In early July, much of the vegetation was removed along the banks of Dixon Creek near Corvallis High School. According to a July 3 statement by the Corvallis School District, a a seasonal landscaping crew was employed to improve visibility and to “eliminate the risk of illegal camping and undesirable activity in the area that contributed to safety concerns on the school campus.” School safety should always come first, however the School District may have missed the mark during the planning phase of this project, as it wound up being disruptive to wildlife and may have deleterious effects on the overall health of the stream.
While the removal of the plant life near this stream may seem trivial, the vegetation is actually an important part of the ecosystem. Vegetation that is adjacent to a stream is referred to as the riparian zone. A healthy riparian zone consisting of native plants is beneficial to aquatic ecosystems in many ways. Riparian vegetation helps keep the river healthy by shading the water, which keeps water temperatures from getting too high and allows for more dissolved oxygen. Plant roots help hold sediment and soil in place, which reduces displacement of particulate matter into the stream during the rainy season. On land, the riparian vegetation will provide habitat for wildlife.
Community member Jen Pywell was out walking her dog recently when she noticed that the habitat had been significantly altered.
“I was immediately taken by the stark contrast, the complete disappearance of vegetation. No more ground cover, bushes and lots of trees were gone,” Pywell said. Additionally she noted there was distressed, orphaned wildlife in the area including ducklings, a fawn and a juvenile green heron. Green herons are common, but their populations are in steep decline due to habitat loss according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a leading authority on bird research.
According to the City of Corvallis Public Works department, the City Urban Forester and Development Services must be notified prior to removal of vegetation from a riparian area. The School District stated that it had gotten the go-ahead to remove the vegetation in its July 3rd statement. However, in a report released June 9th by city code compliance inspectors, “Vegetation removal [at Dixon Creek] is beyond that allowed under the Conditions of development for CDP02-0012, condition #7, and, as outlined in Land Development Code chapter 4.13 and 4.5, has occurred on the property without approval by Development Services or the City Urban Forester.”
To put it plainly, way more vegetation was removed than was supposed to be. The codes mentioned in the city code compliance inspector’s report state that vegetation removal is limited to invasive species, in-stream vegetation that may cause flooding, or hazardous trees. Invasive plants that are removed must be replaced with native plants that occur nearby.
After the inspector’s report there is now a plan in place to restore the creek, including replanting the riparian zone with native vegetation, erosion control measures, and a plan to monitor the site long-term. Patrick Rollens, the city’s Public Information Officer, said that “The School District has been very cooperative throughout this process and we are optimistic that the site can be remediated quickly and correctly.”
In an earlier statement, the School District mentioned that removal of this vegetation will hopefully serve as a teachable moment for staff, students and the community. The removal of an entire habitat during nesting season out of convenience was perhaps off mark and could have been planned better, but perhaps there is a silver lining to all this—the opportunities for students to learn about public affairs, environmental impact statements, habitat restoration, long-term ecological monitoring, urban forestry, and aquatic ecosystem health are ripe. If done right, this could give many future students applied, hands-on experience in natural resource management. Educating students and having them take ownership over their natural resources will aid in the development of the next generation of environmental stewards and professional resource managers.
By Erica Johnson