Not far from Beaverton, Oregon, Dave Fallesen and Jenna Johnson manage 68 acres of scenic pasture which they use to raise cows, pigs, and poultry. The Tualatin River lazily winds around the pastoral property on its way to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, just a few miles away. The farm’s close proximity to the river and the refuge makes this location ideal for a habitat conservation project.
Oregon White Oak, The People’s Tree.
For thousands of years, Oregon white oak prairies were a distinct feature of the Willamette Valley. Intentional fire management of these lands by indigenous Kalapuyan people allowed the habitat and its wildlife to flourish. The arrival of European settlers quickly put an end to the practice of using fire to maintain oak prairies which led to the loss of nearly all the oak prairie habitat in the entire Willamette Valley. The abruptness of this change was not only a tragic event for the Kalapuyans but it destroyed the habitat of many unique species that depend on and evolved with oak habitats for tens of thousands of years. The loss of oak habitat is the driving reason for the loss of oak dependent species like the Willamette Valley’s very own Fender’s blue butterfly.
Restoring Oaks on Working Lands.
Tualatin SWCD, along with other conservation groups and natural resource agencies, is working hard to protect the little remaining oak habitat and establish new pockets of habitat within Washington County. The key to creating useful habitat for wildlife is improving the connectivity between small pieces of habitat. Just like people, wildlife moves around and travels great distances to meet their needs. Small parcels of habitat will support wildlife better if they are connected to other patches of habitat.
Conserving habitat across landscapes is no easy task and it requires help from private landowners like Dave and Jenna at Croakers Crossing Farm. Enhancing habitat at Croakers Crossing Farm is one piece of a larger mosaic of habitats spread across many public and private lands that together, create wildlife corridors within a growing human community. Establishing oak habitat on this working farm has benefits that go beyond preserving the region’s natural history. These trees and shrubs will improve soil health, moderate rainwater, and shelter livestock.
What Does Habitat Creation Look Like?
Tualatin SWCD’s Stream Enhancement Specialist, Mike Conroy, is the go-to guy for habitat improvement. When visiting properties, he is often asked “What tree should I plant if I want to benefit wildlife?”. It’s not always simple Mike explains, “I usually consider multiple factors, which type of wildlife, how wet is the site, how sunny is it, how else are you using the land. I’ll talk about diversity of trees, incorporating native shrubs and grasses and wildflowers, but it usually comes back to Oregon White Oak, Quercus garryana”.
Mike and his team have spent time answering those questions in order to create a conservation plan that will work for the farm.
Here’s what’s in store for the property:
- Tualatin SWCD contractors will install oaks, and faster growing trees and shrubs, in clusters throughout the property to mimic the existing restored oak habitat at the refuge nearby.
- Oaks will be planted in underutilized, weedy parts of the property as well as within actively used pastures to provide habitat and shade without hindering grazing.
- Five acres will be planted with clusters of oaks and wildflowers to create a woodland. These clusters will be enclosed with fencing to protect the young, vulnerable trees from livestock. Dave and Jenna use portable fencing to move their animals in a way that mimics mob grazing.
- Forty acres will be planted with widely spaced oaks to create oak prairie habitat without reducing agricultural productivity. Shrubs will be planted around these solitary trees to provide pollinator habitat and protection from livestock.
Learn More About Oregon White Oak:
- What makes a single oak tree to valuable?