Pasture to Oak Woodland Ecosystem Restoration – The Adventure Continues –
After investing twenty years and a few dollars and hours into ensuring that all oak in our Mt. Richmond Forest are free of the risk of being killed by over topping by light stealing fir, in 2016 we extended our stewardship of oak ecosystems to include working to reestablish oak ecosystems in a pasture from which they were cleared at least a century ago.
Knowing that this “Pasture to Oak” project will take time, effort, persistence and patience, in the past three years we have successfully developed a range of important partnerships – making this a community-based project. More details are provided below.
Yesterday, fresh out of our Halloween costumes, 15 brave souls gathered in the frosty chill of a brilliant day to spend a day hauling and piling the corpses of young fir as protective barriers within which baby oak and related shrubs will be planted this winter. The opposition here are the hungry deer and elk that are quick to munch any unprotected seedling. Because it was a remarkable and diverse group – including a visiting German forestry professor, a third grader, several restoration ecologists, a journalist, a retired ODF forester, a professor of restoration ecology, a history teacher, and banjo player, a university senior, and an atmospheric scientist – discussion and debate were lively, varied, and constructive. We were bound together by both our shared commitment to this work – and the wider challenges of learning to live well in this beautiful place.
The work of both the day and the overall project was ably and bravely led my Mike Conroy of Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District. How fortunate we are to have great partners and such enthusiastic and capable volunteers helping with this project. The road is long – and we’re sure to have fun as we walk it!
All are keen to return for the mid winter planting.
Hyla Woods – Pasture to Oak Woodland Restoration Project – Overview:
Background: When 200 acres were added to Mt. Richmond Forest in 2015, it included an 11 acre area of pastureland. The land slopes gently to the north, appears to have good soils, and adjoins Mt. Richmond Road. A year round spring surfaces along the site’s western edge and creates a wetland crease running from midway down the western edge to the site’s northwest corner. It seems clear that prior to being cleared at least a century ago, this site supported an oak woodland that had been shaped by millennial of human stewardship through regular burning by native people. Given this historic use and the concern that oak woodlands are scarce, valuable, in decline and appropriate for the future climate in the Willamette Valley, the Hayes Family has decided that the best use of this land is to work in partnership with others to restore it to an oak woodland. With less than 5% of the original oak habitat in the Willamette Valley remaining and with 90$ of what remains being on private land, it is a high conservation priority to find ways to both conserve and restore oak ecosystems. In addition to reforesting the main site, we aim to create a forested wetland along the western edge.
- To work in creative partnership with others to restore the site to conditions which will provide the highest ecological potential. Valuable outcomes include improved scarce habitat, improved water quality and quantity, increased capture and retention of carbon, and, eventually, quality logs. We acknowledge that due to multiple factors, including the slow growth rates of oak, that success with this project will require persistence, patience, hard work, and strong partnerships over many years.
- To build on the good work of others to continue to refine the most efficient, effective, and economical methods for reestablishing oak woodlands and riparian corridors, and to document and share these methods with others who share our interest.
- To provide value to community members, of all ages, through sharing in the work of restoring an ecological community.
Prior to committing to the project, valuable information was collected and analyzed from a wide range of sources. These included OSU College of Forestry expertise, specifically in hardwood ecology, fungi and reforestation, and consultation with staff from US Fish and Wildlife Service, Yamhill and Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and others.
Restoration Steps Completed:
2017 – Steps taken to begin clearing invasive blackberries from the site. Test plantings of various species of trees completed and monitored
2018 – TSWCD joined the project as a major partner and a restoration agreement was committed to between Hyla Woods and TSWCD. Work continued with further removal of invasives and test planting of oak and related shrubs. Staff from The Joinery, a business that purchases and uses oak lumber from the forest, helped with planting and protection of young trees and plants. Experimentation started with figuring out best options for protecting young plantings from both being eaten by elk and deer and dying from lack of moisture due to competition from other plants.
2019 – Continuing work with controlling invasive plants on the site.
Fall 2019 – Mobilizing plant protection strategies for additional plantings
Winter 2020 – Apply the lessons learned through the earlier, test plantings by significantly extending the planting of oak and other oak associated shrub and herbaceous species throughout the site
Gratitude – The Hyla Woods team is grateful for all of the ways that participating partners have contributed to the beginning steps of this project. We are particularly appreciative of the major involvement and leadership provided by Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District, in general, and Mike Conroy, in particular.