Chehalem Ridge Natural Area neighbors invited to Saturday open house

by: COURTESY PHOTO - A Western Screech owl is one of the newest bird species to show up at Chehalem Ridge Natural Area, thanks to restoration work which will continue with Metro levy money.Neighbors of the Chehalem Ridge Natural Area just east of Gaston are invited to an open house Saturday, June 8, where they can learn more about how Metro’s recently passed levy will benefit the 1,143-acre site.

Chehalem Ridge was one of just six natural areas — out of two dozen across the Metro region — specifically named for modest access improvements in the agency’s levy proposal. The levy was designed to raise about $50 million over five years.

“The levy will allow Metro to continue long-term restoration and to consider simple improvements that would allow visitors to safely use the site,” said Laura Oppenheimer Odom, communications coordinator for Metro’s Natural Areas Program.

The improvements could open Chehalem Ridge to visitors in a few years. “The levy will not be used to develop full-scale nature parks,” Oppenheimer Odom said, but to provide amenities such as basic parking, trails and signs.

Restoration work at Chehalem Ridge began last year, when work crews thinned 50 acres of dense Douglas-fir forest.

This spring, Metro naturalists noticed an increase in native plants and animals in those thinned areas.

“I heard a western screech owl,” said bird expert Lori Hennings, who conducts “bird counts” at the crack of dawn in both thinned and un-thinned areas at Chehalem Ridge.

Each year, from May 15 — when most of the long-distance migrants have arrived — through June 30, a bird expert conducts three separate counts for Metro, two weeks apart, at about 10 different stations throughout the natural area, Hennings said.

“You count everything you see and hear within a 50-meter radius for five minutes,” she said. This is the fourth year of counting.

The levy will pay for work crews to thin another 100 acres this summer and to plant shrubs in the new, thinned forest areas. “Birds love shrubs because bugs love shrubs,” Hennings said.

She’s expecting to see much more change over the next few years as these initial restoration efforts take effect. The more varied habitat and increasing number of invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals may draw larger animals too.

“We saw very fresh cougar sign up there just a week and a half ago,” Hennings said.

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