A Refuge Upland

 "Create the conditions that will allow for the restoration, maintenance, and distribution of native grassland and shrubland species (such as rabbitbrush, needle and thread grass, Junegrass, and hairy golden aster) to provide healthy lands for a diverse group of target native resident and migratory wildlife species and to educate visitors about the historical plant and animal diversity of the valley" (Goal for Grassland and Shrubland Habitat and Associated Wildlife-Refuge CCP).

Uplands-Degraded StateThe Lee Metcalf Refuge’s 1,186 acres of uplands consist of floodplain and terrace grasslands, grassland/shrublands, and shrublands. These communities are defined as having grassland and shrubland species considered facultative or obligate and that usually occur in non-wetland habitats. Historical documents suggest that most higher elevations within the refuge’s floodplain region were covered with grasses and some scattered shrubs (Eckmann and Harrington 1917, Cappious 1939, Popham 1998). Sites with occasional surface flooding contained more wet meadow or grassland communities interspersed with wetland herbaceous plants (like smartweed), while higher floodplain terraces, slopes, and alluvial fans included both wetland and upland-type grasses (like needle and thread and Junegrass) and shrubs (like rabbit brush and sage). Uplands-Thistle Weed PullMost floodplain grassland areas have Corvallis, Hamilton, and Grantsdale silt loam and loam soils. Certain small sites in the refuge have saline soils that could have supported more salt-tolerant species. Larger alluvial fans, such as those near Three Mile Creek, are present on “Qafy” surfaces with Lone Rock mixed erosion soils, and these sites historically had a mixed grassland-sagebrush community (for example, Clary et al. 2005).

The uplands in the valley have historically been disturbed by a variety of land uses since Euro-American settlement in 1841. In 1872 Peter Whaley broke the first sod on what would become the refuge. The primary land use was cattle grazing and, later, agricultural crops (vegetables and grains). Once the refuge was established, the uplands were still disturbed by grazing, farming, haying, and other land practices. Uplands-Students Establishing Plant Transects Eventually, these grazed and farmed areas were retired and seeded with tame grasses without reseeding of native plant species. These practices greatly altered the land, decreasing overall habitat and animal diversity and increasing the presence of invasive plant species (Graham 2009). Most wet meadows have disappeared, and potential saline grasslands are now mostly thistle and wheatgrass. Historical grassy upland terraces no longer contain substantial amounts of native grass or shrubland species. Invasive and other nonnative species now dominate more than 80 percent of refuge uplands. Dominant species now found in those areas include, but are not limited to, cheatgrass, smooth brome, common tansy, mustard species, spotted knapweed, and musk and Canada thistle.

Uplands-GPSing Beetle Release SitesThe Service has identified the habitat needs of a diverse group of target upland (grassland and shrubland) species (table 11 of the CCP). Providing for the life history needs of these species would provide the natural upland diversity and conditions needed not only for these targeted species but an even greater variety of upland-associated wildlife. Monitoring would be focused on these target species to determine their response to upland management actions.

There are many challenges to restoring the uplands. Restoration would be costly and time consuming. To begin restoration, the refuge would first focus on treating and eliminating invasive species (participate in the annual Refuge Weed Pull) and testing restoration techniques in small patches of tame grassland sites. Since many of these areas do not have irrigation, it may be challenging to germinate some native grassland seed. Many of the upland field soils receive no moisture or shade from the drying sun. This has resulted in a hard soil cap that is almost impossible for native vegetation to take root in and seed successfully. Grazing or disking may help to break up this soil cap to allow for seeding. Lengthier details are contained in the Refuge CCP.