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Battling a public nuisance

For the past year, the Oswego Lake Watershed Council has worked to remove invasive species and restore native plants on private land


SUBMITTED PHOTO - Volunteers of all ages help the Oswego Lake Watershed Council remove invasive species in 2015 at a site on Hallinan Creek.Invasive species are a recurring problem in the Lake Oswego area. English ivy, Himalayan blackberries and a handful of other foreign plants all threaten to grow out of control, choking off native wildlife and harming local watersheds and ecosystems.

The city’s Parks & Recreation Department works to remove and control infestations of invasive species on public lands throughout the city. But invasive species also threaten ecosystems on private land, and property owners sometimes aren’t aware of the problem or lack the resources to deal with it.

That’s when the Oswego Lake Watershed Council steps in to lend a hand.

“A lot of the sites that we work on are privately owned — private landowners somewhere in the Oswego Lake watershed,” says Adra Lobdell, the council’s volunteer coordinator. “In order to qualify for the project, they have to have some habitat issues. Mostly that entails dominant invasive species on the property, so usually the restoration plans involve removing those invasive species and replacing them with native plants.”

The council is a volunteer group made up of several community members who work to improve the quality of the Oswego Lake watershed. Last year, the group got a big boost when the city set aside money for the Habitat Enhancement Fund, part of which was intended to be used to restore habitats in riparian areas.

“The city started looking at the question of how do we do things on private land,’” says Anne MacDonald, the stormwater quality coordinator for the city’s Public Works Department. “And we realized that the watershed councils were probably the best-poised groups, at least to start with.”

The riparian portion of the funding was split between the Oswego Lake Watershed Council and the Tryon Creek Watershed Council, which also operates partially within the city limits of Lake Oswego. This allowed the Oswego Lake group to take the unprecedented step of creating restoration projects on three separate sites in the Lake Oswego area.

“This was the first year that we had council funding to do this that would also include natural resources on private property,” says council secretary Mike Buck. “So Parks & Recreation was responsible for choosing sites for funding on public property. We chose sites where we would work on private property.”

The three sites chosen were areas along Boutwell Creek, Hallinan Creek and Springbrook Creek. According to council Chairwoman Stephanie Wagner, the council submitted a budget proposal for each site in January 2015; in late March, the city approved all three projects.

“We were ready to roll,” Wagner says. “As soon as we got the agreement in April, there were work parties.”

The city funding secured new plants and resources for the area, but the actual removal and replanting work was done entirely by volunteers in a series of work parties hosted by the council throughout the year.

“We were in cooperation with events like No Ivy Day and with SOLVE. We had high school students doing their community service work, and a broad range of companies that also have community service goals for their employees,” says Buck. “So we used all volunteers and recruited them from all over the metro area.”

Getting students from various schools involved has always been one of the council’s goals. Wagner says that in past years,

the council has worked with students at various grade levels on classes, projects and field trips. The three restoration sites provided another opportunity to turn habitat restoration into a learning experience.

“An especially valuable part of our environmental restoration project has been the involvement of students from neighborhood schools,” says council member Dwight Sangrey. “Students from Touchstone School have been studying and documenting the plants and animals in the nearby restoration area.  We also have had important help from students in the Cascade Education Corps at Tigard High School.” 

Even though each site was only about a half-acre, the cleanup was challenging because it had never been attempted before. The invasive species had been allowed to grow unchecked and had spread all over the sites.

“A lot of these properties had been neglected for decades, so ivy can be as thick as our arms going up some of these trees. We had ivy that was 4 inches in diameter on some trees, and most of the trees on all of these sites had ivy going up them,” says Buck. “So I don’t want to underestimate the amount of labor involved in restoration. It’s a lot of hands-on work, really grimy and dirty, but very rewarding.”

Each project required a lot of careful communication with the property owners — in some cases, more than one owner for the same project. However, council members say the owners were all open to the idea of watershed restoration. The challenge was raising awareness or finding the necessary resources.

“So far, we’ve had really good participation and interest from landowners,” Lobdell says.

Uncooperative weather also became a factor. Buck says the removal work ideally needs to be done during the rainy season, when the soil is still wet. However, an unusually dry June meant that the soil dried out too quickly.

“The moist ground that we need became desiccated pretty quickly with the early summer heat, so it was not the best time for really good extraction, where we get all the invasive roots out,” says Buck. “We had to go back multiple times to do that. It even continued in the fall, once we got the rains in October, to finish up on Hallinan. And we’re still trying to finish up on the Springbrook creek site.”

It’s been challenging work, but Buck and the other council members are confident that they’ve made a difference and had a positive impact on the Oswego Lake watershed.

“I’m hoping the spring growth will show ... the native plants will be twice as big as they are now,” says Buck. “I’m sure we’ll see healthier flora and fauna because of our projects, and because of the City Council addressing this need in our city.”

Looking forward to the coming year, the council hopes to shift its focus to three new sites adjacent to the existing ones — referred to as “expansion sites.” The older sites also have to be monitored and maintained to prevent the re-emergence of invasive pests, although the council hopes that the homeowners will be able to take a more active role in that regard.

“There is a maintenance responsibility for them afterwards,” says Wagner. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming to get rid of all that ivy and stuff, but once the watershed council can come in and help that happen, the maintenance phase isn’t overwhelming.”

The council and the city were also recently discussing the possibility of starting work in completely new sites such as Fernwood Creek and the Oswego Canal, but ultimately decided to focus on the expansions.

“I think right now we’re going to be doing expansions of where we currently are on these three” says Buck. “We may, as the watershed council, help with Fernwood Creek and the canal, but they won’t be put in as projects that need funding at this point.”

The expansion sites alone will be enough to keep the council busy this year, especially since there’s still some work to be done at the current sites.

“We have until about May or June to wrap up, and this tends to be the busiest season,” says Lobdell. “The grant cycle ends this spring, but we’ve already applied to have another round of funding for 2016-17, and that’s when we’ll be working to expand the current projects.”

The city is on board with the plan, MacDonald says, and is happy with the council’s work so far.

“At this point we’re not completely wedded to the watershed council as the only applicant, but from the beginning we knew that they were the groups that had the expertise available to them to do this type of work,” MacDonald says. “So we’re really looking to the watershed councils to be partners on most of these riparian projects, at least for the near term.”

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..