Protecting clean water and restoring fish and wildlife habitat are at the core of the Metro Parks and Nature mission.
Nearly half the money from the 2013 levy is dedicated to protecting water quality and habitat. Restoration and maintenance work includes controlling invasive weeds, planting native trees and shrubs, removing unnecessary culverts and roads, maintaining existing roads and infrastructure, decommissioning unauthorized trails, improving connections between streams and wetlands, and improving habitat for fish and wildlife.
After Metro acquires a property, a plan is drawn up as the first step of the restoration process. Invasive weeds start getting treated. Sometimes, dilapidated buildings, septic systems and other manmade structures are removed. This initial work is paid for with money from the 2006 natural areas bond measure.
After stabilization, a site conservation plan is developed to identify the most important actions to improve water quality and fish and wildlife habitat at the site. A site stewardship plan is also developed that details weed treatments and maintenance of fence lines, signage and more. Restoration work can take years or even decades to complete, after which a site transitions to long-term maintenance.
Restoration takes different forms across forests, rivers, wetlands, prairies and oak savanna and other habitats. It means treating invasive weeds choking out rare native wildflowers. It means removing asphalt and concrete from riverbanks and planting native trees and shrubs in their place. It means strategically creating log jams and placing giant root wads into streams to create habitat for endangered fish.
Metro planting season: What does it take to prepare millions of plants, seeds for restoration projects?
The Big Prairie at Cooper Mountain Nature Park offers sweeping views over the Tualatin River Valley. But on a sun-scorched summer morning, Adrienne Basey, botanist and science assistant at Metro’s Native Plant Center, focuses on the earth at her feet.
She walks through tall grass searching for Sanicula bipinnatifida, better known as purple sanicle, a native plant in the carrot family. It’s gone to seed, so she can’t look for its flower.
“It’s fun when your eye picks up the pattern and you see things that were invisible a moment ago,” she says. Soon, she bends to a twiggy plant almost indistinguishable from the brown stalks around it.
“Yes!” she says. She’s there at the right time. The seed is ripe and ready to collect.
In fall 2016, 3,500 pounds of native seeds were sown at Metro properties. In the winter, approximately 1,025,000 plants, live stakes and bulbs went into the ground at parks and natural areas across greater Portland. Collecting wild seed by hand is the first step in restoring oak woodlands, upland prairies, wetlands and other threatened ecosystems that are being preserved at Metro sites throughout the region.
Next, Basey heads to the pond to meet Julie Hawkins, a volunteer in Metro’s Seed Scout program. Hawkins has been trained to identify wildflowers by their seedheads and carries a GPS tracker and paper bags filled with seeds of native larkspur, iris and geranium. She has volunteered to collect seeds for six years, usually at Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville near her home.
On Hawkins’ last visit, she tied small mesh bags over the seed capsules of Calochortus tolmiei, also known as Tolmie’s cat’s ears. Since then, the pods have burst open and flung their dark brown seeds – but only so far as the mesh.
At the end of the morning, Basey takes the gathered seeds to Metro’s Native Plant Center in Tualatin, where they will be dried, cleaned, then planted and grown out to make more seeds.
“I get really excited about seeds,” says Marsha Holt-Kingsley, the coordinator of the center. “Finding rare species, then making more – to do that conservation work feels good.”
Holt-Kingsley and the Native Plant Center focus on collecting seeds that are not commercially available. Some seeds come from habitats where rare and specialized plants flourish, such as the spring gold or Cascade penstemon that grow on the basalt bluffs at Metro’s Willamette Narrows south of West Linn. Others, like the seeds in the mesh bags, come from plants such as Tolmie’s cat’s ears that are rare in the metro area because development has severely reduced their habitat.
About 300 pounds of the seeds planted in fall 2016 came from Metro’s Native Plant Center. The rest comes from commercial growers.
Commercial nurseries also grow the native plants and woody cuttings that help reclaim territory from invasive species, lure pollinators, stabilize stream banks, create habitat and add to the food web.