Prairie Soils for Sustainable Restoration

Andy Gallagher, Red Hill Soils, works with OSU student, Logan Bennett, to classify a prairie soil

Historically, the Willamette Valley native Kalapuyans kept their hunting grounds open by burning the prairies. Fire suppressed the natural influx of woody shrubs and kept Douglas-fir encroachment at bay. This fire-based management regime fostered the upland prairie ecosystem, home to the Fender’s blue butterfly (lcaricia icarioides fenderi) and Kincaid’s lupine (Lupinus sulphureus kincaidii).

Fast forward through the infusion of European settlers who introduced their favorite non-native plants and altered the prairie landscapes with nearly two centuries of agriculture, livestock husbandry, timber harvest, and urban development. Cultural shifts, community safety, and public health concerns diminished the use of fire as a management tool. By 1937, the small Fender’s blue butterfly was declared extinct.

Fast forward again to 1989 when, lo and behold, the 1-inch wingspan of the Fender’s blue was sighted again! By 2000, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Fender’s as endangered and designated critical habitat in dry fescue prairies.  The subsequent recovery plan (Recovery Plan for the Prairie Species of Western Oregon and Southwestern Washington, 2010) has reinforced the work of numerous agencies, nonprofits, and private landowners who dedicate time, energy, land, resources, and funding to maintain and expand the prairies that serve as home to the Fender’s blue butterfly and its larval host plant, Kincaid’s lupine.

In 2016, Benton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) joined forces with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to implement the Prairie Soils for Sustainable Restoration (PSSR) project. Benton SWCD is working with soil scientists and botanists to map and analyze soil characteristics in existing upland prairie remnants and in prairie restoration sites. The long-term project goal is to guide cost-effective, successful prairie restoration and protection efforts.

The Prairie Soils project rides on the hard work, dedication, and respect for these rare native habitats and the unique biodiversity they support. The sites chosen for this project are located in Benton, Lane, and Yamhill Counties. These properties represent decades of on-the-ground work by conservation-minded landowners in partnership with USFWS, local watershed councils, and conservation districts.

For informative and inspirational presentations by scientists and landowners involved in the Prairie Soils project, you are invited to attend Benton SWCD’s Annual Meeting on January 23, 2019 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at the Corvallis Benton County Library.