Date: 1/22/20 6:48 am
From: <clearwater...>
Subject: [obol] Major change proposed for Luckiamute State Natural Area (Luckiamute Landing)
The North Unit of Luckiamute State Natural Area, formerly known as "Luckiamute Landing Greenway," is a popular birding and outdoor recreation spot in southeast Polk County. For birders the site is known especially for its extensive tract of mature cottonwood/maple/ash "gallery" forest, where Red-eyed Vireos have frequently been found during nesting season (including one photographic record of a fledgling tended by adults).

The most productive areas for bird viewing tend to be along the edges of an open, 60-acre field, especially where this field is bordered by dense stands of younger trees and shrubs. Those trees and shrubs were planted around 2012 by the Luckiamute Watershed Council, as part of a multi-year grant-funded restoration project. In recent years, a banding station established by OSU just inside these plantings, along the north edge of the open field, has documented very heavy by fall migrant songbirds, especially Swainson's Thrush.

These plantings were part of the long-term management plan that Oregon Parks & Recreation Department (OPRD) produced in 2010, after a public process which included input from many local conservationists. The same 2010 "master plan" called for this 60-acre field to be leased for agriculture in the short run, but with an eventual goal to manage it as a "native meadow" with a mix of wet and upland prairie vegetation.

The field formerly hosted up to five pairs of Oregon Vesper Sparrows up until the early 2000s when their nesting habitat was disturbed by an earlier round of tree planting. The field still regularly hosts nesting Savannah Sparrows with White-crowned Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting and (occasionally) Chipping Sparrow nesting around the edges. Common Nighthawks are occasionally seen foraging over the area in summer. This past fall a pair of White-tailed Kites found the site, and were seen hunting over the south end of the field where 3 acres are being managed as a native "demonstration" prairie. Other raptors, waterfowl, pipits, and migrant Western Meadowlarks use the field in winter.

Yesterday I got word of plans for a major deviation from the 2010 master plan for this site. Due to the Luckiamute River undercutting the access road, the current agricultural lease holders are no longer willing to bring in farming equipment. OPRD had planned to re-route the road, and even surveyed the new route and logged off trees that were in the way. But after OPRD made no further progress in two years, the ag company is looking to get out of its lease. Reportedly OPRD was not able to find another farmer to take over the lease. They're also concerned that, over the long term, the Luckiamute River will continue to migrate toward the Willamette and eventually connect directly to it, leaving the current lowermost reach of the Luckiamute as a backwater slough, and this area possibly as an island.

Partly because of the long-term access concerns, OPRD is reluctant to go ahead with the plan to restore native meadow in this field. They see native prairie restoration as more difficult to maintain than tree and shrub plantations. So, they now propose to plant the entire 60-acre field as dense hardwood forest. The attached graphic illustrates the proposed change as I understand it (lighter green indicates existing and proposed new tree/shrub plantings, goldenrod indicates the 3-acre prairie which would be left as a small meadow surrounded by forest).

This will be a big change in a number of ways. The current loop trail would end up being almost entirely through monotonous young deciduous forest, rather than passing through a mix of open and forested habitats. The OSU banding station would no longer be just inside an edge between tree/shrub plantings and open field, but instead interior to the greatly expanded plantings. In the long run there could be more habitat for Red-eyed Vireos, Swainson's Thrushes, and Pac-slope Flycatchers but edge- and early-seral species such as Willow Flycatcher and Yellow-breasted Chat would eventually have less suitable habitat.

I'm not sure that this decision is set in stone quite yet, or if there might still be opportunity for public comments and consideration of alternative (such as, e.g., a non-profit or community organization dedicated to native prairies to take over management of the former ag-lease land). I've been making inquiries and will post more information when I hear more back from OPRD.

--
Joel Geier
Camp Adair area north of Corvallis

 
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