Funding is approved for preservation of oak prairie, which can be found in Forest Grove's vicinity.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board approved more than $300,000 in funding this fall for projects across the state that aim to preserve Oregon's dwindling oak woodland and prairie habitat.

The three main projects that money will fund are outside Washington County, but more local agencies working to protect similar habitats in the Portland metro area are still excited about potential progress statewide.

"It's a very exciting time," said Jonathan Soll, who manages Metro's science and stewardship division.

Soll is working to preserve the region's oak trees in rural, suburban and urban areas.

"We all have the same mission, and this gives us optimism," Soll explained.

Metro has been working to restore oak prairie habitat for decades. As part of his work with the regional governing body, Soll is part of the nonprofit organization The Intertwine Alliance's Oak Prairie Workgroup, which focuses on oak conservation and stewardship.

Once, there were about 1 million acres of oak prairie habitat in Oregon, but Soll estimates that 85 to 98 percent of the Willamette Valley's oak tree habitats have been lost, replaced by the more profitable housing developments, vineyards, forestlands and field crops. That's important because not only are oaks an iconic part of Oregon's landscape, but they also support hundreds of Oregon plant and animal species, including the western bluebird, the acorn woodpecker, the slender-billed nuthatch, camas lilies, various bats and owls, and many more.

Oak habitat also has cultural significance for local Native American tribes. It supports plants that play a role in tribes' diet and traditional medicine, as well as animals that have historically supported tribes.

"Oak habitat is one of the most threatened habitat types," Soll said. "It's a source of great concern."

Currently, members of the oak prairie workgroup — made up of representatives from various organizations, nonprofits and municipal organizations, including the City of Forest Grove and the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District — is working to map all of the area's oaks and create a landowner guide for preserving any trees that are left. No one has mapped the area's oaks yet, Soll said, which makes it hard to organize preservation efforts.

Even with the drastic decline in oaks, Soll said there are still a lot of trees left in parks, edges of fields, commercial and street landscapes, and backyards.

Soll and the Intertwine Alliance members encourage locals to get outside and enjoy the oak habitat because most conservationists agree that more people will work toward preservation if they're able to recognize the habitat's characteristics and witness the natural beauty and accompanying wildlife.

Forest Grove residents don't have to go far to enjoy the breathtaking views of oak prairie habitat. The Hagg Lake area is home to oak stands, as is Metro's new Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. Both areas are just a few miles from Forest Grove and Gaston.

By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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