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West Bliss Butte nature area progressing nicely

Metro reclaimed natural site is still in the rare seral stage

COURTESY: METRO PARKS AND NATURE - A puple gilia flower grows at the West Bliss Butte natural area in Gresham.A year after being reclaimed by Metro Parks and Nature, the West Bliss Butte, a 74-acre natural area in Gresham, is right on schedule.

The site is located at what was originally unworked farmland before Metro used funds from a voter-passed levy in 2013 to enhance the habitat.

“It was designed to be a more innovative approach to planting,” said Dan Moeller, conservation program director for Metro Parks. “We planted a matrix of perennials in a fashion that would ultimately result in a long-term forest.”

The site is still a while away from blending into the dense forests surrounding it to the south and east, but Moeller says that eventually the trees will grow to form a dense canopy.

The initial planting was done with the thought of creating a seral community, which is rare for the area. This means that the habitat will grow in steps before finally reaching its end stage — which would be the dense growth of trees. During the first two years grasses and other plants will be abundant, before giving way to shrubs. In six to eight years the trees will take over.

This form of growth allows different ecosystems for the animals in the region. Right now the seral habitat is perfect for the region’s birds and insects. This is a new way of approaching this type of project. They planted a mixture of one- and two-year-old trees at the site, which were about one foot tall in height. Metro plants in early winter and usually expects a 20 percent mortality rate for the trees, a figure which spikes when abnormally hot weather strikes. They also don’t irrigate the plantings because it would be too difficult and costly at the scale they are working. To counter this they plant in higher quantities to account for the natural loss.

“Not everything lives in nature, so if we need to go back and add more plants we will,” said Moeller.

But right now that isn’t a concern. West Bliss Butte is still in the early stages, so the young trees barely poke up above the thick fields of grass and native wildflowers. Its peaceful in the afternoon sun, and the wind rustles through the fields as bees go about their busy task of pollinating.

“Everything is progressing nicely,” Moeller said.