On March 4, community members gathered at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area in North Portland for Metro's Sedge Fest, a volunteer event to plant native sedges in the natural area.
Columbia sedge once grew thickly along the edges of the Columbia River, but it is now a critically imperiled species. Many people mistake them for weeds, but actually sedges play an important role in the ecology of the Pacific Northwest.
These hardy, grass-like plants help prevent erosion, remove toxins from soil and water, and are a crucial food source for many species of waterfowl, mammals, and insects. Many animals also use them for shelter and concealment. Native amphibians use them to attach their egg masses. Sedge rhizomes (horizontal underground stems) create a dense underwater network that traps nutrient-rich sediment and creates healthy habitats for riverside wildlife like frogs and newts.
More than 50 volunteers participated in the event, planting about 1,500 sedges. The family-friendly event drew volunteers of all ages and experience levels. Each volunteer was given a trowel, gardening gloves and a quick tutorial on how to plant sedges. Then they spread out around the wetland's low-lying areas, where sedges can thrive.
Volunteers could take breaks to enjoy nature-themed activities and free tamales. They also had opportunities to see lots of the wildlife that calls the wetland home.
For some volunteers, this was their first visit to Smith and Bybee. Many expressed surprise and delight at realizing this peaceful oasis, with ducks swimming in the water and bald eagles flying overhead, was hiding in an industrial area near the Columbia River. Others, like 12-year-old Max Rudolph, had visited the wetlands many times and had fond memories to share about experiencing nature in this wildlife refuge.
"I've been here a lot with friends and family," Rudolph said as he selected a sedge from his bundle. "I've seen deer, bunnies, red-tailed hawks, frogs, garter snakes. I've seen herons, lots of herons and egrets. One time I saw a whole nutria skeleton, and another time I saw a turtle nest with eggs in it. I left it alone – I didn't want to disturb the eggs."
This peaceful refuge is the product of decades of restoration and conservation work, including replacing invasive weeds with native plants like Columbia sedges. Every year, Metro staff and contractors plant hundreds of thousands of native plants in the agency's parks and natural areas.
For many years, Metro also hosted volunteer events so that the community could have a chance to connect with nature and learn about native species. Those events were put on pause during the pandemic, but now staff are bringing them back. Next up: another planting day on March 18 at Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. Sign up for it here.