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Of Oaks and Beavers….

Published December 6th, 2019 in Restoration, UW Blogs

By Stan Petrowski

 

Umpqua Watersheds (UW) has focused considerable time and energy advocating for and monitoring restoration projects throughout the region. Besides our Radio Active Restoration Show, aired weekly on KQUA 99.7 FM, we are actively engaged in several major efforts in the field of restoration ecology. Much of our work is deeply entangled in collaborative efforts with other groups and agencies. The politics of these collaborative ventures is not simple. Indeed, we often find ourselves sitting at the table with individuals with whom we have little in common and little trust. Our experience has taught us that the most successful cooperative projects are made up of individuals altruistically committed to environmental common good. Even then, the weight of opposition to our efforts to salvage what remains of our ecosystems or to restore what is severely damaged cannot be understated.

 

Restoration in an era of ecological chaos is nothing short of a major challenge. Faced with problems in the resilient but delicate web of life as a result of unmitigated resource extraction by society, we are witness to declines in a variety of habitats critical to the support of ecosystem function. Laws and policies are being instituted to roll back many of the gains that have been made over the past quarter century. Clean air, pure water and the tangible benefits produced by vibrant healthy watersheds is taking a back seat once again to the accumulation of wealth and the false sense of well-being it supposedly brings.

 

Still there is hope. One cannot measure the joy and comfort that we see when the natural world is given a modicum of care born of good stewardship. I’ve seen it many times over the course of UW’s service to life in the natural world and the communities it serves. Real life wants to continue. Wisdom and knowledge are needed in determining what can be done within our means. It has always been hard work to address both terrestrial and aquatic aspects of restoration. We are committed.

 

Oak Habitat in western Oregon has been depleted by 95%. Agriculture and fiber farm forests have replaced this critical habitat in the name of “progress and growth.” Fire suppression is choking out magnificent stands of oak throughout the Umpqua basin watershed. UW is an active participant in the Umpqua Oak Partnership: a collective of concerned groups and citizens devoted to restoring and preserving the broad spectrum of oak habitat types and the species they sustain. We are currently in the assessment and planning stages in project development. We still have considerable opportunity to protect and bring back the rich legacy of oak habitat. To our surprise, some of the most sophisticated data modeling projecting the amount and distribution of diverse oak habitats has fallen far short of the reality on the ground. The group hopes to ground truth and explore the real potential for a broad spectrum of oak habitats in the Umpqua. We also know that many of the oak meadow habitats in the watershed were areas maintained by Native Americans. A hidden trove of heretofore oak meadow and mixed conifer habitats are being newly discovered. Fire resilience related to oak habitat will be a primary objective of some of the group members particularly Umpqua Watersheds.

 

Beaver Ecology. Considerable time and monetary resources over the past decade have devoted by UW to promote the restoration of our beaver populations. Where there is no water there is no life. Beaver have historically played a huge role in supplying our aquatic habitats with abundant water by naturally retaining it in our system over the hot dry summer months. Yet today we are faced with a consistent effort on the part of various government agencies and private enterprises to treat this keystone species as a nuisance predator in the State of Oregon. It’s crazy. Ironically, Oregon State University which has the beaver as its mascot, hosts the Federal Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). This agency is responsible for the lethal removal of hundreds of thousands of beaver from our ecosystem. They are willing to listen. What is there to say except PERMANENTLY STOP THE KILLING OF THIS KEYSTONE SPECIES? It gives me heartburn just to have to deal with it when the need is so very desperate in our hard-stricken, drought-plagued region. Not to worry as the saying goes. We also have strong allies in the academic, scientific and agency worlds who, based on science, recognize the essential value of this species.

 

These restoration challenges are a sample of what we face each day as we guard our precious trust. I will be the first to confess that the unfortunate reality of the politics and economy of restoration ecology are a major angst for me. I often represent several organizations at once in this arena. The crucial need for good stewardship and informed cooperation with the natural world is so profound and yet, we as a society, still know so little about how to move forward effectively. The socio-political aspects of this so frustrates. Willful ignorance and malicious politics for personal gain is our nemesis. Even in-fighting and back-biting within the conservation community is counterproductive as every erg of energy needs to be applied for success of our mission. Until each of us commits to responding to the need on a scale unprecedented to date, the work will stall or stagnate in its tracks. This is the burden UW carries on your behalf and on behalf of every aspect of this creation. I look forward to seeing a younger generation of restoration enthusiasts rise to the call covering the entire map of need. I wait to see you join our ranks and learn with us.

 

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