I did not expect to fall in love with an old dairy farm and a weedy pasture along a busy street on the east side of Gresham. But then I discovered it was a refuge for wildlife set in a sea of development. On a dark, rainy spring day I stood on the east slope of Grant Butte and looked down into the pasture and wetland and found them unexpectedly full of wildlife.
In 2014 Metro, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and the City of Gresham partnered to purchase the 33-acre site known as Grant Butte Wetlands. Located along a natural habitat corridor, the combination of open water, marshy areas and a grassy meadow along a forested slope create the conditions that attract more than a hundred different wildlife species to rest, feed and breed. River otter, Canada and cackling geese, red-winged blackbirds and American kestrels are just a few of the animals using the wild lands there.
Metro is taking the lead in cleaning up the site and enhancing wildlife habitat in collaboration with our partners. Restoration of this natural area is complicated by its location along busy Southeast Division Street and the surrounding homes and businesses. It’s complicated by the land’s recent history as a dairy. And it’s complicated by the presence of so many wildlife species, some uncommon to the area.
The wetlands sit in a bowl between the city-owned Grant Butte to the south and Berry Butte to the east. There’s no formal public access to the site currently as clean up and restoration work is underway.
Some restoration tasks are relatively straightforward. We’ve dug into the soils, geology, plant communities, wildlife habitat and human history of the area to inform our work. The old homes and barns were removed shortly after we purchased the property. We’ve controlled the invasive plants and planted native trees and shrubs in areas once blanketed by Armenian blackberries.
The long history of dairy farming has made restoration work around the creek more complicated. Historic vegetation maps describe much of the lowlands as a willow swamp. That dramatically changed around 1870 when Thomas Grant and other farmers built ditches in the wet areas to create drier land for farming. In the process, they constructed what became known as Fairview Creek.
Rather than try to re-create the willow swamp, our restoration work will focus on increasing wildlife features along the creek. We’ll install basking logs and plant dense shrub patches. These simple and relatively inexpensive steps will increase resting, hiding and feeding sites for many wildlife species.
Now to the best complication: Although the natural area has been significantly altered, it seems to be working well for wildlife. Since restoration work can disturb wildlife, we’ll alter some of our practices to minimize our impacts. For example, we’ll likely change the type and timing of weed treatments. Moving forward, I’d like to improve the site for western painted turtles, ground-nesting songbirds and other native animals.
Instead of trying to re-create historic conditions, we’ll work with the current conditions, only slightly modifying the landscape to enhance habitat. For the next few years, we’ll reduce the pasture grasses, plant native grasses and forbs, and open up patches of bare ground to turn the pasture into a prairie. And I’ll continue visiting the site on early spring days to observe from a distance the wildlife of Grant Butte Wetlands.