rated “proficient” in all four categories, and in the fourteen mandatory criteria within those categories, to receive the award. There are over 1,600 participants in the Budget Awards Program. The most recent Budget Award recipients, along with their corresponding budget documents, are posted quarterly on GFOA’s website. Award recipients have pioneered efforts to improve the quality of budgeting and provide an excellent example for other governments throughout North America.


Bigleaf maple syrup: A Pacific Northwest delicacy and emerging industry

Guest article by Eric T. Jones, Oregon State University

One thing western Oregon has an abundance of is bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) trees. Ask a Douglas fir tree farmer and they will likely tell you that as hard as they try, they are difficult trees to kill. Enter the Oregon State University (OSU) College of Forestry project to understand and promote commercial opportunities for bigleaf maple sap-based food products like syrup. Just like their sugar maple cousins in the northeast, bigleaf maples produce sugary sap that can be collected and made into syrup and other products. So rather than try to control bigleaf maple, the OSU project is studying how bigleaf can be managed for optimal sap collection and processing alongside other farm and forest products.

Bigleaf maple sap makes a delicious syrup and shares some maple flavor characteristics with syrup made from sugar maple, but it also has a distinct flavor that most taste testers tell us they love. To participate in a taste test, keep an eye out for bigleaf maple festivals being planned for Oregon and Washington in the next couple of years. You can also reach out to some of the commercial producers beginning to offer bigleaf maple syrup. You can find several listed on the Oregon Tree Tappers website, the public website for the OSU bigleaf maple project, where you will find lots of helpful information on getting started in tapping bigleaf maple.

 

a person in the forest connecting blue tubing

Connecting vacuum tubing that carries sap from trees to a collection area

The tapping season is in winter, roughly the beginning of Dec. to the end of Feb. It takes temperatures below freezing at night and above freezing during the day for the sap to flow. It isn’t hard to teach yourself and get a few gallons to play with in your own kitchen, but you can also sign up for training events at the Oregon Maple Project, a nonprofit that has formed to promote sugaring in the area.

two people standing over a steaming vat with a steel measuring device

Syrup makers take a brix reading to measure the sugar content of the syrup.

The bigleaf maple industry is just starting to take off thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Acer Access and Development Program which has awarded large grants to OSU, University of Washington, and Washington State University to lay the foundation for an industry. One of the reasons bigleaf maple sap is more commercially viable than it was in the past is because of advancements in technology such as vacuum tubing and reverse osmosis. Bigleaf has roughly half the sugar content of sugar maple. So instead of needing around 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, as is the case with sugar maple, you need 80 to 90 gallons of bigleaf sap. However, with vacuum tubing systems you can collect quantities of sap efficiently and with reverse osmosis you can remove a large portion of the water before evaporating, saving greatly on fuel costs by not having to boil off so much water to make syrup.

Currently most supplies for tapping and processing have to be bought from companies based in the northeast around the sugar maple industry. As the bigleaf industry grows we hope to see suppliers set up shop in our region and more equipment like wood-fired evaporators fabricated locally.

The OSU program will continue to research best practices around bigleaf maple sap procurement and processing, but is looking forward to holding more public events to demonstrate equipment and talk about commercial opportunities with bigleaf maple foods.


Winter is time for forest health

Winter may seem like a time when there’s not a lot going on in the forest, so you may be inclined to kick back by the fireside and watch the rain fall outside. However, wintertime is actually one of the best times to take actions for improving your forest’s health.

The cold wet weather reduces wildfire risk, which means the use of machinery, such as chain saws and brush trimmers, is less likely to ignite a fire. Work done during the winter also avoids disturbing bird nests, which are typically active from April through August. So now’s the time to cut down invasive plant infestations, reduce brushy wildfire ladder fuels within 30 feet of your home, and prune up lower tree branches on younger Douglas fir trees. Weeds such as blackberry or Scotch broom growing along edges and gaps of the forest and ivy and clematis growing up trees are examples of ladder fuels since they provide a way for fire to move from the forest floor up into the canopy where it will cause much greater damage. Cutting alone won’t remove these weeds permanently, so be prepared to also dig up the roots or plan for later follow-up treatments. Conveniently enough, the moist soil makes removal of weed roots much easier too!

worker with chainsaw in thick stand of very small alder trees

A forest worker thins small, overly dense red alder trees. Thinning will allow the remaining trees to grow more vigorously and be healthier.

Winter is also a great time to find English ivy in your forest since the evergreen leaves of English ivy stand out more once our broadleaf trees have dropped their leaves and our diverse native wildflowers have also gone dormant. When you find small patches, go ahead and pull it from the ground and cut it off of the trees up to about 6 feet above ground. No need to pull vines down out of the tree; the cut vines will die on the tree. While you’re scouting for ivy, also keep an eye out for and pull seedlings of English holly and laurel.

One thing that’s at the height of activity in the forest during winter is the flow of streams. Culverts allow streams to pass under forest roads and driveways, however during winter storms, they are especially vulnerable to damage or failure as they can become clogged with soil, wood, and other debris. Poor culvert performance also leads to increased sediment entering our streams which can harm fish and other aquatic life. Culverts need annual maintenance, and we encourage you to inspect them a few times during winter to make sure they’re draining properly. If you stay on top of it, you’ll often be able to clear debris with a shovel or other hand tools.

Finally, winter and spring are opportune times to start planning for future forest health projects. If, for example, you are surprised to find an overwhelming amount of ivy that has been growing unnoticed, or you want to thin an overcrowded young forest stand and aren’t quite sure how to go about it, contact us and we may be able to help you craft a plan.

logs on a forest floor among ferns

Cutting fallen logs into smaller lengths allows them to lay flush with the ground which is important for reducing wildfire fuels and for helping the logs decompose faster.


Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project – Three Year Update

With the construction of the Sauvie Island levee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in the 1940s, open water and wetland habitat on the island was reduced by 45%. The levee and the dams further upstream on the Columbia River altered hydrology and sedimentation in Sturgeon Lake, reducing its size and making it shallower. In 1996, a massive flood carried debris into Dairy Creek, cutting off access between the river and the lake. The Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project in 2018, a partnership effort including West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce (CREST), Bonneville Power Administration, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, USACE, Multnomah County, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) with support from several key funders, reopened that connection by replacing failing culverts with a channel spanning bridge and removing the blockage within Dairy Creek.

Today, Sturgeon Lake covers 3,000 acres, yet grows to almost 7,000 acres when the Columbia River reaches flood stage. These winter high water periods benefit fish and waterfowl by providing increased seasonal habitat. The lake offers winter habitat to ducks and geese, and juvenile salmonids which have left the turbulent main river to seek refuge in the calm lake and sloughs. The fish use this time to feed and increase in size and hardiness which increases their likelihood of survival when they reach the ocean.

General Project Status: It has been three years since the project was completed and we have seen fish beginning to return to the lake. All other elements of the project are also performing as expected. While the shape of some parts of the Dairy Creek channel have changed relative to the design, the overall width and depth have remained stable. Increased sinuosity – more curves and bends in the creek – along with minor amounts of sediment being deposited or scoured away have changed the shape of the bottom of the channel, but this has not resulted in a change to the capacity to move water and fish into the lake. All key monitoring metrics reflect this and point to a very successful project.

Data Collection: In late 2020, ODFW and CREST installed Passive Integrated Transponder tag arrays – sets of antennas – in Dairy Creek on Sauvie Island. When a fish that has been “tagged” with a transponder swims by the array it is detected and its unique ID number is captured, which has information on where the fish came from, its species, and when it was tagged. While hatchery fish are the most commonly tagged fish, biologists capture and tag wild fish as well. To date, the Dairy Creek tag array has detected seven different salmonids and sturgeon species using the waterway. These include hatchery Summer Steelhead, hatchery Summer Chinook, hatchery Fall Chinook, wild Steelhead, wild Summer Steelhead, and wild Coho. See daily data from the array.

antennae equipment in a shallow creek

Two views of Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag arrays – sets of antennae – installed in Dairy Creek.

Water surface data show higher flows year-round in Dairy Creek with daily low and high tides. This has resulted in improved water quality with lower water temperatures and more dissolved oxygen levels.

Condition of Dairy Creek: In 2017, a year prior to construction, the monitoring team from CREST and West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District measured cross-section elevations at 16 points along Dairy Creek between the Columbia River and the lake. In September 2021, the team took new measurements which concluded that there are small amounts of sediment buildup, but mostly in areas where it’s common for sediment to accumulate within a natural river system, such as the inside of river bends. All cross-section data show elevations of the channel bottom are below thresholds set prior to construction. Most cross-sections showed little to no accumulation of sediment and all are still within 6-12 inches of the design elevation. Consensus within the team is the channel bottom is reaching a natural state of equilibrium and overall sediment accumulation and loss is neutral, with some additional build-up at the mouth, which the team is watching.

Likewise, there are no significant deposits of large woody material or beaver dams in place within Dairy Creek. While beaver activity has been occurring, especially near the Columbia River, any attempts by the beavers to dam the creek have been undone by high winter flows. A few logs have also made their way over or under the debris boom. This occurs when the river is high; logs are pushed up against the boom by river flow and ship wakes. The wakes lift and submerge the floating boom sections and allow the logs to work their way both over and under. However, these logs have passed through Dairy Creek, many adding to a complex of beaver dams and lodges on the wetland fringe in the southeastern portion of Sturgeon Lake. This area provides great habitat for fish, and there appears to be no impact on the flow capacity of the creek. The channel is still freely flowing and providing full year-round fish access, even during the low water periods of late summer.

Native wooding plantings: In 2018 and 2019, project contractors planted tens of thousands of native shrubs and trees on both sides of Dairy Creek, covering about 12 total acres. Crews treated reed canary grass, blackberry, and other competing vegetation three times per year in order to give the native plants a better chance of survival. The native trees and shrubs are now about 3 feet tall, and as of September 2021, most planted areas are on a very positive growth trajectory even after the long, hot, dry summer in 2021.

After decades of hard work and partnership, the Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project appears to be heading towards a great success. Fresh flows and tides now reach every part of the lake. Fish have begun to use the reconnection of Dairy Creek to access the lake. Deer, river otter, and a whole assortment of wildlife have been observed using the Dairy Creek corridor. The project partners will continue maintenance annually to track the project’s effectiveness. Monitoring metrics include aerial drone imagery, water quality, vegetation surveys, channel cross section surveys, and fish monitoring. This data is collected to help answer key questions, including: Is the channel filling in with sediment? Is the riparian area providing additional shade cover? Are native fish, specifically juvenile salmon using the site? So far, all signs point to a happy and healthy Sturgeon Lake.


5 Tips for a Healthy Stream

(Photo by Nicholas T: www.flickr.com/photos/nicholas_t/11660023586)

One of the most essential types of natural habitats we have is the riparian forest, which affects the health of the adjacent stream and benefits our climate. A riparian forest is the community of trees, shrubs, and understory plants adjacent to a stream or body of water. The plants closest to the stream are adapted to moist soil conditions and those species a bit further away tolerate a middle ground between wet and dry conditions. They comprise various zones, as shown in this graphic.

Riparian forests provide important pathways for wildlife to move through the landscape and to higher, cooler areas. Trees and other vegetation along streams, and elsewhere, are key to storing carbon and keeping air and stream temperatures lower, which we will need more and more as the global climate warms. Have you ever gone into the forest on a hot day and noticed how it’s 20 degrees cooler? If so, you’ll appreciate how invaluable are the shade and moisture retention that our forests provide. We also need trees and shrubs to capture and store rainwater that is hitting us in higher volumes during increasingly intense winter and spring storms. (Remember the “atmospheric rivers” we experienced this fall?) The more we collectively preserve and plant such vegetation, the more benefits we’ll see. Here are 5 tips for creating and maintaining a healthy riparian forest and a healthy stream:

1. Plant and preserve native trees and shrubs along your stream. Not only do they shade the stream, which helps keep the water cool for fish and other aquatic life, their roots hold onto the soil and minimize streambank erosion. They filter pollutants from run-off water, slow its movement across land, and help recharge ground water. With our increasingly dry, hot summers, ground-water recharge is more important than ever before.

Look for local sources of plants to get species adapted to your growing conditions and local wildlife needs. You can use a Willamette Valley retail or wholesale nursery that specializes in native plants, or harvest “starts” of plants off your land or where you have permission. You can cut off branches of willow, red-twig dogwood and cottonwood trees in the late fall – right now! – and just stick them into moist streambanks. Strive for cuttings that are 2-3 feet long and insert them half to two-thirds of the way into the ground, with the buds facing up. Assuming conditions are right, they will root and grow, like magic! You can also dig up small seedlings of other suitable plants, such as western red cedar, Oregon ash, or red or white alder, where you have many and move them to your streamside areas. Look around for what likes to grow near your stream and, once you’ve confirmed those species are native, plant more of them.

See the Guide for Using Willamette Valley Native Plants Along Your Stream for appropriate species and for tips on how to propagate your own plants from cuttings.

small stack of cut ends of small reddish dogwood branches

Dogwood cuttings ready for inserting into streamside soil. Photo by Pat Welle.

2. Plant and care for understory species in your riparian area. These might include native shrubs and small trees like cascara, Douglas hawthorn, snowberry and salmonberry, or twinberry and Douglas spirea for sunny edges or openings. A mix of woody plants contributes to a good matrix of roots under the ground that hold the soil in place. They also support and benefit from soil life such as fungi, and provide much needed food for birds, pollinating insects, and other wildlife. Flowering plants, in particular, provide nectar and pollen for bees and hummingbirds, but most plants attract native insects. Since insects are the bottom of the food chain, plants that support them support other wildlife. Some native trees, like Western hazelnut, even provide nuts as food for jays and squirrels, for example.

(See here for local sources of native plants: https://emswcd.org/native-plants/local-sources/)

3. Add native grasses and wildflowers that naturally occur in riparian areas. Blue wildrye is an example of a locally common native grass that tolerates sun and shade, and it can be purchased inexpensively by the pound. Tufted hairgrass is a great native species for moist, sunny areas. You can also add wildflowers that like understory settings, such as largeleaf avens, fringe-cup, and youth-on-age. Really moist soil areas can benefit from native sedges, rushes and bulrushes, like small-flowered bulrush and slough sedge. Try digging up and transplanting a few or getting some from a local nursery, as with the wildflowers. Scatter seed of native grasses where you have bare soils areas, particularly if you’ve cleared an area of invasive blackberry or reed canary grass.

Free up more areas for native seed and native plants by controlling invasive weeds. Along with reed canary grass (RCG), tackle aggressive herbaceous invaders such as shiny geranium, which can take over the ground of a riparian area. Keep reed canary grass somewhat at bay with persistent cutting, combined with heavy, heavy mulch. Be aware, however, that too much mulch applied where it can wash into the stream is not a good thing. Remove RCG growing immediately around desired plants – either manually or with careful use of herbicide – and have patience while new native trees and shrubs grow up and gradually shade it out. The goal is to avoid the intense competition for water and nutrients the RCG imposes.

4. Retain downed “wood” that ends up in or near streams. When trees lose branches and fall near or across a stream, they shed leaves and twigs that become food for aquatic insects and other critters, such as crayfish, that live in streams. The downed logs end up creating pools where fish hold and take cover from predators and where the deeper water created is nice and cool. The wood that falls on land will decay and provide future organic matter and healthy soil, which will harbor a wide range of life and be more hospitable to future plant growth. And while the log is still intact, it can shade and help fragile new seedlings establish. Also, while it’s not a guarantee, beaver may use downed pieces of wood for dam-building instead of cutting new, growing pieces.

5. Consider the benefits of beaver for water retention and fire breaks. Recent experience in Oregon has shown that beaver-flooded areas are extremely resilient to wildfire and serve as both important fire breaks and refuge areas while fires rage. After a fire, a green oasis is left behind. If beaver are taking more trees than you’d like, you can create wire “cages” around key trees to preserve them. You can also plant trees and shrubs adapted to beaver browse, like dogwood, cottonwood, and willows, which generally grow back after being browsed. (Our native willows include Pacific, Sitka and Scouler’s willow, the latter tolerating the driest of conditions.) Or select plant species that are less preferred by beaver, like Pacific ninebark, elderberry, and swamp rose. If you want to learn more about how beaver can benefit a stream, watch this recent video by the Oregon Zoo, or this one by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

So, there you have it. Keep and plant more native plants near your stream, control invasive weeds, propagate your own plants on-site to save money and have hyper-adapted plants, embrace a “messy” natural riparian area with downed wood and beaver, if you can, and promote a variety of plant species and types. Work with your neighbors to maximize benefits. We suggest a 50-foot riparian “buffer” on each side of the creek as a good starting point, if you have the space. More is better but anything is better than nothing. Work with what you have and feel good about the progress you’ve made; and keep working at it! You and the wildlife will be glad you did.