Greenbelt Land Trust is starting a multi-year project to restore native prairie habitat in former pasture fields at Bald Hill Farm in 2021. This project will establish native plant communities and increase habitat diversity for rare wildlife species like Vesper sparrow and Fender’s blue butterfly.
Indigenous people have managed Willamette Valley landscapes since time immemorial. When Euro-American settlers arrived in the mid 1800’s, they found a lush, productive, and diverse landscape of riparian, forest, savanna and prairie habitats. The open habitats of oak savanna, wet prairie and upland prairie covered over one million acres. Cultural burning practices performed by indigenous people kept these habitats in an open and productive condition.
White settlement led to cultural disruption and dramatic land use changes. Indigenous cultural burning largely ended, and the fire-dependent habitats present in the Willamette Valley were severely impacted by development and lack of fire on the land. Since 1850, prairie habitats have severely declined in the Willamette Valley, with less than 1% of wet and upland prairie remaining. The remaining prairie habitats in places like Bald Hill Farm and surrounding natural areas are vital ecological treasures.
Greenbelt Land Trust acquired Bald Hill Farm in 2013 after a successful community campaign to preserve this important place for people and nature in the mid-Willamette Valley. Bald Hill farm is at the core of Benton County’s Habitat Conservation Plan, and its protection was funded in part through the Bonneville Power Administration’s Wildlife Mitigation Program, with an agreement that restoration projects for priority prairie and oak habitats at these sites would be undertaken.
Prairie habitats in the Willamette Valley are some of the most iconic, culturally important, and imperiled in Oregon. They provide beauty and cultural resources to our human communities, and are homes for over 225 species of wildlife and birds such as Western meadowlark and Fender’s blue butterfly. With almost all of our native prairie habitats fully converted to agriculture or otherwise developed, protected natural lands with former prairie have become a focus for restoration. By restoring native plant communities we can support rare and declining plant and animal species, and prevent extirpation or extinction for species like Oregon vesper sparrow and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.
Greenbelt Land Trust is a member organization of the Willamette Valley Oak and Prairie Cooperative, a partnership with a sustainable, long-term vision to conserve and maintain prairie and oak habitats within the Willamette Valley. This partnership includes dozens of local, state, and federal agencies, scientists, foresters, land managers, Tribes, and conservation organizations endorsing a vision and a strategic action plan for the protection of oak and prairie habitats in the Willamette Valley.
Prairie restoration at Bald Hill Farm has been underway in fields at the west end of the property for several years. Brush removal, invasive weed treatment, regular mowing, and intensive restoration planting over this period have begun the transformation back to native prairie habitats supporting imperiled species. In 2021 we will begin site preparation of the fields on the east side of the property which are adjacent to the popular trails of Bald Hill Farm. These fields have been seasonally grazed by livestock for decades and contain 90% non-native grasses and weeds. One of the only native plants left in these fields are the yellow buttercups which bloom in the spring and early summer, and which are toxic and unpalatable to livestock.
In addition to preparation of the soil for planting, some of the ash trees in the restoration area will be removed, and vernal pools will be created for use by a variety of wildlife species including migrating shorebirds, ducks, geese, amphibians and many aquatic invertebrates and insects.
Site preparation will take place in 2021 and 2022, with several rounds of invasive plant removal work to prepare the area for seeding and planting with native species. During application of herbicide or operation of heavy equipment in the restoration area, the trails in this area of Bald Hill farm will be temporarily closed. The trail closure will be clearly marked. For your safety, please follow the trail closure and do not proceed past the signs or enter the project area.
Following successful site preparation and creation of vernal pools, the restoration area will be planted with native plants, seeds, and bulbs. The community will be invited to participate in volunteer work days to plant and steward the restoration. Planting will continue for several years, and removal of invasive species and regular mowing will be ongoing management activities in the restored prairie. Short term seasonal grazing by livestock may also return as a management technique in the future.