OWEB grant helps restore oak habitat at Zena Forest

Karen Arabas' proposal to restore native oak habitat in Willamette University's Forest at Zena won support from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board with a grant of $211,749. Additional funding for the $350,000 restoration effort comes from the university's Center for Sustainable Communities, nearby landowner Sarah Deumling and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Portland's Trout Mountain Forestry will perform most of the restoration work.

Willamette University Forest at Zena comprises 305 acres of ecologically diverse land within the 1,600-acre privately-owned Zena Forest. The largest contiguous tract in the Eola Hills area, Zena Forest also contains headwaters to the South Yamhill River, Spring Valley Creek and Rickreall Creek. The forest represents important potential habitat for endangered species such as the Fender's blue butterfly, which uses the threatened perennial Kincaid's lupine for food and shelter.

The three-year project will restore oak savanna and woodland, protect legacy oaks, control invasive species, improve riparian areas and replant native species.

"Only 10 percent of oak habitats remain in the Willamette Valley," said Arabas, who is a professor and the Associate Director of Land Conservation and Research for Willamette's Center for Sustainable Communities. "We know how important intact upland habitat is to the watershed's overall function and for endangered and threatened species." 

The project will also be incorporated into curriculum at Willamette. Undergraduate researchers will assist Arabas with a long-term monitoring project to track and analyze the effects of the restoration work. 

Project partnerships will provide opportunities for children to learn about restoration practices. Working with college students and faculty, Willamette Academy students will "adopt" and restore a small wet prairie area. Deumling will coordinate field trips for elementary school children to learn about sustainable forestry and students from Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School will work on restoration of a two-acre pond.

Since Willamette purchased the property in 2008, Willamette students have restored the original farm house, created an organic farm and even constructed a wind turbine for the property. This summer, students will be able to live on-site and take a two-credit class on sustainable agricultural practices.