Spalding’s catchfly? The Quaking Aspen? All foreign to someone from Connecticut/Louisiana. Never-the-less, these are endangered species residing in the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in Oregon.
Around a month ago, my dear sister called me up and asked: “Want to come and volunteer to tear down some fences?” “Sounds great!” I said. Oregon is beautiful, I thought to myself (it’s true, as above photograph proves).
The Nature Conservancy is an amazing non-profit, private organization devoted to, well, conserving nature to put it very simply.
“Conservancy scientists and volunteer teams have been busy surveying, monitoring and studying the area’s animals and plant communities. The struggle to suppress damaging invasive plants in Wallowa County, such as sulfur cinquefoil, meadow hawkweed and common bugloss, has brought diverse interests together. Through invasives mapping, monitoring and removal, the Conservancy and its partners are working to better understand and protect sensitive species, including Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, Spalding’s catchfly and quaking aspen. Prescribed fire, managed grazing, and the limitation of overbrowsing by large mammals are being used to improve plant health and diversity on the preserve, and to study the economic and ecological impacts of grazing. Each year, the Conservancy donates bull elk and buck deer LOP tags to local service organization raffles. In the past seven years, the tags have raised over $180,000 for Wallowa County charities. In addition, Conservancy ecologists and volunteers are working to restore riparian areas for fish and birds. Strategies include planting native vegetation along stream banks, installing fences to prevent erosion, removing stream blockages and monitoring fish populations.”
More information about the Conservancy and the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve can be found here.
As my sister and I drove down a road (more like trail made of rocks), I realized that this was probably going to be a real Oregon experience, akin to The Oregon Trail. The Zumwalt Prairie is next to Joseph, Oregon, at the start of the Wallowa Mountain Range. It also contains giant herds of wild elk. We were lucky enough to see a herd of 250+ at dusk as we were driving to the homestead.
Herds of elk like to move around, hence the tearing down of barbed wire fences. The Conservancy has over 33,000 acres, and the next day our group of 14 volunteers went to work with hammers and fencing pliers. I think I’m pretty good at rolling barbed wire now, too.
Our group of lovely volunteers (really, everybody was wonderful!) also counted 10,000 sapling trees to see how many have survived since planting. Well, we tried to count all of them. The trees were planted on the banks of creeks that were formerly watering holes for free range cattle.
The Sharp-Tailed Grouse has populations in Washington and Idaho, but not so much in Oregon. The theory is that by planting these shrubs and trees in the riparian (river bank), the grouse will have a place to live and nest.
Erosion is a problem in the riparian, and staking down coconut fiber matting will hopefully solve it. I was surprised to see the festive red, green and white dots gaily decorating the coconut matting. At the same time, the nerdy papermaking part of me marveled at the strength of the coconut husk fiber. Very hard to rip cross-wise! I see some experimenting in the future….
Overall, a memorable, fulfilling, and unique weekend in northeast Oregon. I will forever remember the Coyot-Choir, the Sharp-Tailed Grouse and constructing a psuedo-Christo installation.