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Dumped trash, invasive plants, bring Oaks Bottom cleanup

by: Eileen G. Fitzsimons, Employees of the City of Portland and Franko Co., taking a break after hauling trash up out of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge on March 19th.

This past February, employees of the Franko Reforestation Company began replanting the hillside of the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge below S.E. 13th and Sellwood Boulevard with native shrubs. Plants included Snowberry, Ocean Spray, Flowering Currant, and Oregon Grape, as well as Elderberry, Madrone, and White Oak.

However the men found they had to work their way around piles of trash hurled over the bluff by illegal dumpers. After visiting the site, Jim Schiller, Supervisor of the city's Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Watershed Revegetation program, was appalled at the amount of rubbish, and decided to remove as much as possible in order to make future maintenance easier.

Consequently, on March 19th, a dozen nimble men wearing stout boots, thick gloves, and hard hats worked their way up and down the slope, and accumulated several pickup truckloads of trash. The largest pieces of metal included two rusty shopping carts, ductwork, an old fire extinguisher, tire rims, and wire fencing - all of it removed from the waste stream on-site by a man who hauled it off to a recycling business.

Although individuals and groups volunteer for clean up and planting in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife area, Schiller felt that the steepness of the slope prohibited use of volunteers on this project.

Schiller explained that the Bureau of Environmental Services and Portland Parks and Recreation have a cooperative agreement to manage the area, which has overlapping watershed, wildlife habitat, and recreation uses. The intent of both bureaus is to remove noxious and invasive plants, such as wild clematis, that weighs down and topples trees; prolific wind and bird-sown cherries, holly, and black locust; and butterfly bush, blackberries, money plant, and garlic mustard, all of which crowd out the sometimes slow-growing native plants.

He said he has been working on watershed revegetation for almost ten years, and although he is heartened to see many previously-planted trees and shrubs thriving, it's a constant battle to control the often more aggressive non-natives. Curbside collection of yard debris, plus the improved appearance of the formerly bleak and weedy Oaks Bottom area and hillsides, have begun to inhibit bluff residents from using the hillsides as convenient (and illegal) dump sites for their yard debris.

Schiller praised the growing expertise of the Franko Reforestation Co., based in Salem. Initially Franko's contract workers were focused on reforestation work for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. However, the employees' abilities to cope with challenging terrain, coupled with increasing familiarity with plant materials and their growing requirements, has expanded their contracts to municipalities in Western Oregon - now including Portland, and Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.