New Life for Old Oaks

Dorris Ranch Oregon white oaks

Dorris Ranch, the park known for its iconic filbert trees, is about to turn over a new leaf — this time in the wide expanse of the park’s native Oregon white oaks.

Willamalane Park and Recreation District, in concert with the Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council, has begun work to restore oak habitat on the 21 acres of Dorris Ranch that lie adjacent to the park’s well-known filbert orchards.

The two organizations started last summer by mowing grassy fields to control some of the invasive species that had taken root. Meadow knapweed and teasel had spread over large swathes of upland prairie within the park, crowding out native plants and the creatures that depend on them, such as the western meadowlark, the state bird of Oregon.

The work included “very selective” applications of herbicide, according to Sarah Dyrdahl, executive director of the Watershed Council.

“Clearing the upland prairie will help improve habitat for native flowers such as camas and checkermallow,” Dyrdahl said. “The work will also help keep encroaching shrubs and trees from shading out young oaks.”

This summer, attention will shift to the forested area adjacent to the orchards, where crews will remove many of the trees that have already moved in on the oaks. Fast-growing sweet cherry, English hawthorn and Douglas-fir have prevented the oaks from developing the characteristic wide, spreading canopy that makes them such good habitat for wildlife.

Hundreds of creatures call oak woodlands home — from western bluebirds that forage for insects among lichen, to western gray squirrels and deer that chomp on acorns. Nuthatches, acorn woodpeckers, northern pygmy-owls, bats and even reptiles nest in oak cavities.

The restoration work at Dorris Ranch is similar to projects in recent years at the Howard Buford Recreation Area and Mount Pisgah, which lie just across the river. The two-year, $250,000 project is funded by Willamalane and a $79,927 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, with technical assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Restoration of historic woodlands also ties in with the “living history” nature of Dorris Ranch, which preserves century-old filbert orchards alongside re-creations of a pioneer homestead and Native American plank house.

“We’re trying to make the landscape of Dorris Ranch representative of what it would have looked like historically,” said Fraser MacDonald, natural resources planner at Willamalane. “We’re going to be able to tell a more historically accurate story through this work.”

Join us for the Dorris Ranch Oak Science Pub and Tour