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Fern Ridge Wildlife Area was created in 1957 under a license agreement between the Corps of Engineers and Oregon Game Commission (now Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife- ODFW). The agreement provides authority for the state to "develop, conserve, and manage all wildlife resources on a 5,010 acre portion of the 12,716 acres owned by the USACE around the reservoir.
Management emphasis on the wildlife area centers primarily around waterfowl and wetlands habitat management to provide food, water, and sanctuary for wintering waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wildlife. The expansive marsh and flyway proximity in the southern Willamette Valley are ideally suited for support of many wetland wildlife species. Active management techniques are combined with protective measures to provide a habitat base that supports a diverse array of wildlife. Bird life is particularly rich on the area with over 250 species of birds utilizing the area at some point in their life cycle either as resident and nesting birds or as seasonal migrants.
Management Goals and Objectives
Four Primary goals guide management programs and project developments on the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area. These goals are integrated with resource management strategies identified by the Wildlife Management Districts encompassing the Willamette Valley, Pacific Flyway Plans, and ODFW Statewide Waterfowl and Wildlife Diversity Plans. By integrating management goals for Fern Ridge with plans addressing a broader geographic area, the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area becomes part of a connective landscape network for wildlife and wildlife habitat management within the Willamette Valley ecosystem.
Wildlife Management Activities
- Attract and support waterfowl in the Southern Willamette Valley.
- Manage for wildlife oriented recreation that is compatible with conservation of wildlife resources.
- Manage habitats for wildlife species diversity.
- Provide for wildlife and habitat orientated education.
- Farming: Each year approximately 100 acres of ground is prepared and planted to food crops for wildlife. Corn, sundagrass, millet, and sunflowers are planted in the spring in three management units on the southeast side of the lake. Crops are irrigated during the summer months and flooded in the fall to provide the balance of food, water, and sanctuary necessary to support concentrations of wintering waterfowl. A variety of other wildlife species also benefit directly and indirectly from this management activity including raptors, fur bearers, deer and passerines.
- Moist soil management: Over 300 acres within diked impoundments are managed for moist soil management which uses a combination of water level control, periodic soil disturbance, and timed draw down and inundation to foster growth of native wetland species. These seasonally wet or semi permanent marsh fields provide a productive habitat base to support wildlife diversity.
- Water management: An extensive series of earthen levees are in place to provide for shallow water management. Wetland system productivity and wildlife accessibility is enhanced in these impoundment areas by capturing rainwater and runoff to meet habitat needs of wetland wildlife species. Low field depressions and swales are managed as vernal pools to provide wetland habitat interconnectively in seasonally wet areas.
- Native prairie: Several hundred acres of the wildlife area have been designated as Research Natural Areas as part of a cooperative network to protect sensitive wet low prairie grasslands in the Willamette Valley. The Nature Conservancy, Corps, ODFW, and University of Oregon are involved in protecting and maintaining integrity of these sites. Endangered Bradshaw's desert parsley (Lomatium bradshawii) is found in the wet prairies along with candidate species Willamette Valley daisy (Erigeron decumbens)
- Natural resource protection: One of the more effective ways to manage wildlife habitat is to "leave well enough alone" in systems where plant species composition, hydrology, and surrounding land use are in a favorable balance for wildlife. Fences to exclude livestock, trails to concentrate people use, and restrictions of off road vehicles are some of the methods used to provide resource protection on the wildlife area.
- Grasslands: Two grassland habtitat-types occur at Fern Ridge. Upland grass communities cover approximately 400 acres and lowland grass communities occur within these habitats.
- Marshlands: The gradual slopes of Fern Ridge lake shoreline provide extensive areas of shallow water marsh. Most of this area is subject to de-watering or inundation due to USACE management of water resources. Bulrush and cattail marshes occur along shoreline areas of the lake along with over 2000 acres of dense stands of reed canary grass.
- Woodlands: Three types of woodland habitats are present on the Fern Ridge project. Stands of conifers dominate patches of woodland around the project. Deciduous forests covering over 800 acres are composed of white oak, black oak, Oregon ash, cottonwood, maple, and alder. Woody shrub habitats along river and creek channels are dominated by wild rose, hawthorn, pear trees, and blackberries.
- Lake area: Open water of the lake serves as an important habitat feature in the southern Willamette Valley. Concentrations of waterfowl converge on the lake during winter months providing spectacular viewing opportunities. "Local" waterfowl nest in wetland fringe habitats and osprey nest on snags and pole platforms placed around the lake. Yellow-headed blackbirds, purple martins, and black terns also depend on the balance of open lake and marsh fringe for habitat.
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