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Story by Gordon Grearson - The Oregon Herald Oregon He
Published on Thursday November 5, 2009 - 12:09 PM
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Funds are available from for a conservation easements on nearly 300 acres of critical habitat near Salem — preserving and restoring rare oak savanna and prairie habitat and endangered species such as Fender's blue butterfly and Kincaid's lupine. BPA's $965,000 contribution meets part of its requirement under the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act for mitigating the effects of its dams on wildlife and habitat. The easements restrict development and call for management of the property in perpetuity.

In the Willamette Valley, it's just the beginning of BPA's influence on conservation. About 19,000 acres were affected by the six power-producing dams in the Willamette basin. BPA has funded about 6,200 acres of mitigation, said Dorie Welch of BPA. The most recent acquisitions protect some of the rarest habitats in the Willamette Valley. Oak woodlands, oak savanna and prairie, the majority of which are held by private landowners, are subject to the typical pressures of a populated fertile valley: conversion to agriculture or development. "Land use has changed over the last 10 to 15 years so we've seen land prices increase and population increase, and with future population growth, there will be an increase in development across the valley," said Michael Pope of the the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which works with BPA to identify conservation priority properties. Because of those pressures, BPA has been working to conserve land in the area.

"Within the last five years, we've been able to complete more mitigation in the Willamette Valley than we've done in the prior 15 years or so," Pope said. Buena Vista South of Buena Vista Ferry, Ed Rust's 120 acres is home to 70 acres of grass seed, 30 acres of restored wetland, 20 acres of hardwoods and a 100-foot-tall bluff overlooking the Willamette River. A rare feature along the flat Willamette River, the bluff also is unusual in its undeveloped state — it's the perfect place for a home with a view of the confluence of the Willamette, Santiam and Luckiamute rivers.

Since it's right on the river, that bluff is one of the last remaining high cliffs that someone hasn't built a house on," Rust said. Instead, a conservation easement will protect the site from development. "I'd like to do something for the future here," Rust said. "It would be nice if in 100 years there could be some open space and all the things that live out here would still be here." The conservation easement held by Greenbelt Land Trust, based in Corvallis, includes development rights, agricultural rights and commercial hunting rights in perpetuity. Ownership of the agricultural rights allows the land trust to retire the agriculture over an 8- to 12-year period. A combination of private donations and grants will fund restoration work such as planting with native plants, trees and shrubs. After it's restored, it will add another native area to a series of sites that can be used by wildlife. Other natural areas near the site include the 1,000-acre Luckiamute Landing site and the 1,700-acre E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area. "There's a lot of other conservation activities around here," said Greenbelt's executive director, Karlene McCabe.

"What this site does with existing patches of lupine and also butterflies on the property is help expand the level of habitat for these listed species," said Ed Alverson, the Willamette Valley stewardship ecologist for the Nature Conservancy. The site also has oak savannah and prairie areas. "Savannahs are similar to old-growth forests in terms of supporting a wide variety of plant and animal species," Alverson said. The Nature Conservancy holds the conservation easement. Smith and his family own a house and 10 acres on the property. "Maybe our kids will enjoy it," Smith said. "And the fact that it won't be developed isn't a bad thing in my mind."

It's an important criteria for conservation funding — ensuring the property is not an isolated island without the potential for interaction with other preserved sites. Baskett Butte On a butte overlooking Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, a Western gray squirrel runs across a path and jumps into a Douglas fir. This species of squirrel is almost extinct in Washington and it is considered declining in Oregon. The squirrel is one of two-dozen species likely to use the 152 acres placed in a conservation easement recently. The land, owned by Rick Smith, has similar habitat types as Baskett Slough and houses endangered species such as the Fender's blue butterfly and Kincaid's lupine. The refuge itself is home to one of the last five significant populations of Fender's blue butterfly. All