The Messy Business of Oak Woodland Restoration
The following post was authored by Josie Finley, Park Ranger at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Oak Release: Revitalizing a Cherished Landscape
The Oaks-to-Wetlands Trail means so many things to the people of Clark County and beyond. For many, it is a getaway from town, any town. To some it is a quiet and romantic spot to generate inspiration and ideas for the future.
To those who have lived in Ridgefield for many decades, it can symbolize childhood memories of exploring the Carty family’s land before it was officially a “refuge”. These may be the same folks that helped to form those well-trodden trails that we have become so familiar with. Whatever way people find to connect to this place, it has become something special, not easily replicated close by.
A Vision Influenced by Time Immemorial
To the First Peoples of this area, the Chinook Indian Nation and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, areas like this have been vastly important and highly managed Since Time Immemorial for the benefit of all animals in this ecosystem, humans included. This traditional land tending was not to favor the dark and looming fir forests that have become iconic for this area. Here on the Refuge, throughout southwest Washington and the Willamette Valley in Oregon, oak woodlands and savannas have supported many layers of life.
Go back in time before the suppression of fire, before the large-scale harvests of trees, before there was a need to save these disappearing remnant spaces for wildlife and recreation, this space was dominated by Oregon white oak. Imagine large expanses of these sun loving trees dripping acorns in the fall, camas and other flowers growing in fields in the spring, and the elk, deer, bear, coyote (one could go on and on) foraging on the abundance of this thriving habitat year-round. This well-loved habitat supporting humans, while being regenerated by them.
Fast forward to present day and we see just 1-3% of these habitats left from what once was. As land managers responsible for the continuing health of native wildlife in the local area, we have a responsibility to work with our partners to restore and continue that legacy. This project is just one of the examples of where we have been able to learn from our indigenous partners and follow their lead in returning this landscape to its previous condition.
Renewal and Reinvention is Just Beginning
Think about the story of this land when you walk this familiar space in a new way. Marvel at the oaks that have been denied resources and be inspired by their perseverance. Walk the trail often and see how they thrive and the plants around them bounce back with the help of humans once again.
It is true that the trail is different, and for some that may feel like a loss. I know. With every loss there is a chance for a new beginning, a better existence. What you see of the trail and habitat is not finished – it has just started! Restoration and renewal takes time and is messy.
Through the hard work of our partners, including the tribes mentioned above, our Friends group, the Washington Trails Association, and so many dedicated volunteers, you will see this landscape flourish and the trail system develop. And with it, the wildlife that it was built for. Remember – you, as a human, are a part of that.