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On the Ground: The Oregon Conservation Strategy at Work

November 2010

News of birds, bats, bull trout and boats brighten darker days. 


ODFW Releases Willamette Valley Grassland Bird Status Update
Batty for Bats!
Aquatic Invader Detection Program Wraps First Year
Wildish Family Sells Riverfront Property to The Nature Conservancy
One Small Thing

ODFW Releases Willamette Valley Grassland Bird Status Update

Both meadowlark and grasshopper sparrow were detected in this pasture, which had less than 10 percent tree cover.
- ODFW photo -

That grassland birds are in decline in the Willamette Valley is not news. The streaked horned lark has been a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act since 2001, and the western meadowlark’s melodious call is heard by fewer and fewer residents every year. It’s no surprise to anyone, really, as their habitat is almost gone—a full 99 percent of the Valley’s historic grasslands and upland prairies have been lost.

What is news is what people are doing about it.

“There is a lot of habitat restoration going on in the Valley and there are a lot of things landowners can do,” said Ann Kreager, ODFW grassland biologist. “So, it’s really important to keep advancing what we know and to share the information.”

The new grassland bird survey report that Kreager has just released should help conservationists and landowners alike. Included is data on target species surveyed, habitat associations and distribution. Recommendations based on data analysis are incorporated.
“The only real data we had on grassland birds was from surveys done in 1996, so we went back and resurveyed those sites,” said Kreager. “Unfortunately, population trends are still downward, but we do have updated information to work with.”

Kreager plans to use the data when working with organizations and individuals who are interested in conserving grassland birds. She is also busy analyzing data from 144 new sites in the Valley that were surveyed in 2008 in a related project.

“Knowing where we have birds and where linkages and prairie restoration would help expand the range of some of these birds is going to be very helpful,” she said.

The report, Declining and State Sensitive Bird Species Breeding in Willamette Valley Grasslands: 2008/09 Status Update , is available on ODFW’s website.

Kreager collaborated with ODFW Biologist Anne Mary Meyers on the project as part of ODFW’s grassland program, which was funded by the Oregon Legislature in support of the Conservation Strategy. The survey was financially supported by the Oregon Zoo and the federal State Wildlife Grant program.

Contact Ann Kreager.   Grasslands are a Strategy habitat.

Townsend’s big-eared bat
Fringed bat. Photo use donated to ODFW by Michael Durham for use in white-nose syndrome education.

Batty for Bats!

ODFW staff has produced a new flyer for kids (and adults) that includes photos of Oregon’s 15 bat species, information and fun facts about them.

“Kids are usually fascinated with bats and it’s fun to help them get past all of the scary myths and truly learn about our bats,” said Andrea Hanson, ODFW Strategy Species coordinator.

Currently, Hanson is involved in crafting a regional white-nose syndrome response plan for Oregon and Washington. The multi-agency effort will address education and outreach as well as developing an action plan if the disease is found in the state.

While white-nose syndrome has not been found in Oregon, it has killed more than a million bats in the eastern U.S. Caused by a cold-loving fungus, it thrives in the same temperature range as hibernating bats do. More information .

Download a copy of Batty for Bats! from ODFW’s website.

Martyne Reesman
Martyne Reesman, ODFW Aquatic Invasive Species technician, inspected boats all summer long.
— Photo by ODFW—

Aquatic Invader Detection Program wraps first year

Oregon’s Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program kicked off in January 2010 and staff from Oregon’s Marine Board, State Police and Department of Fish and Wildlife began the monumental task of setting up a statewide boat inspection, education and enforcement program and informing resident and nonresident motor boaters, kayakers and canoeists that they had to purchase a permit.

Based on the challenges of getting the new program off the ground, staff are relatively pleased with first-year results. As of the end of October, a total of 132,925 Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permits had been sold, generating $702,144 in revenue, which funded the boat inspection teams, signage at boat ramps, education materials and mobile decontamination units.

The lion’s share of the revenue came from registered motor boat owners who pay the $5 permit fee with their biennial registration. Compliance from manually operated boat operators was less than 50 percent, but not unexpected in a first-year program that emphasized awareness and education over enforcement.

Boat inspectors had mixed results as the program calls for voluntary compliance at inspection stations. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, teams conducted about 2,830 inspections and performed 19 decontaminations—five hot water and high pressure decontaminations and 14 decontaminations by hand removal of plants such as Eurasian milfoil. No quagga or zebra mussels were found. 

Townsend’s big-eared bat
Glenn Dolphin, Oregon Marine Board, is working to improve the 2011 permit process.
- ODFW photo -

“We only had about 32 percent compliance by boaters at our roadside inspection stations,” said Rick Boatner, ODFW Aquatic Invasive Species coordinator. “We did better at boat ramps, but because it’s a voluntary program, we can only ask people to participate.”

One thing that concerns Boatner is denial by kayakers, canoeists and rafters that they are part of the problem.

“People tend to think motorboats and houseboats are the only types of vessels that spread invasive species, but paddlecraft carry invaders just as well,” he said.

By way of example, he points to New Zealand mud snails found in mud at the bottom of kayaks in Oregon and a kayak stopped by the California border patrol carrying quagga mussels.

According to Glenn Dolphin of the Marine Board, operators of paddlecraft can look forward to some new permit options in 2011.

“Based on feedback during the first year, we are considering some changes to the paddlecraft permit. One idea is to offer a two-year permit which would be available as a sticker or as a Tyvek raft tag for non-registered, manually powered boats,” he said.

Currently, operators of non-motorized boats 10 feet long or longer are required to carry a seven-dollar Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permit, which is good for one calendar year.

Additional information: Oregon Marine Board , ODFW , Quagga and zebra mussels , New Zealand mud snails .

Townsend’s big-eared bat
Willamette Confluence map.
Click to enlarge.

Wildish Family Sells Riverfront Property to The Nature Conservancy

It’s a very American story: In 1934, in the middle of the Great Depression, Verna and TC Wildish packed up their 11 children and moved from a small town in North Dakota to Eugene, Oregon. That first year, Wildish bought a truck and found work hauling gravel for road construction. By 1941, he had a dozen trucks. In the 1950s, he purchased property along the Willamette River north of Mt. Pisgah to expand his sand and gravel operation, and the company never stopped growing. Today it is a diversified construction business, still owned and operated by the Wildish family.

Meanwhile, the area around Mt. Pisgah, a volcanic butte that rises above the confluence of the Coast and Middle Forks of the Willamette River, had come to the attention of a number of conservationists who wanted the area preserved for the community. Governor Tom McCall supported the plan and, in 1973, the state purchased 2,300 acres of land which today forms the Howard Buford Recreation Area. The Wildishes, hard at work on adjacent land, were not interested in selling.

Over the years, work on Mt. Pisgah restored native oak and prairie habitats and revitalized riparian areas. But all the while, conservationists kept eyeing the one piece of property that stood between upland habitats and the river—the long jigsaw-puzzle piece of riverfront property that the Wildishes owned.

It took four decades to ink the deal that will allow the re-linking of Mt. Pisgah and the river for the benefit of fish and wildlife, but on Oct. 29, 2010, the Wildish family sold their 1,270-acre property to The Nature Conservancy for $23.4 million.

“It was a tough decision, forty years in deliberation,” said Jim Wildish, president of the Wildish companies. “The sand and gravel business has been very important to the family and to this community, but we are pleased to see the land in conservation. It is a long-held dream of so many.”

Russell Hoeflich, Oregon director for The Nature Conservancy, calls the acquisition "a legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren so that one day they will still be able to touch a chinook salmon and hear the western meadowlark."

Red-legged frog
Red-legged frogs will benefit from restoration work at the site of the former Wildish property.
— Photo by ODFW—

The newly acquired property has habitats that are increasingly endangered in the Willamette Valley, including six miles of river corridor, floodplain forest, wetlands, upland oak woodlands and native prairie. More than 30 species of at-risk fish and wildlife will benefit from restoration efforts including salmon, northern red-legged frogs and bull trout.

During 2011, the Conservancy will develop a management plan for the property, which is called the Willamette Confluence. Then, a decade of habitat work will reconnect the river to its historic floodplain, control invasive species and restore oak and prairie habitats. ODFW will work with the Conservancy on the plan.

“This is a unique piece of property, important for many reasons,” said Chris Wheaton, ODFW Northwest Region Manager, “And many people are thankful to the Wildish family for making the decision they did and for waiting while the funding was secured.”

Major funding for the purchase came from the Bonneville Power Administration and Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. BPA provided $20.8 million and OWEB provided $2.5 million. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation contributed an additional $100,000. Other partners include Lane County government, USFWS, US Army Corps of Engineers, Friends of Buford Park and Mt. Pisgah, Oregon Parks and Recreation, Willamalane Parks District, Oregon’s Congressional delegation, The Nature Conservancy and ODFW.

In the end, it took a long time and involved a lot of people, but with some of the Valley’s rarest native habitats now in conservation, it’s a satisfying story. And, a very American story.

More: The Nature Conservancy , Friends of Buford Park and Mt. Pisgah , Bonneville Power Administration Environment, Fish and Wildlife

The 111th Christmas Bird Counts are approaching. To be part of these important citizen science events, contact your local Audubon chapter or follow these links:

On the Ground newsletter archives

The Oregon Conservation Strategy provides a blueprint and action plan for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a non-regulatory, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by ODFW with the help of a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, conservation groups, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, and representatives from agriculture, forestry and rangelands.

Meg Kenagy
Oregon Conservation Strategy Communications coordinator
(503) 947-6021

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