Editor’s note: This originally aired July 22, 2020
Land management agencies are forever restoring habitats.
Most of the time we hear about riparian restorations along stream banks or restoration of forests to reduce fire danger.
Here, the effort is focused on restoring a meadow near Mt. McLoughlin in the Southern Oregon Cascades which is being encroached upon by the surrounding forest.
“If trees encroach into meadows and wetlands, that eliminates the ability of water–rain and snow– to reach the ground because it hits the trees and then evaporates before it makes its way into the groundwater,” said Craig Harper, watershed administrator for the Medford Water Commission. “Also those trees suck water out of the shallow groundwater, not allowing it to infiltrate and then flow to places like Big Butte Springs that we use for our municipal water supply for the Rogue Valley.”
Volunteers came from Portland, Medford, Grants Pass and Bend to participate in the meadow restoration effort.
“It’s almost like your vegetable garden at home. You’re going to plant it. You are going to weed it and make sure no invasive stuff comes in or you have no crop,” said Katelyn Lambert of Grants Pass, a member of the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers SW Region. “Well that’s how our wildlife is. If you have some invasive weeds or undergrowth that is encroaching on their feed, they are going to have no feed. So coming out here and clearing this, we are giving their habitat actual sunlight and room to actually grow so they have feed.”
To help restore this 10-acre section of Blue Rock Meadow, forest service sawyers cut down medium size conifers and manzanita bushes.
One group of volunteers then helped pile the debris for burning at a later time.
Another group of volunteers came through with loppers and cut down seedlings and smaller diameter brush.
“Sometimes our meadows don’t get as much attention in restoration efforts, so volunteers are a huge part of helping get the work done,” said Sheila Colyer, wildlife biologist for the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. “They use these areas. A lot of our volunteers recreate or hunt in these areas too, so they are invested in helping maintain and restoring our meadows.”
The transformation from brushy and overgrown to an open and sunny meadow in just a few hours time, is striking.
“What we are seeing right now as this ground cover is coming out, we are seeing more sun on the ground. That’s going to be really great for some of our pollinators,” said Jade Keehn, wildlife conservation biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. “We are in a patch of thimbleberry right now. There’s a lot of honey bees and bumblebees and flies that are taking advantage of these nice open areas. Bees like this nice open dirt for nesting so we are creating a lot more open places that area going to be great for pollinators.”
In the upper portion of Blue Rock Meadow that has already been restored, there are dazzling displays of wildflowers, bees and birds buzzing about, and of course, outstanding views.
“You can get turned around in this country very easily, especially if it’s snow season or a downpour and you have no sense of direction,” Lambert said. “These openings allow people to orient. There’s the mountain, now I know which way I need to go. Clearing these out, it’s just such a safe atmosphere for say, if a rattlesnake bit me, a rescue helicopter is going to be able to see my colors and pick me up to get me out of here.”
All the volunteers we spoke with had different reasons for restoring this meadow.
“There’s a lot of species that are actually declining because we don’t have the open forests that we used to have,” said Keehn. “It’s not just deer and elk. It’s owls and raptors and pollinators and a lot of our woodpeckers and migratory songbirds that really do need these open patches of habitat.”
“If flow continues to decline in the springs, then we have to take more water out of the Rogue River which isn’t good for fish,” Harper said. “We want to leave as much in the river as we can. Taking water out of the Rogue River is more expensive for our ratepayers. We want to be able to continue to use that abundant source that we’ve used for the last 100 years that comes out of Big Butte Springs.”
“We couldn’t do a lot of these projects without volunteers, without help from the public,” said Coyler. “We really appreciate it, always.”
Check with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service for volunteer opportunities.