Weather

The end of the year is often so gray, dark and rainy. Sometimes we have floods, incessant rain and sogginess. Just now it is stormy. Heavy rain interspersed with calm breaks. According to the weather station, we had over one inch of rain in the last 24 hrs.

Today we took a chance and headed out for a hike after midday, despite rain showers – heavy at times, as they say. We got lucky. We arrived at the Luckiamute Landing Natural Area mid afternoon. Under a stormy sky, with surprising sunbreaks and little to no rain, we strolled around the trail looking for birds and noting high water in the Luckiamute and Willamette rivers. If we had ventured further toward the camping area for paddlers, we might have seen the Santiam river estuary on the east shore of the Willamette.

We saw no new or unknown birds, and not too many of our old friends, but it was pleasant to have all these acres to ourselves on a day when many are crowded together at the mall. In the spring and summer, this gallery forest of cottonwoods, Oregon ash, and alder will be fragrant and full of birdsong.

Birds we saw:

Flocks of Robins, Juncos, one immature bald eagle, one osprey, a few black-capped chickadees, a red-shafted flicker, geese overhead, and a group of small geese in a field from the car (no time to i.d.), small raptor on elelctric wires.

It was breezy, and we heard there was a high wind warning for the Willamette Valley (50 mph) and the coast (70+mph). In our sheltered valley, we often do not get the big wind, although sometimes it swirls around oddly and breaks trees. Keeping an eye on the weather station, the wind here has not been over 26 mph – those gusts have caused our dougfirs to rain cones and twigs on the roof. It sounds like the trees are hurling things at us as they do in the Lord of the Rings (or did those trees just grab people?). Anyhow, as I began to write this post, the lights went out, came back on, went out again. So I’m guessing the wind is high out on the flats. We have electricity for the moment anyway. We’ll see what the morning brings.

Since I missed last week, I’ll post the results of my planned lichen-gathering expedition tomorrow – windstorms are great for bringing down the lichens! Why collect them? Stay tuned…

Winter twigs and lichens color the winter landscape - surprisingly vivid

Winter twigs and lichens color the winter landscape – surprisingly vivid

LukiamuteLukiamute1

Willamette in view

Willamette in view

A Public Service Announcement

Ron Pence, Assistant Administrator

Commodity Inspection Division

Oregon Dept Of Agriculture

Dear Mr Pence,

By now, the example of yellow tuft allysum will have been brought to your attention as a relevant example of what economic and ecosystem damage occurs when invasive species are used as commercial crops. Even with the best intentions, it is very difficult to control invasive species with regulations, inspections, and control after they have escaped cultivation.

Please note that Arundo donax (Giant Reed) has the potential to burden the taxpayers of Oregon with yet another eradication problem when it escapes. Ecosystem damage and loss of ecosystem function (and therefore the ecosystem services we depend on) are major reasons not to approve this plant for cultivation. Please refrain from approving Arundo donax as a biofuel crop. Biomass can be generated from any number of crops. Choose not to use this one.

The good news…

The post on the shrinking Willamette River system was unhappy. At the end of that post I mentioned that restoring the ecological functions of the river involved working with modern land use and human structures in the landscape. Here is how that might happen. This week in our Master Naturalist class, we visited a farm that is a step in the right direction.

Look at this current view of a section of the Willamette River:

Willamette River aerial view showing remnant channels and oxbow lakes

If you zoom in you can see labels for lakes along the right (east) side and over to the left of center. These lakes are hydrologically connected to the main river. Here is the diagrammatic view of the river at the time of European settlement and as sloughs and side channels were drained for agriculture from the mid-1800’s till now :

Size and complexity of the Willamette River Channel over time

Aerial views give a different perspective on the adjacent wetlands and their importance to a river. Those lakes in the color map are side channels and oxbow lakes that were part of the river at one time. During high flows and floods, juvenile fish (like the endangered Chinook salmon) will find refuge in side channels; there they grow larger and hide from predators. When the water level recedes, they move downstream, better able to survive the rigors of life in the main channel as they head out to sea. That’s just one of the many functions of channels and sloughs in adjacent wetlands. And one species. Another ecosystem service provided by these wide flat spots is to dissipate the force of stormwater coming down the channel and spread out the volume of water during high flows.

In this farmer’s field there are several native species of fish that hang out in the winter when the water rises (yes-IN the field! remember this was once the river). He has built water control structures to facilitate their movement in and out, so they don’t get trapped in the side channel when it dries out. He has planted trees and hedgerows along the river for habitat. These plants also provide a buffer to absorb fertilizer and insecticides, and protect the river bank and crops.

Here is a closer aerial view of the sloughs (the dark green shrubby areas between fields) and banks planted with trees. You can also see another feature that all farmers should have right in the field – hedgerows of native plants. They look like thin dark stripes in the field in the lower left part of the aerial map.

This view on the ground is dramatically set against the big storm that was on the way this weekend to dump about 2.5 inches of rain on us. The hedgerows are mostly hardhack (Spiraea douglasii) and the one in front is overrun with blackberries. Both provide a lot of value as insect rearing habitat. However, a mix of species provides multiple generations of beneficial insects nectar, food, and places to pupate. That saves on pesticides.

What do you think? If every farmer or landowner with property near a waterway was to enhance one ecosystem service their patch provides, instead of thinking only of protecting crops, houses, or buildings, could we integrate enough habitat and resilience back into the Willamette River system to bring it back to health? Would residents downstream perhaps be willing to provide assistance to upstream residents to help prevent flooding in the streets of Portland?

One last note: buy Flav-R-Pac and Santiam brands – it’s a local farmer’s cooperative that this farm belongs to, and it keeps farmland out of development. If you buy organic – look for the Ladybug logo on produce – this farmer’s neighbor grows organic produce for them. That’s a whole nother story.

Depauperate

1: falling short of natural development or size

2: impoverished depauperate fauna>

Origin of DEPAUPERATE

Middle English depauperat, from Medieval Latin depauperatus, past participle of depauperare to impoverish, from Latin de- + pauperare to impoverish, from pauper poor — more at poor

First Known Use: 15th century

Merriam-webster.com

This Dickensian word perfectly describes the flora and fauna of the modern world. We are now living among truly impoverished, pauperized landscapes.

In my Oregon Master Naturalist class this past week, we looked at this illustration of why the Willamette Valley biodiversity has plummeted since the mid-1850s:

Size and complexity of the Willamette River Channel over time

On the left is a diagram of the river as it was in 1854. You can see the narrowing, but from a physical point of view, consider the thousands of miles of edges, and surface area that were in the original system. The complexity was mind-boggling, and is the key to understanding the importance of river/wetland systems.

By the end of the century, the side channels and sloughs had been blocked or drained for farmland, the river was straightened for navigation and, significantly, an enormous quantity of large trees were removed from the channel. The result of these activities was a disconnection of the river from surrounding landscapes. The forests no longer contributed nutrients, shading and large woody debris. That impoverished the salmon support system of food and cover, as well as cool water and spawning gravel. Side channels and floodplains no longer dissipate the energy of floods, so Portland streets get inundated during big flood years. It is the equivalent of smashing up a finely tuned, complex and delicate mechanism. A fine clock for example.

The underground hydrology of the river systems is also very complex – with water entering and leaving the visible stream below and along the edges for some distance from the banks. The riparian zone is that belt along a river where you see green vegetation in a dry landscape, or where the tree type changes from conifers to mostly leafy deciduous trees. It can be 1.5 to 3 kilometers wide, yet most laws only protect less than a few hundred feet (sometimes only 50 feet) on either side of a stream.

The loss of wetlands is an enormous cost to us today, and surprisingly the loss from the tiny fraction of original wetlands continues at a rate of about 3% per year, despite laws to protect wetlands. (Previously, the loss was caused by farming, now the primary reason is development.)

Restoring the pauperized landscape: The replacement of lost function is the guiding principle in riparian and wetland ecological improvement projects, rather than “restoration” to an original state. People are just getting the hang of how to replace some elements of river/wetland systems so they perform their original services to wildlife and people, working around human structures to do so.

Three Things I Learned In Oregon Master Naturalist Class

Here are three of the many things I learned in my first two Oregon Master Naturalist Willamette Valley ecoregion classes (well, it’s hard to stick to just 3, and also it has been more than a week since my last post, but it’s just the end of this week so I’m sliding in):

1. Even with a long cultural history of death and devastation, people still find ways to work in useful, collaborative ways to move life forward

This is the second time I have been to a fascinating talk by a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. David G. Lewis, PhD, Tribal Museum Curator/Cultural Liaison, shared a lot of information about how the tribes of western Oregon lived on the land.

Tribes of the Willamette Valley
http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/kalapuya_treaty/
from book Melville Jacobs _Kalapuya Texts_, 1945

The story of white settlement in North America is always a sad one. What would become western Oregon held 60 tribes and tribal bands during the pre-settlement period. There were around 100 languages spoken in Oregon when whites began to settle here.

In the mid-1800’s Indian leaders saw that they had no chance of keeping their traditional hunting and harvesting lands, and requested that they be allowed to live on a reserve “between the forks of the Santiam River”. Whites refused to give them their chosen place, and the Indians refused to leave. During the stalemate no treaty was ratified, but eventually a treaty was negotiated by Joel Palmer (a local historical personage in whose mansion in the town of Dayton, an upscale gourmet restaurant currently resides).

There are lots of interesting details about the treaties and subsequent ramifications, but what sticks in the mind is this: under 7 different treaties, all the Indians in the valley were removed in 1855-56 because they were in the way of full exploitation of the land by whites. This was a “trail of tears” march for those from southern Oregon especially, separating them from the land and their source of food and shelter, in the winter, when people were most vulnerable to starvation and sickness, which of course, happened.

The area ceded to the U.S. government comprised more than 14 million acres. In return, the Indians received 61,440 acres. All tribes were lumped together on a small area down the road from us where Highway 18 cuts through the coast range – the Grand Ronde reservation. Through a series of events, including the sale of some land by individual Indians, and “surplussing” (read: stolen a second time) of 30,000 acres by the US government, the tribes eventually were left with no property whatsoever. As late as 1954 (when the confederated tribes owned 400 acres of land) all treaties and tribal status and rights were TERMINATED by the US government, essentially wiping out what remained of a community and culture base. In 1983 the tribes owned about 11 acres of forest land and 7 acres with a grave yard on it. Finally in the 1980’s, congress had what David called a “change of heart” – tribal restoration occurred, including restoration of 9811 acres of land.

The good news: currently the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community own 11,000-12,000 acres of valley floor and upland timber property. There are several staff positions devoted to cultural affairs, heritage education, and archeological preservation. The tribes are planning a museum and David is working with many government agencies all over the state to restore and bring life back to the streams and traditional harvesting grounds on public and private property as well as tribal lands. The Confederated Tribes just received 100 acres of land purchased and donated by several US agencies and the Nature Conservancy, and more land is being acquired to manage for conservation.

In many places in the world, this history would fuel a long-simmering guerrilla war against the dominant group and government. In this case, Indians have embraced relationships that benefit everyone and although the process is long and complicated, it is moving on positive paths. We can learn a lot from their example.

2.  Wildlife see landscapes differently than humans do

Our next speaker was Dave Vesely, a wildlife ecologist who has trained dogs to sniff out endangered plants, among other species. He recounted a story to illustrate item #2.

He was asked to look at an open meadow to document how many dark-eyed juncos were using it. He discovered that the birds, which forage on the ground, were actually avoiding this meadow that had been created for them. They were in the trees and shrubs around the meadow instead. This particular habitat was not being used by these birds because the grass was too long. Juncos forage in the open, and they couldn’t see their surroundings or even penetrate the tall grass.

Dark eyed (Oregon) junco

His conclusion: “habitat type” is an ecological unit classified by vegetation and/or abiotic features. However, classification can get in the way of understanding how wildlife actually use habitat. We have to understand how wildlife view habitat to get the results we want. Harder than you might think, AND it’s more than just plants.

3.  Geology is everywhere

At Silver Falls State Park we had a great time looking at the geology around us and learning about how it shaped the Pacific Northwest. We learned that all you have to do to see rocks and learn about geology is walk around – the gravel in parking lots, the stones in buildings, and any number of everyday elements tell the story of local geology.

Looking at fossils in the dressed stones built by the CCC, Silver Falls St Park

It’s a beach – casts and molds of clam shells and marine sediments greater than 25 million years old

We enjoyed looking at these beautiful stone buildings constructed during the depression by the CCC. The walls were constructed of blocks of fossiliferous sandstone (sedimentary rocks that hold fossils created when the Willamette Valley was a shallow sea, or embayment). Rocks in the low wall to the right of the steps our instructors are standing on are 25-million-year-old volcanic tuff (cemented volcanic particles and rocks). The steps are younger basalt from Columbia basalt lava flows that began15 million years ago. All were quarried locally in the park.

Three lava flows are visible (a path follows the line between the second and first)

The falls cascade over three visible flows of Columbia basalt, separated by thin layers of paleosols (old or fossil soils) – accumulated in the time between lava flows. It’s a Columbia Gorge in miniature, complete with amazing water falls and enormously tall trees.

Close to the cliff face, the path follows a boundary layer where softer sediment creates a break between lava flows

  • Geologic processes create landforms
  • soil weathers from rocks with different chemical composition
  • vegetation is product of those soils and landforms.

The temperature was comfortable and the air moist, up here in the trees and cool gorges – when the valley was baking in the upper 80’s – and it can all be explained by big GEOLOGY.

These plants can thrive in the high humidity and shade created by waterfalls and overhanging basalt cliffs (liverwort, saxifrages and maidenhair fern)

Ambitious plans and fall activities

I have decided to sign up for WordPress Post-a-Week. Although I admire and seek to emulate post-a-day people such as the Dragonfly Woman, whose exemplary blog sets a standard, weekly posting is my own new ambitious goal. However, due to my recent low production there is a current backlog of ideas and photos so I might be barraging you subscribers with several short ones. So, off we go.

Here is the view from Gopher Valley as late summer burns everything to a crisp:

I am embarking on part two of Oregon Master Naturalist training: on-site classes and fieldtrips for the Willamette Valley regional specialization. Last fall I took an online course from OSU, where the Master Naturalist Program resides. This is a wonderful Extension program course and I’m in the first wave of students moving through online and on-site training. When I get done, I will sign up for volunteer hours working with a non-profit or agency, and eventually it will help me be a better tour guide for our restoration project here in Gopher Valley.

This Friday I will spend the day at the Straub Environmental Learning Center in Salem and on a fieldtrip to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge (our neighborhood refuge) talking about historical vegetation and landscapes in the WV. On Saturday it’s off to Silver Falls State Park for another day of classes and fieldtrips in the park to learn about and observe geology. Two of my favorite subjects.

Here’s a trailer for an interesting movie project that gives a taste of what there is to know about the Willamette River and the valley. They need donations to help finish the movie so if you’re looking for something good to support, now is the moment!