We are tomorrow’s past–our actions today make a difference tomorrow.
The Kalapuya have lived in the mosaic of wetlands linked to the Willamette River for thousands of years. They depended on the plants that grow in the open prairie, such as camas lily, tarweed, and yampah, as sources of food. As the earliest land managers in our area, they cultivated these plants every summer by setting fires to parts of the Willamette Valley to keep the wet prairie open for these species.
Early Euro-American Settlers
Beginning in the mid 1800’s, new settlers moved in and reshaped the Willamette River and wetlands to meet their needs. Wetlands were drained and filled for agricultural land, often grazing of livestock. And the use of fires to manage the landscape was suppressed. Continuous prairie habitats and vegetation patterns were fragmented by agricultural lands, homes and the impact of grazing. And new plants and animals were both intentionally and inadvertently introduced. The reduction of wetlands reduced flood water storage, and channelization of streams and the removal of trees, changed stream structure and habitat.
As a response to a greater appreciation for the role of wetlands as critical habitat, the Federal Clean Water Act increased protection America’s threatened wetlands. In 1987, about 1,500 acres of wetlands were identified in west Eugene and over a third of these wetlands were identified on lands proposed for future industrial development. Concerned citizens in the Eugene community implored policy-makers to reconsider the City’s industrial expansion as the cumulative impact of this would whittle away this already rare wetland system.
The challenge was to create a solution that would balance environmental protection, recreation, and urban development, while meeting state and federal laws and regulations. All stakeholders, from government agencies, developers, land-owners and community members, became involved in seeking a solution for this complex issue.
Collaboration and cooperation comprise the heart of the West Eugene Wetlands endeavor and an extraordinary partnership, the West Eugene Wetlands Partnership, emerged. This partnership included the City of Eugene, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Oregon Youth Conservation Corps. The diverse array of staff resources from federal, state, and local agencies pooled together to address the challenge of both protecting wetlands and allowing expansion of Eugene through the policy for mitigation banking. This system identified the highest quality of land in Eugene for preservation, enhancement, restoration, or creation (PERC) to offset or compensate for expected adverse impacts to similar nearby wetland ecosystems.
Today, the West Eugene Wetlands partnership has expanded further and merged into the Rivers to Ridges (R2R) partnership, a group of 17 different organizations whose mission is to improve the quality of life for residents in the Willamette Valley by working to protect and enhance the region’s land and water resources, values landscapes for their ecosystem functions, and to provide environmental education and outdoor recreation opportunities. Together, these partners have worked to protect more than 4,000 acres of rare wetland, wet prairie, and upland prairie habitat in Eugene.
As one of the first new members of R2R, WREN serves over 5,000 people a year in education programs and events in the West Eugene Wetlands.
Less than one-half of one percent of the original Willamette Valley wet prairie still remains. Our wet prairies are home to hundreds of plants and animals including the federally endangered Fender’s Blue butterfly, Kincaid’s lupine, and the Willamette daisy. Thanks to the continuous conservation efforts of local partners, Bradshaw’s lomatium has been delisted from the endangered species list, which is exactly what the wetland protection program was designed to do.