Experience Metro natural areas through photography, video and writing on an interactive storytelling map. From Forest Grove to Troutdale and North Portland to Wilsonville, the region is filled with tales of the land. Go
Restoring the landscape is good for fish, critters – and people. Metro’s science and stewardship team works with partners to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. You can help oust invasive plants and replace them with native trees and shrubs.
Tracking amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds helps assess restoration efforts. Learn how volunteers get involved. Go
Metro’s Native Plant Center provides rare native seeds and plants to support natural area restoration. You can help. Go
Metro offers a variety of done-in-a-day and recurring volunteer gigs at parks and natural areas across the region. Go
When Metro’s natural resource scientists look out over a meadow of scotch broom or an abandoned dairy farm, they see the oak savanna or Geyer willow marsh that thrived there hundreds of years ago. Each natural area presents a unique challenge, but generally the approach is the same: take the land back to its roots.
At Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville, that meant transforming a farm field into the sort of oak savanna where Native Americans once harvested acorns. Along the Clackamas River, it meant moving 40,000 cubic yards of earth and placing hundreds of huge logs and boulders to recreate an old side channel, providing vital habitat for young salmon.
Metro’s science and stewardship team works with partners and volunteers to restore the 11,000 acres of land that voters have protected across the Portland metropolitan area.
"We apply the collective knowledge of the world’s biologists and managers to improve the land entrusted to Metro," says team leader Jonathan Soll. "When we do our job right, the results are better quality wildlife habitat, cleaner water and air and a richer personal experience for the humans who visit these places."
For about two years after Metro buys a natural area, scientists work to stop short-term deterioration of natural resources and put the land on a long-term path toward success. Metro refers to this whipping-into-shape period as "stabilization."
Erosion has to go. Ditto for illegal dumping. English ivy, thorny blackberry bushes and other pesky invasives? Good riddance. Houses must be spruced up as rentals, or torn down and parts recycled. On the other hand, the treasures that make this land so valuable – Oregon white oak and salmon-bearing streams, turtle-rich wetlands and brilliant purple bursts of camas – are given every opportunity to thrive.
"We or our partners are going to manage these properties for many, many years," Soll says.
"It’s just like constructing a house – building a foundation to move up from is very important."
Scientist Kate Holleran, who specializes in new properties, tours land before Metro even buys it to take notes on valuable plants and animals, restoration opportunities and challenges. After land is signed up for purchase, Holleran returns with a member of the field staff "so we know what we need to do the first or second or third week."
Some tasks are almost universal. Metro often fights weeds and other invasive plants, for example, replacing them with species that support wildlife and improve water quality. Over the course of two voter-approved bond measures, Metro has planted 1.7 million trees and shrubs. "Besides the fact that we don’t want weeds – they don’t fulfill any of the values for which we’re buying a property – we also want to be a good neighbor," Holleran says.
Other tasks are property-specific, and many require contract crews to ensure that Metro moves nimbly and keeps pace with all its properties. Eroded stream banks, for example, need to be stabilized. Metro also thins densely planted trees, which compete for food and light if they all grow into old age.
One of the most prized resources on Metro properties is Oregon white oak, which has declined dramatically throughout the Willamette Valley.
"The white oak might be 100 feet tall, but the Douglas fir can easily be 150 feet tall," Holleran says. "They’ll shade out the white oak, and we’ll lose it."
When you’re busy saving oaks, ousting weeds and planting trees, time passes quickly. But even the most troublesome natural area makes progress. After Holleran wraps up stabilization, she leads a walking tour for science colleagues who oversee long-term management and restoration.
The science team researches a site's historical conditions. Sometimes old survey data and historical photos are available; often conversations with landowners and neighbors help fill in gaps. There also are hints on the landscape – remnant native plants, evidence of changes in hydrology.
Then they begin a careful analysis of the site’s current conditions and the opportunities and limitations for restoration. Can the original hydrology be restored? Does the site integrate into a larger ecological landscape? How will the site and the surrounding area be used in the future? Will floods or trail users reintroduce invasive plants? How much will restoration cost, and what funding is available? From the answers to these questions, a strategy emerges and the team goes to work – often with the help of partners, grants and volunteers.
Even when a sensitive species returns or a nature park opens, the job continues. Landscapes change over time, requiring constant vigilance.
"The idea of land stability is mostly a myth," says Soll, the science and stewardship leader. "You don’t restore a property and say, 'Now we’re done.'"