Sunday, March 27, 2011

Portland's (and Oregon's) Heritage Trees

Some of the things that Portland is best known for start with the letter 'B'.  Bikes, brews, bridges, baristas... Let's see, is there a 'B' word for rain?  One of things that Portland is known for which does not begin with the letter 'B', is trees.  Whether it's the woodsy West Hills - home of Forest Park - or one of the shady east-side neighborhoods full of mature trees, like Laurelhurst or Ladd's Addition, Portland loves it's trees.  Thanks to a strong urban forestry program, an organization called Friends of Trees, and tons of volunteers, Portland's urban forest continues to improve and expand.

tree lined streets, in a city! | by sgt fun on Flickr

One part of the urban forestry program is an ordinance which identifies Portland's Heritage Trees.  Heritage Trees are "trees that - because of their age, size, type, historical association or horticultural value - are of special importance to the City"I don't remember how I first heard about the program, but it was several years ago, and I was happy to find that we lived just down the block from a Heritage Douglas fir.  We've moved since then, and our nearest Heritage Tree now is a Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata).  What's your closest Heritage Tree?  Use this map to find out.

OPB's Oregon Field Guide recently did an interesting piece about Portland's Heritage Tree program.

From OPB:
Portland’s Heritage Tree program began in 1993 to recognize and preserve trees with special significance to the city... We follow the selection committee made up of citizens and botanical experts as they assess this year’s nominees, with special concentration on the Zahner family’s southern Catalpa tree.

So Portland has some pretty great trees, but what about the rest of Oregon? Turns out there's an state-wide version of Heritage Tree program as well.

You can read more about Oregon's Heritage Trees (and get that brochure Grant mentioned) at the Oregon Travel Information Council's website.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cooper Mountain Nature Park: Restored Habitat on Beaverton's Doorstep

Park entrance - view across Tualatin River Valley
Last Sunday, to mark the first day of Spring, I wanted to explore a Portland area park that I'd never been to before.  What better way to start off a new season than with a visit to a new place where you can get close to nature?  I'd recently read an article about Western gray squirrels making a comeback at Cooper Mountain - on the southern edge of Beaverton - so I decided to head out there and try my luck at spotting one.  Although the squirrels proved too elusive for me (the article did say they were easier to spot in the fall), I did enjoy my time in the park, and the views alone were worth the trip.

Play area with Nature House behind
Cooper Mountain Nature Park is one of Metro's newest parks, and it's elevated location (over 700 feet at the parking area on top) provides expansive views of the Tualatin River Valley and Chehalem Mountains to the south.  Most of the land was purchased in 1997, through voter approved bond measures which have allowed Metro to purchase and protect over 11,000 acres throughout the Portland metro area.  (The same program used to purchase the land for Mount Talbert Nature Park in Clackamas, and the Wilkes Headwaters Property in NE Portland.)  Development of the park began in 2006, and today you can explore 3 1/2 miles of gravel trails meandering through habitats which include forest, prairie, and oak woodland.

The Willamette Valley once supported over 400,000 acres of oak woodlands.  Today, less than 7 percent of those historic woodlands still exist (according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife).  Development is an obvious cause of habitat loss, but invasive species and fire suppression have also played a role.  (Native Americans once used regular fire suppression to maintain the open savannas and oak woodlands.)

Cooper Mountain Nature Park is a joint venture between Metro and the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, which provides day-to-day management.  Volunteers have helped restore the natural habitats by removing invasive species, planting over 110,000 trees and shrubs, and improving a small quarry pond. The pond now provides habitat for frogs and insects (which support birds and other wildlife) as well as a much-needed water source during the dry summer months.

Bioswale with mini wetland
When I arrived at the park on Sunday about Noon,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Get Your Green On With Metro's GreenScene

 Happy St. Patrick's Day, nature lovers!

As a fellow fan of nature, green just may be one of your favorite colors.  To celebrate the day, and the coming of Spring in general, this post begins with a tribute to the verdant color, through a selection of photos from the Nature of Portland photo group on Flickr.  Then, stay tuned after the photos for some information about a great resource from Metro, which can help you live greener and play greener.

When it comes to the endless shades of green, the Portland Metro Area can certainly hold its own against the Emerald Isle. Need convincing?  Just look at these photos taken by members of the Nature of Portland photo group.

Drops on the Green 1 of 2 | orb9220

Curly Green | Matthew and Tracie

Trillium | Ben Amstutz

Green Finger's in the Light of Portland Chinese Garden | orb9220

garage spider | incanus

Laying on the Green | orb9220
Verdant Path | Matthew and Tracie
That's a whole lotta' green!

If you're interested in tips for living green, finding nature-related activities, or certifying your backyard as habitat, check out Metro's Spring GreenScene.  The site provides a ton of great ideas to get you out and about, enjoying the Nature of Portland this Spring.  There's a calendar of events (I've already picked out a volunteer opportunity with Friends of Trees this Saturday), and you can download a walking guide to Hillsboro's Rock Creek Trail, where you can view lots of native trees, shrubs and flowers.  Sounds like a nice place for a nature walk - has anyone ever been there?

Be safe, be green - and I'll leave you with an old Irish blessing...

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond.


Vote for Johnson Creek

From Carrie Sturrock, Special to The Oregonian

Keep it local: consider voting for the Johnson Creek Watershed Council (JCWC) in a national grant competition that would mean $30,000 to support salmon restoration in one of the last above-ground creeks in the metropolitan Portland area.
The watershed council is one of six finalists for the grant from River Network and MillerCoors and the only one west of the Mississippi. The one with the most votes by Sunday March 20 wins. (You can vote here.)
I voted - will you?

Update April 5th, 2011, from JCWC
Hooray! JCWC came from behind to place second in the River Network/MillerCoors contest. We'll receive $10,000 for our salmon habitat project. Thanks to all of you for your support.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Take Action to Protect Portland's Trees

UPDATE: The window for comments has now passed, but I'm leaving this story up for anyone that wants to know more.

One of the many reasons Portland is such a beautiful city is a well-planned Urban Forestry program, supported by a strong tree code.  That code is being threatened by amendments which will weaken it.  You can ask the Portland City Council to maintain a strong tree code by sending an e-mail TODAY (3/15/11).

First, a quote from City Hall Watch, by Brad Schmidt of The Oregonian:

"...the Portland City Council last week made a bunch of changes to the proposed tree code. Those changes aren't sitting well with Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland. Sallinger sent out a call-to-action e-mail urging folks to contact the Portland City Council, which includes some technical issues."
Now, Sallinger's e-mail:

Thanks to everybody who has written emails or testified in support of
strong tree protections! We are in the homestretch now but Council took
a big step in the wrong direction this afternoon. Please help us
finish-up strong by emailing Council one more time and letting them know
that you want Portland to remain a leader in tree protection!
 Hearing Summary:
This afternoon the Portland City Council voted to move forward a series
of amendments that will significantly weaken the new proposed tree code.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Celebrate National Wildlife Week - March 14-20

Ever heard of National Wildlife Week?  I personally had not, but thanks to the National Wildlife Federation, I found out in time to read up and make some plans.

The scoop from NWF's website:

About National Wildlife Week

Held annually since 1938, National Wildlife Week is NWF’s longest-running education program. Even celebrities such as Shirley Temple, Walt Disney and Robert Redford have joined National Wildlife Federation to commemorate this unique event.
National Wildlife Week is a signature event of NWF’s Be Out There™ campaign, an initiative to connect families and communities to nature, raise healthier kids, instill a conservation ethic, and inspire a life-long appreciation of wildlife and the environment.
Read more about it, and find related activities (even download a different poster each day of Wildlife Week, each featuring nine wildlife species) at NFW's website.

How will you celebrate?
If you participate in any of these activities - or do anything else to celebrate National Wildlife Week -let me know how it goes!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tanner Springs Park: Nature in The Pearl District

Portland's Pearl District is now known for upscale condos, trendy shops and cafes, and easy access to MAX and the Portland Streetcar.  Rewind about a century, and the area now known as "The Pearl" is home to warehouses and rail yards, atop the recently filled wetlands and the now-underground Tanner Creek (named for a tannery built by Daniel Lownsdale in 1845).  Go back another century, to the mid 1800's, and Tanner Creek flows freely from the wooded hillsides, into riverside wetlands and Couch Lake.

In 2003, as the Pearl District urban renewal moved toward the Willamette River near Union Station, planning for this park began.  The plan was to bring back a little slice of the original grassland and wetland habitat.

Today, Tanner Springs Park is a perfect postage stamp of grass and water, tying the modern urban skyline to the native landscape that used to be.  The ground slopes down from west to east toward the river, and at the lower end there's a shallow pond with walkways built across the surface.  Water is pumped back up the slope from the pond, to become re-created streams flowing down from above.  The man-made streams run through native grasses, and alongside gravel paths.  In one area, the path is made from cobblestones that were once used as ballast for ships on the Willamette, and later as pavement for Portland's streets.  At the northeast corner of the park, a leaf-shaped, glass shelter over the streetcar stop catches rain water and pipes it in to the pond.  Along the east side of the park, a sculptural fence is made from sections of recycled railroad track, with occasional windows of stained glass.  There are a few benches and grass terraces for lounging, and there's a great view of the Fremont Bridge to the north.

The day I chose to visit the park was during a recent cold snap, and I think it was about 20 degrees out.  The pond was frozen, and there was not a bird, critter, or human in sight.  I'm guessing on a warmer day the park must be a bit more active, with Portlanders - feathered and otherwise - enjoying a welcome bit of nature in the city.

One thing to note - and one reason the park may be more tranquil than other city parks - no pets are allowed, and you're encouraged to stay on the paths to protect the re-created habitat.  Although some people may not think that's the best use of an urban park, I think it's a great thing.  Especially with Jamison Square just one block away.  (Update 3/7/12: And now with The Fields being developed just two blocks to the north.  See update below.)

What about you?  Have you visited Tanner Springs?  Seen any birds or other wildlife?

Update March 7th, 2012:  Tanner Springs will soon have a sister park, one more suited to dogs and lawn play, just two blocks to the north.  All part of a master plan to build four parks in the area, each for different uses - Tanner Springs for quiet relaxation, Jamison Square with its kid-friendly fountain, a riverfront park still in the planning, and The Fields Neighborhood Park. The Fields will feature an enclosed off-leash area, and a large lawn for Frisbee and other activities.  Read about the groundbreaking and plans for The Fields over at

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mason Bees: Using an Oregon Native Species to Pollinate Your Garden

Photo credit: Wikipedia/Red58bill - some rights reserved
Mason Bees are an interesting lot.  They're an important native pollinator, and because they are native, they're especially "tuned in" to some of the early-blooming native plants around Portland - like red flowering currant. 

They differ from the better-known honey bee in several ways.  First of all they're solitary - each female builds it's own nest, and there are no worker bees to tend them.  And because they make no honey that needs protection (or maybe as a result of all this freedom and autonomy) - mason bees are also kinder and gentler than honey bees.  They don't sting unless they get trapped in your clothes or get pinched (and who goes around pinching bees?).  One other way mason bees differ from honey bees, is that mason bees do not travel long distances from the nest to collect nectar and pollen.  That makes them ideal for pollinating your yard, if you can convince them to stick around and build their nests.

There are over 130 species of mason bees in North America.  One species present in the Portland area is the orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria)

Female orchard mason bees like to build their nests in narrow tubes, such as holes left by woodpeckers or insects.  (But you can build or buy houses to accommodate them in your yard - read on.)
After finding a suitable tube, they pack in provisions of pollen and nectar, lay a single egg, then they create a partition with mud.  After repeating the process several times, the tube is sealed with more mud, and the bee moves on to another hole. 

During the spring and early summer, the larvae will consume the provisions, then spin cocoons around themselves as they prepare to become adult bees.  The bees will remain in their cocoons throughout the fall and winter before emerging in the spring.

You can encourage the production of more mason bees - and boost the yield of your fruits, vegetables, and flowers - by making or buying bee houses to attract the females.  They can be as simple as a bunch of holes drilled in a block of wood, or something more substantial, like one of the commercially available mason bee houses - some of which have windows that allow you to see inside the tubes, to check the health of the cocoons. 

Interested in building a bee house?  Or would you like to know a local source for bees and houses?  Read all about it, over at Neighborhood Notes.

I can't wait to try this.  I'll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime - has anyone else raised a happy brood of mason bees? 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Learn about Naturescaping, Using Oregon Native Plants

Have you ever thought about trying to incorporate more native plants into your landscaping?  It's a great way to conserve water and reduce the use of chemicals, because native plants are already accustomed to growing conditions in our regional environment.  They also provide food and shelter for native animals, and provide other benefits as well.

Over the last 3 years, I've completely re-landscaped my yard using almost entirely native plants.  I'm going to be writing about that project and some of the plants I've used in later posts, but for now I just wanted to mention the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (EMSWCD), and a couple of the resources they offer.

It can be a little challenging to find a good variety of native plants from any one source, but EMSWCD holds an annual native plant sale where you can get native ground covers, flowers, shrubs and trees.  The sale has unfortunately already happened this year, but why not register for a free Naturscaping class offered by EMSWCD, and be ready with a landscape plan for next year?

Event description (from EMSWCD):
Explore the core concepts of naturescaping, pollution prevention, and introduces attendees to watershed connections, native plant identification and site planning principals in this introductory workshop.
This workshop introduces the concept of naturescaping. We also explore:
• time and maintenance savings
• reduction/elimination of water and chemical use
• increasing and improving wildlife habitat
• watershed stewardship
• basic site or project planning and many other great gardening tips
This FREE workshop is being held on Sunday, April 3rd.  EMCSWCD offers additional workshops, on this topic and others - like how to make a rain garden.  Check out the full schedule of events here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Birds of a Feather" Art Exhibit Benefits Portland Audubon

From Audobon Portland:
Featuring images of birds and their habitats
The Caswell Gallery celebrates Spring with an exhibit dedicated to birds — and will donate 10% of the “Birds of a Feather” exhibit sales made during March to Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center, just in time for Spring’s  baby bird season!

Join us at the artists’ reception on March 4 (Friday), 5pm–9pm, for fine wine, appetizers, and live music with guitarist-vocalist Ron Hughes.

The gallery is located at 201 W. Historic Columbia River Hwy; hours are Mon to Sat 10am–5pm, and Sunday Noon–5pm. 

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pacific Madrone

Photo credit: Wikipedia/Walter Siegmundsome rights reserved.
Arbutus menziesii, or the Pacific Madrone, is a striking, large tree, native in Oregon along the Coast Range and in the Willamette Valley.  The thick, dark green leaves - similar to those of a Southern Magnolia - and the orange-red, peeling bark really make for a beautiful tree.  If you happen to have one in your yard or somewhere you can frequently enjoy it, count yourself lucky.  I hear they're notoriously hard to transplant and care for.

The Madrone has small, white flowers which give way to red-orange berries, loved by many types of birds, including Cedar Waxwings.  (I once saw Cedar Waxwings enjoying the berries on Elk Rock Island.)

Peeling bark of the Pacific Madrone.  Photo credit: Wikipedia/NaJina McEnany, some rights reserved

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