The fruits of our labors – Restoration progress at Herbert Farm & Natural Area

Herbert Farm and Natural Area, a few miles south of Corvallis, Oregon, is becoming known for its birds and wildflowers. The City of Corvallis (City) acquired the 221-acre property in 2002. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) holds a conservation easement through the Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program, which is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration. The Institute for Applied Ecology wrote a restoration plan in 2012, and since that time IAE, with the help of its funders, partners, contractors and volunteers, has been conducting on-the-ground habitat restoration.

In 2012, most of Herbert Farm was comprised of ryegrass fields, but these have been gradually phased out and after eight years of restoration the natural habitats are greatly expanded. See last year’s blog for the story of the first seven years of restoration.

Now that the west side of Herbert Farm is at the maintenance stage, with weed control being the main focus, most of the active restoration is occurring on 130 acres on the east side. Visitors can see all the different stages of restoration, ranging from fields that are in fallow to prepare them for seeding, to others that have recently been planted with diverse native species, to the now established native prairies and riparian areas on the west side of the property.

A fallow field at Herbert Farm and Natural Area, spring 2020.

Native forbs and grasses that were sown in 2018 and 2019 were flowering nicely in spring 2020.

Since 2014, we have planted over 71,000 trees, 43,000 plugs (small plant transplants), bulbs and divisions, and 2,500 pounds of seed, and all up, this includes nearly 100 native species! This massive contribution to the biodiversity of the site speaks for itself! Last year we sowed 470 pounds of native seed and planted 6,500 bare root plants in 43 acres of newly restored prairie and oak savanna, and 3,500 trees and shrubs in a riparian area adjacent to Muddy Creek.

Native forb seed being prepared in a mix for seeding.

Russ Macal from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sowing seed with a “no till” drill, October 2020.

IAE Ecological Education Coordinator Dionné Mejia planting Kincaid’s lupine, April 2020.

AmeriCorps NCCC Team Blue 4 planting camas bulbs, November 2020.

A camas bulb about to be planted.

The fruits of our labors are a pleasure to behold, especially in the spring. A great variety of flowering forbs can be seen, as well as swarms of busy pollinators and many birds taking advantage of the new variety and expanse of habitats.

Common monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus).

Dwarf checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. virgata) and shortspur seablush (Plectritis congesta).

Large camas (Camassia leichtlinii var. suksdorfii).

Large areas of woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) can be seen in the spring.

Roemer’s fescue (Festuca roemeri) grassland becoming established two years after sowing the seed.

Rare species are also doing well at Herbert Farm thanks to new introductions of seed and plants that were grown at the IAE farm and other partner nurseries. Previously, there were very few individuals of Kincaid’s lupine (Lupinus oreganus), Peacock larkspur (Delphinium pavonaceum) and Nelson’s checkermallow (Sidalcea nelsoniana) in a prairie remnant, but their populations are now much expanded. For example, there was 100 square meters of foliar cover of Kincaid’s lupine in 2020 compared with just 10 square meters in 2013. Seed of golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), once lost from Oregon, was sown in 2016 and 2017 and this year 567 plants of this threatened species were counted. These efforts are helping to push these rare species back from the brink of extinction.

Kincaid’s lupine (Lupinus oreganus) and golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) mixed together in their new and expanded populations at Herbert Farm and Natural Area.

Peacock larkspur (Delphinium pavonaceum) is also a rare plant species that is expanding in number.

Nelson’s checkermallow (Sidalcea nelsoniana) is now occupying larger areas of wet prairie.

The streaked horned lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) is another threatened species that is benefiting from restoration at Herbert Farm. A small number of larks have been attracted to fallow fields created during restoration and three nests were found in 2020. Being ground nesters, the eggs and chicks are extremely vulnerable to predation and disturbance, which is why visitors to the natural area are strongly and sincerely requested to walk their dogs on a lead.

We are hopeful that some of the lark chicks that survive their difficult first year of life will return to their home at Herbert Farm and grow into a self-sustaining population.

Three streaked horned lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) chicks in a nest, July 2020 (Photo: Bob Altman).

A streaked horned lark chick with a unique set of color bands (Photo: Bob Altman).

This year we will sow 43 acres with native seed for the second time and sow the final 49 acres of fallow field. Native seed will also be needed to sow a 4-acre prairie after a prescribed burn. That’s a lot of native seed! Fingers crossed that we don’t have any extreme winter floods, which can wash the seed away.

If all goes to plan, by 2023 most of the intensive work at Herbert Farm and Natural Area will be complete, native vegetation will dominate the landscape, and invasive species will be in check.

With a solid maintenance plan in place, we can all enjoy the fruits of these labors far into the future.  Come see it for yourselves this spring.

Restoration at Herbert Farm and Natural Area has truly been a group effort!

IAE is grateful for the support from its funders and partners, including the City of Corvallis, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Center for Natural Lands Management and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, as well as contractors and many volunteers who have contributed their time and effort over the years.

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