Treasure trove of critical habitat where rivers meet

Treasure trove of critical habitat where rivers meet »Play Video
The confluence of the Middle and Coast Forks of the Willamette River meet south of downtown Springfield in a wild area now held in trust by the Nature Conservancy.

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - Due south of town and a wooded stroll north of Mount Pisgah, the Middle and Coast Forks of the Willamette River collide before flowing north to the Columbia as one.

The Nature Conservancy purchased 1,270 acres here for $23.4 million in 2010.

The purchase essentially puts the confluence of the Willamette River - and the increasingly endangered natural habitat it provides - in the public trust.

The land is home to salmon, Western pond turtles, the Northern redlegged frog and other species crowded out of other places by human activity.

Teams from the Nature Conservancy and Friends of Buford Park are putting the plan together now for possible action in 2014. 

"Intensive planning has been going on to prepare this site for a floodplain restoration project, to reconnect the river to these ponds," said Chris Orsinger, director of Friends of Buford Park.

Now scientists are working up plans to reconnect the river to its historic flood plains, control or remove invasive species, and restore rare white oak savannas.

Work is expected to start next year to reconnect 3 ponds at lower Poodle Creek to the Middle Fork of the Willamette by creating an upstream channel.  Friends of Buford Park board member, Phillip Bayles, said up to 30 at-risk species of fish and wildlife will benefit from the project. "This is one of the areas that's one of the most natural and most beautiful already," he said.

The project is part of the bigger Rivers to Ridges cooperative project in the Willamette Valley.
Cost estimates on the restoration work were not immediately available from Nature Conservancy officials in the Portland office on Monday.