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St. Helens steward seeks reprieve for meadow

A meadow of wildflowers and an oak woodland could be in danger as logging activites move forward


SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - The office of Watters Quarry just off Highway 30 and Pittsburg road. Paperwork from the company indicate plans to begin harvesting of Douglas fir trees on the property sometime this fall. Despite the outcry of one concerned citizen, no action will be taken to preserve a woodland wildflower meadow near St. Helens in the near future.

In a letter to the editor printed in the Spotlight on Wednesday, Sept. 18, St. Helens Nob Hill Nature Park steward Caroline Skinner asked Weyerhaeuser Co. officials to consider donating or selling a portion of property the company owns near Pittsburg Road and

Highway 30. The reason, Skinner wrote, would be to preserve an ecologically important site.

Weyerhaeuser spokesperson Greg Miller said the company has not received any formal requests from Skinner and would not make any decisions based on her comments in the opinion letter.

Skinner later said she wrote the letter to make a point to the property owners about the site’s importance.

“The most important thing is that there’s this amazing, intact ecosystem there that is so rare,” Skinner said. “It’s very hard to just create a wildflower meadow.”

Skinner estimates nearly 400 acres of land in the area are oak and Douglas fir woodlands, a portion of which is the 141-acre Weyerhaeuser property.

She said the layout of the land is then broken into three major areas of plant growth — 200 acres of oak trees and camas lilies, an area of Oregon ash trees, and an area of Douglas fir trees.

The relationship between the various tree species, flowers and other plants that create a woodland and meadow ecosystem takes a long time to develop, according to Skinner. She said no federally recognized endangered plant species have been identified in the area, but the ecological diversity of the site as a whole makes it valuable.

“This land has been growing this way forever,” Skinner said,

Weyerhaeuser, which operates as a timber real estate investment trust, leases the land to Knife River, which runs Watters Quarry just off of Highway 30 and Pittsburg Road.

Representatives from Weyerhauser Co. filed a notification of operations with the Oregon Department of Forestry in August outlining a 119-acre selective tree harvest aimed at thinning Douglas fir trees this fall and winter. Broad-leafed trees, such as oak and ash trees, will not be felled unless necessary to fell fir trees, according to the operation’s paperwork.

Miller said Weyerhaeuser is aware of a possible cultural site on the property and has been in contact with the Oregon Department of Forestry, state agencies, tribal leaders and archeologists to determine if site preservation or protection is needed.

Because the property is private, Skinner said some rare flowers could be growing among the trees that haven’t been identified due to limited access.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CAROLINE SKINNER - The camas flower, a native lily often found growing near oak trees. Scappoose Bay Watershed Council board member Lona Pierce identified over 200 native plant species on the property in 2005 when researchers had access. A variety of flowers grow in the meadow, including popcorn flowers, delphinium, rosy plectritis and shooting star flowers.

“The complexity and richness is unmatched,” Skinner said.

The hydrology of the site is one of the key aspects that allows the wildflower meadows to grow, Skinner said. Rain water seeps down into the soil where it eventually hits basalt and begins to trickle downhill, creating streams that allow the wildflower meadows to

bloom.

“One of my concerns is, if the firs are cut and trucks are run, will it change the hydrology?” Skinner said. “We kind of have an ideal situation here already.”

Although regional efforts to map and preserve oak tree sites in the Pacific Northwest are increasing, Skinner said not much has been done in Columbia County. A local group, however, has been highly active in monitoring the plant life on the property, she said.

Skinner said she is only one concerned citizen and does not represent any larger organization in her campaign to preserve the area. The complexity of attempting to protect a piece of land she does not personally own has been one of her major challenges in garnering backing or support from a collective group.

Skinner said she also knows her request for Weyerhaeuser to donate a portion of the land or sell it at fair market value may be far-fetched.

“I may fail,” Skinner said. “But, I do believe that if I don’t try, I will fail.”

Information Skinner provided to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department about the property has been sufficient start the process for a possible site evaluation by the department’s land acquisition committee in 2017, according to an email from OPRD deputy director, MG Devereux.

OPRD spokesman Chris Havel said the process needed for the department to acquire property with the intent to establish a state park is lengthy and complex, and said land acquisition priorities for the 2015-2017 budget biennium have already been established.

Skinner said she has been trying to get OPRD involved for almost four years now.

*Editor's note: This story was updated to correctly identify who filed the notification of operations to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

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