Metro Program Benefits Local Sites: Focus on Rock Creek at PCC

Enjoying nature has never been easier to do, thanks to Metro and voters who said yes to a $227 million dollar bond measure a decade ago. After nine rounds of funding that supported large and small scale capital projects aimed to improve water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and access to nature for everyone, Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods Capital Grant Program is closed…for now.

Ranging in size and scope, the last round of awards was revealed late November, with the final $1.8 million dollars distributed among nine finalists—including four projects right here in the Tualatin River Watershed:

The Rock Creek Floodplain grant was one of the largest in this series. One of the project’s key ecological enhancements involves improving floodplain connectivity and function. Clean Water Services and partners intend to do that by using Mother Nature’s most effective North American mammal—Castor canadensis. To encourage beaver activity, CWS plans to install large woody debris and select native plantings to create anchor points for them.

But it’s not just beavers that will benefit from this enhancement project! The site supports many other species including 50+ types of resident and migratory birds, Roosevelt elk, red-legged frogs and steelhead salmon. Given the deep pool of biodiversity and its proximity to a new urban development and an academic institution, it’s not surprising that Metro’s Capital Grants committee found the proposal important and timely.

Tualatin Riverkeepers will take the lead in managing the community engagement component of the project, leveraging its existing partnerships with organizations serving Muslim and Latino communities. Through its Environmental Studies Center and the work of professors and students in multiple departments, PCC Rock Creek will work to maximize the educational—as well as the ecological—potential of the site.

After nine years, $15 million dollars and 51 projects, there is no doubt that Metro’s Capital Grant Program changed the landscape for the better.  

Click here to view the Rock Creek at PCC project brief.

 

What's Happening in the Wetlands?

Like planting trees and shrubs? Try counting frog and salamander eggs. This winter, volunteers will be visiting parks and natural areas around the region to count frog and salamander egg masses. Each “community scientist” will pull on a pair of waders to gather data about where frogs and salamanders lay their eggs, how many eggs are laid, and which species are present.

Why are we so interested in counting amphibian eggs? They let us know how we’re doing. Monitoring these native species helps indicate the overall wetland health and measure how Tree for All’s restoration efforts are helping wildlife thrive. 

Volunteers will track four native amphibian species: Pacific chorus frogs, Northwest salamanders, long-toed salamanders and Northern red-legged frogs. Last year, all four species were found at sites in Sherwood, Beaverton and Hillsboro. This year's monitoring sites will include Cedar Creek-Stella OlsenBronson Creek, Fanno Creek, FernhillGales Creek Forest Grove Natural Area, Maroon PondsPenstemon PrairieRock Creek at PCC, Springville CreekTualatin River Farm and Whispering Woods Natural Area.

Amphibians are considered an “indicator species” of wetland health. They require high quality ponds and slow-moving creeks for reproduction, and their larvae are sensitive to pollutants such as pesticides, fungicides, and heavy metals.

Earlier this year, at Gales Creek in Forest Grove, a group of 10 volunteers donned waders and spoons to monitor a five-acre wetland area at Gales Creek in Forest Grove. The wetlands at that location are being restored by Clean Water Services with funds from Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and support from Metro.

The group found more than 100 Pacific chorus frogs and more than 20 long toed salamander egg masses in the newly established grasses, sedges and rushes in the water. In fact, the group found so many egg masses that they continued to monitor well after the necessary time! The project manager used the data from this community science amphibian monitoring effort to determine what plant species should be added, so that amphibians can attach their eggs to more surfaces during breeding.

In 2017, Clean Water Services, Metro and the City of Forest Grove will collaborate on interpretive signage for the edge of the wetland, along a new trail. The sign will tell the story of the wetland and the remarkable lifecycle of amphibians living within it.

Interested in being a community scientist? Attend a training! Find full details here

All Hands On Deck!

In the restoration world, January means tree planting is in full swing. Because Tree for All is planting on a landscape scale, it takes a diverse, coordinated and hard-working group of partners to ensure that all the native trees and plants are planted by spring.

The bulk of planting season happens while it is the most rainy, windy, cold, and yes, even snowy here in Washington County. January is the midpoint of the planting season, and while we have made a lot of progress, there is still a long way to go. 

As of January 1, Tree for All partners had planted 284,100 native plants. Another 812,750 remained at the cooler and the Tualatin River Farm, ready for pickup. That means we're on track for another 1+ million plant yearbut there's a lot of hard work and nimble coordination ahead of us this winter and spring to reach that goal!

It’s hard to visualize what a million native plants look like, but exciting to think about the vibrant habitat that they will create when planted at restoration sites throughout the Tualatin River Watershed. How many of those native plants can you get in the ground this winter/spring? Visit the Tree for All calendar to find a planting event near you. 

 

Documenting Tree Density: With a Swipe of Your Mouse, See How They Grow

Canopy cover, or the measure of mature tree crowns, is an important way to assess the growth of a Tree for All project. We need to know the area and height of the plants at a site not only to check that site preparation and stewardship efforts are paying off, but also to understand the impact of the plants on wildlife habitat and stream temperature. 

And yet measuring canopy cover can be a challenge, particularly when you’re working at a large scale, as we do in the Tualatin River Watershed. Counting plants by hand using GPS technology is tedious and can result in less precise data collection. But in the past decade, the technology known as Light Detection and Ranging—or LiDAR —has addressed these challenges, greatly aiding in the efficiency and accuracy of canopy cover measurement. 

In 2007, just a few years after the inception of Tree For All, Clean Water Services (CWS) joined with a group of partner organizations to hire a contractor to fly LiDAR equipment over the entire Tualatin River Watershed. Ben Protzman, an engineering technician at CWS, explains, “LiDAR works by bouncing beams of light off the ground, and off objects like trees and buildings, in rapid succession, each beam hitting a specific point. These points can then be combined into what’s called a ‘point cloud,’ which can be used to create a detailed topographical surface.” Another round of data collection took place in 2014, and a third is planned for 2019. Tree for All partners use this LiDAR data to make decisions about how to adjust existing projects, and how to proceed with new projects. 

Now, visitors to the Tree for All website can see the data, too—in the form of interactive maps. You’ll find LiDAR links near the end of about half of the project briefs we’ve published so far. Just click on the screenshot of the aerial map, and you’ll find yourself on a new page with an interactive map. (It’s hosted by the ArcGIS Online arm of the mapping tech company Esri.) Look for the icon in the upper left corner that looks like an elevator door. Click on it, and you’ll get a slider bar that you can move back and forth to see how mature canopy cover has changed over time. The 2007 mature canopy is in purple—and as you move the slider, you’ll see it “light up” with orange, representing the new mature canopy detected in 2014.
 
What counts as “mature canopy”? Ben Protzman explains, “We have processed the LiDAR data using GIS to show only vegetation more than 20 feet tall, excluding man-made features such as powerlines and buildings.

Watch our new video to hear more from Tree for All partners about using LiDAR and other innovative technologies to conduct restoration at an unprecedented scale.

Click here to explore the map.  

Questions about the data or how to use the map? Email us.

​Giving Native Plants a Good Start: Why Do Tree for All Partners Use Herbicides?

Native streamside plants such as red-twig dogwood, Douglas spirea and Oregon ash are tough customers. As they provide clean water, cool shade and important habitat for wildlife, they also tolerate the ups and downs of our local streams, including winter floods and warm, drier summers.

But as young plants, they need help to handle competition from our nasty invasive weeds like Armenian blackberries, reed canarygrass, English ivy or garlic mustard. When weeds like these are present, the Tree for All partners have found that native plants perish quickly or fail to grow at all.

Eliminating weeds from a planting area makes space available for native plants to put down roots and thrive. Often when weeds are eliminated from Tree for All projects, native plants will even bounce back and grow from dormant roots and seeds that were hiding under the weedy cover.

Eliminating these weeds from a site by hand or even machine is hard, expensive work and at a big scale, not often practical. That’s why the Tree for All partners carefully and strategically use herbicides to prepare the land for new native streamside forests and wetlands.

Targeting weeds with herbicides means using the most effective, safest chemicals, in the right amounts, and applied at the right moment in a weed’s lifecycle. When applying these chemicals, staff and contractors must follow the rules set by federal and state authorities. Afterwards, ecological enhancement professionals carefully evaluate the results and adapt to changes. We also share results with each other to find the best and safest way to prepare sites, eliminate noxious weeds, and control invasions by new, non-native plants.

Most of our herbicide use takes place when native plants are too young to hold their own against weeds. As these plants grow and thrive, weeds become less of a threat and herbicides are not as critical a tool in the kit. We care for native trees, shrubs and grasses until they have grown into healthy populations that provide habitat, shade and other benefits for the watershed.

Learn more about responsible herbicide use in agricultural, urban and rural restoration by following the links below:

National Ag Safety Database

National Pesticide Information Center 

Pesticide and Fertilizer Programs (Oregon Department of Agriculture)

Weed Watchers workshops (Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District)