Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001

PORTLAND, Ore.

My day starts with a radio interview with Barbara Bernstein. She’s putting together a program for national alternative radio on urban waterways and their social and ecological significance to cities. She produced the award-winning program, “The Malling of America,” and I look forward to talking with her about urban streams and rivers. She has an informal, conversational style that makes an interview both fun and provocative. She lives only a block south of the bluff overlooking Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and tells me she saw one of the nesting pair of bald eagles fly over her house this morning.

Summer Creek, part of a 200-foot-wide riparian and wetland corridor in Beaverton.

Photo: Mike Houck.

Barbara has her own program at KBOO, our local alternative radio station, and runs her own nonprofit, creating radio programs on topics that interest her. Today, we discuss why urban greenspaces in general, and streams specifically, are important to urban dwellers. Most of the interview is spent discussing the listing of the Portland harbor as a federal Superfund, and what that might portend for reclamation plans for Ross Island; musing how to reconcile the industrial use of the river with the city’s recent pledge to clean it up, create more fish and wildlife habitat, and recover salmonids; and how the protection and restoration of streams like Balch,
Stephens, and Johnson Creek fit into both the city’s River Renaissance plans and our regional government’s (Metro’s) growth management strategies.

As I leave her house, I hear a northern flicker calling repeatedly from a nearby street tree. It’s a bright, warm spring day in Portland, and after talking with Barbara for over an hour about what we are going to do, I’m energized again and want to get on with actually doing it!

Next up is an interview with Rick Roth, a Portland State University grad student doing research on an article for Metroscape. Metroscape is a publication for the Institute for Portland Metropolitan Studies. Rick’s writing an article on Sauvie Island, a farming area and state wildlife refuge just 10 miles from downtown Portland. Its upstream tip is situated at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.

With the increased population growth in the region, tensions have grown over recreational use on the island. Some islanders view off-island visitors as a nuisance, at best. Rick is interested in exploring various perspectives on what makes Sauvie Island special to the region. Aside from its sheer size — almost 20 miles long — it’s the only location where you can take a truly relaxed bicycle ride on bucolic country roads through rich farmland while seeing flocks of 200 to 400 sandhill cranes, brilliant white skeins of tundra and trumpeter swans, and thousands of Canada geese, snow geese, and other waterfowl, all with the silhouettes of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens in the background. The island has the largest stand of Oregon white (Garry) oak (Quercus garryana) anywhere in the metropolitan region, a great place to go for white-breasted nuthatches, or just a pleasant stroll through the oak woodland.

Greenspaces like Elk Rock Island offer important green relief to the city.

Photo: Mike Houck.

In other words, Sauvie Island is, in fact, unique in the region. I suggest that one key to ensuring the island does not get overused as the region continues to grow is to have a comprehensive system of greenspaces and trails spread equitably throughout the region, so that people will have plenty of places to view nature near their homes. My hunch is that if people only went to Sauvie Island for experiences unique to the island and had access to other recreational and wildlife viewing opportunities, we might be able to take some of the pressure off our treasured landscapes like Sauvie Island and Forest Park.

I spend a brief time this afternoon discussing with my partner, Ron Carley, a grant application we have to submit by Thursday. Most funding for the Urban Naturalist program comes from national and local foundations. As with other nonprofits, that means we are in a continuous cycle of writing reports and seeking new funds for the program. This time, he’s writing the grant and I am simply supplying a report of our progress over the past eight months.

One of Portland’s biggest challenges is reducing combined sewer overflows.

Photo: Mike Houck.

Next up: Our conservation director, Sybil Ackerman, and I brief a candidate for state representative. Sybil focuses on the Tillamook Forest and changing the Forest Practices Act to protect spotted owls and marbled murrelets, both old-growth dependent species. I discuss the Willamette River and the city’s combined sewer overflows.

The day ends with a glass of wine with Bob Wilson and Martha Gannett, two key collaborators on Wild in the City: A Guide to Portland’s Natural Areas. We’re all giddy at the reception our book has received.