Oaks Bottom Amphibian Habitat Restoration

Recently, I volunteered to help improve amphibian habitat at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It is a 140 acre wetland near my neighborhood in the center of Portland, OR. The city of Portland acquired the property in 1969 to prevent it from becoming an industrial park, making it Portland’s first urban wildlife refuge. A myriad of animals live or frequent the refuge including muskrat, raccoon, deer, osprey, and occasionally bald eagles.

Look closely and you’ll see one of three deer that were checking our work.

I have frequented Oaks Bottom doing various activities from walking, rowing and commuting by bicycle to helping out with my children’s science classes on field trips. Last year, Kyle’s 8th grade class made a beautiful botanical guide to the refuge. Other trips had us pulling invasive English Ivy or planting native sedges and rushes. This day’s event was part of SOLV‘s Beach and Riverside Cleanup which happens each spring and fall. Rather than drive to the beach to participate, which I have done numerous times( just ask my kids about the time we had sun, rain, sleet and snow all in one day), I thought I would bike to a gathering closer to home. The rest of my family was busy so I asked my friends Tanja and Darren if they would like to join me. Amazingly, the timing fit perfectly with their busy schedules. All three of us arrived by bike with plenty of landscaping tools.

Winter shows us the wetlands in all its glory with the low lying forested areas flooding and for those with keen eyes, the frog egg masses stuck to sticks. Dabbling ducks enjoy foraging on all the green grass around the tree trunks. The leaf out in spring treats us to vibrant greens and tadpoles swimming among last years leaves in the pools. Summer is the time to watch the osprey feeding their young in their uncomfortable looking branch nests on the tops of any high structures such as power line towers, river pilings and cottonwood trees.

This day’s work had 10-12 of us planting more sedges around the clumps that had established themselves in the swale the city had built. Marissa, our leader from Portland Parks and Rec, explained to us that invasive leopard frogs are out competing the native Red-legged Frog.

The Leopard frog needs year round water so this swale was designed to be ephemeral to give the native frogs the habitat they need. She demonstrated how we were to dig holes a and then tamp in the starts. The sedges are really hardy and can easily deal with the inexperienced handling. She also showed us how to plant the young willow saplings that she placed around the swale.

I started digging and quickly found chunks of brick, a nail, and a piece of security glass with chicken wire in it. I resisted the temptation to play archaeologist and struggled through more brick pieces and a piece of metal with a bolt still going through it. I planted six or seven willow saplings before moving on to finish off the sedges. I found the best way to plant the sedges was to take the crowbar and stab it into the ground to the depth you wanted and then work it around in a circle. Then the slender, cone shaped sedges would just slide right in. I wish I had thought of that a few flats of sedges earlier.

By the time we were done, the sun was high and the sweat was pouring profusely. Marissa was excited that we got all the plants in the ground and she led us back up to the trailhead to some snacks and the water fountain. One of the organizers was inviting volunteers to his house for a party involving a keg and I was sad that I had to be off to other engagements. I pedaled home with the satisfaction of those tired muscles and sweaty clothes that evidenced the real work that was done for a good cause.

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