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Oak savanna, prairie deserve our protection.

Byline: Chris Orsinger and Mike Russell For The Register-Guard

We've received questions about prairie and oak savanna restoration at the Howard Buford Recreation Area (often called Buford Park or Mt. Pisgah), and want to provide context and specific information.

Willamette Valley grasslands and oak savannas are considered globally endangered and are a statewide priority for restoration under the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife's 2006 Oregon Conservation Strategy. More than 150 plant and wildlife species in decline depend on these rare habitats, including our state bird, the western meadowlark. Less than 2 percent of these habitats remain compared to when Euro-American settlers arrived.

In the absence of fire, Douglas fir becomes established in open oak savannas, overtops oaks, shades them out and kills them. Without action, we would lose both the scenic character and habitat benefits of 1000-plus acres of oak savanna and prairie in Lane County's 2,300-acre Buford

Park. Sustaining these rare habitats and the wildlife that depend on them requires active stewardship.

Since 2008, Lane County Parks and Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah have implemented three savanna restoration projects at Buford Park. A 30-acre pilot project along the main Summit Trail engaged and educated visitors. We encourage visitors to enjoy the oaks and vistas this improved habitat affords. Selected trees were retained to shade the trail.

A park-wide habitat management plan was drafted between 2008 and 2011 with inter-agency involvement, extensive outreach and public input, including tours, trailhead signage and prominent coverage in The Register-Guard.

This long-term draft plan includes a conservation vision that in part states, "The Howard Buford Recreation Area shall be managed to conserve and restore prairie, savanna, and river systems in ways that support compatible recreational and educational uses described in the HBRA Master Plan (1994)."

This approach would gradually increase upland prairie, oak savanna and oak woodland habitats, historically much more prevalent in the Willamette Valley, and reduce the growing threat of catastrophic wildfire associated with climate change that could destroy the park's oak woodlands and conifer forests and threaten neighbors.

Prairies and savannas sequester carbon in soil beyond the reach of fire; a destructive wildfire in a forest releases the carbon in the trees.

The park's cooler, wetter north-facing slopes support about 600 acres of mature (but not ancient or late-successional) Douglas fir forests, with some grand fir. The draft plan will retain and managed these to become "ancient forests" and contribute to the park's habitat diversity.

The plan's completion has been delayed by staff changes, rising costs and a lack of funds, but recently Lane County Parks committed $15,000 to finish the plan. Public input on an updated draft habitat management plan is scheduled for winter and spring of 2016.

An Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board grant will support the Meadowlark East project in 2016, which features control of invasive blackberry and Scot's broom, removal of trees to maintain existing prairie and restore oak savanna (a grassland with scattered trees), and ecological fire followed by planting native grasses and wildflowers to increase diversity.

Plans for the park have been described as logging, which might suggest a clear cut in readers' minds. The project will improve diverse habitats across 145 acres, with work planned for mid-2016 involving four nuanced and sensitive habitat treatments:

Oak woodland (21.5 acres): The "logging" will remove blackberry and thin conifers and other trees from oak woodland, restoring a more open woodland with 20 to 100 trees per acre.

Oak savanna restoration (18.5 acres): Savanna restoration involves removing trees to achieve "savanna density," or one to 20 trees per acre.

Oak savanna enhancement (36.5 acres): On existing open savanna habitat, young Douglas fir and other trees will be thinned to sustain savanna habitat.

Wetland Prairie (31.5 acres): This is one of the rarest habitat types, with less than 1 percent of intact wetland prairies remaining in the Willamette Valley. We will sustain this existing open prairie by removing Oregon ash saplings and a limited number of trees.

Invasive species are the greatest threat to rare species (after habitat destruction). The Friends use multiple weed control methods, such as manual removal, mowing, mulching and fire - with herbicides as a last resort. The herbicide 2,4,D was used once on Buford Park and is no longer used.

Anyone interested in a visit to learn more about savanna and prairie restoration, including viewing sites where trees have been removed, may email Chris Orsinger at, or call 541-344-8350.

Chris Orsinger is executive director of Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah. Mike Russell is manager of the Lane County Parks Department.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 29, 2015
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