By Katie Holzer, City of Gresham, Watershed Scientist
The Beaver Creek watershed was once a network of forests, streams, meadows, and wetlands. Over the past couple of centuries almost all of it has been changed considerably. Most of the trees were logged for timber and to clear land for building and farming, some of the streams were put in pipes, much of the open meadows were cultivated or had buildings built on them, and almost all of the wetlands have been drained or filled in.
All of these changes have allowed more humans to live on this landscape. At the same time, they have generally made it more difficult for other animals to live here. The changes have fragmented the landscape for animals and created patches of habitat surrounded by less habitable areas such as neighborhoods and farms.
This map shows the current land use of the watershed. You can see that the western portion is mostly urban, the eastern portion is mostly agriculture, and the many branching stems of the creek have forests and open areas along them. Many animals use these forested stream channels as connecting corridors to move around between habitat patches. Protecting and restoring these areas helps these animals find food, raise babies, and move around to the places they need to get.
Some animals, like the Oregon slender salamander, don’t need much space at all – maybe just a good rotting log for their whole life. Because they don’t move around much, families of salamanders can become isolated from each other easily when the land around them changes. These salamanders have difficulty moving through open areas or across fields, grass lawns, or pavement. If patches become too isolated they often don’t have any salamanders because individual families can die out by chance and the habitat patch can’t be reached by other families.
Other animals, like bobcats, move around a lot. They need large areas to roam to find enough food to raise their kittens. If patches are too small or not connected enough, they can easily starve. This is why it is so important to connect habitat patches whenever possible and make it easier for animals to move around.
There are some easy things you can do to help these animals move around and stay alive. Most animals don’t need pristine areas to move through, just a little bit of help to keep them safe. Doing a few simple things in your yard, field, park, school, or neighborhood can make a huge difference. By making the spaces in between patches less harsh, we help the animals move around to get everything they need.
“The biggest thing to remember is that animals generally need plants—both alive and dead.”
The biggest thing to remember is that animals generally need plants—both alive and dead. Whenever you can have trees, bushes, shrubs, flowers, branches, logs, or leaves they will probably be used by wildlife, even if you don’t see them. For example, most salamanders spend most of their time underground and come up to forage in leaf piles on dark, rainy nights.
Amazing animals have been living in the Beaver Creek watershed for thousands of years: salmon, eagles, elk, red-legged frogs, trout, king fishers, otters, and hundreds of others. And they all still live here! But it can be difficult for them to hang on when the land has been changed so much. When we protect, restore, and let a little bit of wildness into our yards, fields, and parks we give them some breathing room to make a home and move around. These animals have allowed us to live alongside them and are willing to share the land with us if we are willing to share it with them.
Learn more about wildlife, restoration, and education and recreation opportunities in the Beaver Creek watershed at the Beaver Creek Brunch, Saturday May 4th, 2019.