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Quilting with Overlook Bluff

An urban patch of white oak habitat needs stitching

July 23 2014

This spring, I followed a pair of red-tailed hawks, courting in the updrafts, and found their nesting site perched in a narrow ribbon of oak habitat between the noise of industry and traffic.

Early on, the incubating female discouraged my loitering with sharp calls to her mate in a nearby tree. Both would take flight and hover menacingly if I was too close. In late spring, just before the trees leafed out, the mother spent more time on the edge of her nest than within it. I finally spotted a fluff of white, and the calls turned around that of a hungry little voice. Just before the nest emptied, I accounted for a healthy family of three as the youngest strengthened its wings in practice flights.

Certain things choose us more than we choose them. That is how it has worked with Friends of Overlook Bluff, stewards of this fringe of oak and madrone trees that hems the east side of the Willamette as the river’s north reach winds toward its confluence with the Columbia. This route is a gift for walkers, bikers and runners who call North Portland home. It is the only potential sliver of continuous woodlands on the east side left to reclaim, and its ecological significance is irreplaceable. 

Historically, white oak savannahs provided hunting and camping grounds along the river. Settlers found these paths useful as trade routes. Trade made way to travel, and the path widened into its familiar incarnation: Interstate-5. Riparian corridors like these are vital to the food chain of over 200 birds and animals. As a migratory route, oak savannahs have traditionally run from Canada to California.

The corridor of urban wilderness to which Overlook Bluff belongs mesmerizes year-round. The deep blue greens of oak leaves in summer, the gray brown gnarl of their trunks and branches in winter. Blown and drenched free of leaves in the fall, rust-color madrone bark reveals itself amidst the oaks. In early spring mornings the darkness lifts, the rains hold off, and nature wakes up.

We wake up more each year to the significance of our surroundings, and how we might care for it. There is much to steward; Friends of Overlook Bluff inherited a legacy to protect. A Heritage Oregon white oak tree believed to be 150 years old stands alone on an open meadow overlooking the train yards, river, downtown and Forest Park. 

The Friends implement hand-managed oak meadowscaping, native plantings, invasive species removal, and work to raise community awareness of local ecology with speaking events and native plant sales. With our selection for a 2014 Metro Nature in Neighborhoods capital land grant, we are focusing on fundraising and building partnerships to acquire the property before it is sold for development.*

For now, if you’re afoot at Overlook Bluff, you must navigate fragmented trails that run sometimes within the woodlands, and sometimes along the steep pitch of bluffs above the railroad tracks. Paths do exist: parallel to Willamette Boulevard behind the Adidas campus; down Waud Bluff Trail (the nicely engineered pedestrian entry/exit to Swan Island); below University of Portland; and in Baltimore Woods, which begins just beyond the St. Johns bridge. The goal is to make them continuous. The 40-Mile Loop is slated to stitch adjacent to the fabric of this oak and madrone corridor and may also recognize Overlook's pedestrian potential. 

From the hawk's perspective, the connection from St. Johns in deep North Portland to Overlook just north of the Fremont Bridge is apparent. Now, the pieces of this quilt are also being assembled on the ground in North Portland -- neighborhood by neighborhood, mile by mile, loop by loop. To volunteer or find out more about us, please visit www.overlookbluff.org.

* Coalitions of community involvement are a must if cities are to be able to continue to acquire open spaces, and to that end we are working with organizations including Metro, the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, Portland Parks & RecreationSOLVe, Portland Audubon, the Backyard Habitat Certification Program, Northwest Youth Corps, the Xerces Society, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, Friends of Baltimore Woods, the Trust for Public Land, and the Columbia Land Trust.

Ruth Oclander founded Friends of Overlook Bluff with her neighbors in 2012. She is an acupuncturist and yoga teacher by trade, and enjoys running trails in Forest Park and traveling to far off countries with her husband and young children. Her mother, an Olmsted, can take credit for dragging Ruth into the woods for hikes when she was growing up and letting the grass be overtaken by trees in a backyard that sloped to meet the state forest.

Battle over Bull Run

Drowned out by Measure 26-156 hype: the green programs Portland voters could lose

May 14 2014

On May 20th, Portland voters decide the fate of the City’s Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES).

Will we transfer control of these agencies — and the $15 billion in public assets that they manage — to the future board members of a new, independent water district?

Or will we say “no” to Measure 26-156, as eleven Intertwine Alliance partners urge you to do?

For months, local media have rained down coverage on the Measure: profiling its backers, which include the city’s major water users; asking if the proposed public district would cause water bills to rise or fall; examining the initiative’s language, which could exclude parts of east Portland from voting in the new district’s board, and also prohibit many qualified experts from serving.

But less covered in the pre-election hubbub are moves the Measure's backers have made against city environmental programs — programs voters could lose if oversight of Portland’s Water Bureau and BES is wrested from City Hall.

We asked a few of our partners which Water Bureau/BES program they’d champion. Here’s what they had to say:

What valuable —​ and possibly threatened —​ City of Portland program should voters keep in mind when deciding on Measure 26-156?

“Innovative community greening efforts championed by BES — such as tree planting, rain gardens, green space preservation, and the removal of under-utilized pavement — safeguard clean water, help revitalize neighborhoods, and protect public investment in our storm drain network.”  - Eric Rosewall, Depave
“BES's Urban Tree Canopy Program has planted (with Friends of Trees, Verde and other partners) tens of thousands of street trees in the past six years.  These street trees are an important part of green infrastructure that are threatened by Measure 26-156.” - Brighton West, Friends of Trees
“BES’s Tabor to the River Program cleans stormwater before it enters the Willamette, soaks up carbon pollution, and beautifies our city, while saving taxpayers $63 million.” - Jenna Garmon, Northwest Biocarbon Initiative
“The City’s tree planting programs provide countless benefits for our community and environment. They provide clean air, help reduce stormwater runoff, create habitat for wildlife, add economic value to property owners and provide green jobs for locals.”  - Micah Meskel, Portland Audubon
“The Water Bureau's habitat restoration programs in the Sandy River and Bull Run -- which are key to a multi-partner recovery effort for endangered wild salmon and steelhead -- and the BES Grey to Green sustainable stormwater initiatives, which deliver so many benefits, including reducing Willamette runoff and saving ratepayer money.”  - Steve Wise, Sandy River Watershed Basin Council

Through storytelling outlets like Outside Voice and the 2013 Our Common Ground Report, Writer & Editor Ramona DeNies uses her words to raise awareness of The Alliance’s 100+ partners and their work to build and enhance The Intertwine Alliance. A freelance journalist and former nonprofit Executive Director, Ramona has called Oregon home since 2001.

Fighting fire with fire

How to sell sustainability without selling out

April 23 2014

Passion. That’s one thing those of us active in the world of conservation don’t lack. Beyond logic and civic-mindedness, we FEEL the importance of our work.

So why, for many of us, is it still such a struggle to tell our stories in compelling ways? To be heard in an oversaturated information marketplace?

It can be done -- my team and I here at Frank Creative have been doing this for years. Last spring, The Intertwine Alliance hired us to develop a unique campaign intended to meet this challenge.

On Friday, I shared the campaign with webinar attendees from across the nation. Now you can see for yourself how we broke down the challenge, examined our options, and arrived at "Our Common Ground" -- a promotional campaign designed to sell sustainability without selling out.

In our hour-long webinar, we explain how organizations like The Intertwine Alliance can join forces for greater Collective Impact, and do it in a way that can go toe to toe with the best brands in the market. We call it fighting fire with fire.

Click here to watch the webinar, and scroll down to see how we answered some burning questions from participants who tuned in from across the nation.


What is the timeline for these various campaigns?

Funding levels dictate, but the next 12 to 16 months is what we're shooting for. Right now it looks like our Daycation app will be the first piece that we'll release, followed by the social media campaign. And then hopefully within 18 months, we can build to what I'd call the tipping point, to get those animated spots out to the wide audience this campaign deserves.

How will you measure the success of the campaign?

Awareness and education are our first true two outcomes we're looking at. The Intertwine is starting at a pretty low awareness level, so we can use polling to get to those, with our partners’ assistance.

We also have the opportunity for rich insights based on our Daycation app, by tracking subjective data (like interactions between users) as well as hard metrics like the number of downloads, photos uploaded, trips completed, etc.

But the longer term goal for all our partners is true behavior change. We're trying to raise the collective understanding of all these issues to a new normal.

Right now, we gear up for every election cycle, spend money to get people to pay attention for six months and move a ballot issue six to seven points. And then we go away.

However, if we can brand more consistently, talk about these issues in between the election cycles, we can create understanding so that when the election comes, we only have to move the needle two or three points. Which costs a lot less money and a lot less energy.

So ultimately, as a success measurement, that would be it: are we able to talk to the public through the ballot box and get the support we need?

What does a campaign like this cost, and how do you fund it?

Each of one of these campaign strategies has their own cost to implement. For the KEEN project, they've already donated the shoes and we've done most of the art work up front to provide that to our partners, so that's a pretty low cost campaign.

For the app, we budgeted about $150,000. Much of that goes to into the programming and development, but there are also some promotional dollars in there to get the word out -- teaming with TriMet to create some critical mass for the adoption.

The animated spots obviously are bigger. We're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars to get those up and running and delivered. But then they have a shelf life. We're going to our corporate and municipal partners to create matching programs.

It really is this notion of collectively leveraging our small resources. Right now we’re throwing tiny pebbles out there and no one’s noticing us. We need to come together and throw a bigger boulder.

Can you talk more about ways to reach diverse audiences and underserved communities?

What I’ve presented here is the overall campaign template. We have our basic compass points, but those have nuances to them. So now we must start to identify which audiences we specifically want to reach, then go in and work with community groups, talk to people in the community. We’ll look at those issues that resonate, and have our spokes-species talk pointedly to those specific issues.

This is a diversity-driven campaign. It’s able to reach diverse audiences based upon many different motivations, many different psychographics, versus demographics. Understanding demographically who we're talking to and what those audiences prioritize is still important, but I think this concept allows us to deploy various messages under one umbrella campaign, and not have to reinvent the wheel every time we have to shift language or group.

Have you used focus groups or other methods to ensure that your spokes-species resonate with a diverse audience?

We have not, but certainly could with the budget to do so. We have vetted the animals with many of our partners. They were not selected in a vacuum. We had input from many groups. A good example is some Native groups we talked with felt that we should avoid animals like eagles, animals with greater iconic or religious status. And we respected that wish. Our four spokes-species are just the beginning. I would hope to create a whole family of animals because we've left a lot off the table.

David Karstad -- founder and creative director of Frank Creative -- was a writer for Adidas at age 23, agency creative director at 27, and a dotcom victim at 30. His experience includes working with brands such as Polartec, Friends of Trees, Vans, Portland Farmers Market, Clean Energy Works Oregon, and Dr. Martens.

Unlocking Willamette Falls

Off-limits for 150 years, our largest waterfall will soon be just steps away

April 16 2014

For the past year, I’ve been the project manager for the Walker Macy consultant team on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. This has easily been the most rewarding project of my career.

Why is this project so meaningful to me, my team, and our many incredibly committed public partners? Because of what it represents for our region and state: for the first time in 150 years, Oregonians will have the opportunity to rediscover the cultural and scenic treasure that is Willamette Falls.

We believe the project site, the 22-acre former Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City, could someday serve as an economic engine, a waterfront destination, a unique habitat, a window into Oregon’s past – and a bold step into our future.

Located right next to Willamette Falls (the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest), this site was an important cultural and gathering place for Native American tribes long before it was a paper mill. The Oregon Trail literally ended here, with migrants collecting their land claims within sight of the roaring falls. And throughout the 1800s, the Falls made history by generating energy for Oregon’s early industries and cities and fueling the nation’s first long-distance electrical power transmission, including the power that lit the 1903 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition.

The former mill is for sale, but the site’s complexity and risks have required a careful and methodical transition to new uses. With the help of our consulting team, Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, the State of Oregon, and the property’s bankruptcy trustee, we have been working closely over the past year to develop a vision and master plan for the site.

By rezoning and providing certainty for investors, the master plan framework defines how the area can be transformed – for economic redevelopment, healthy habitats, and historical and cultural interpretation. Throughout this year-long process, we have also taken great care to make sure the plan serves to reconnect all of you with Willamette Falls – first and most importantly, by providing for public access along the waterfront.

The Riverwalk we've proposed in the master plan would be a catalyst for economic development in Oregon City, and also enhance the site's development value by demonstrating the public’s commitment to improvements. It would attract visitors and generate momentum for continued implementation of the master plan.

And last but not least, the Riverwalk would also be an important link in The Intertwine, connecting downtown Oregon City via a rail-trail with Metro’s Canemah Bluffs Natural Area, which is also undergoing ecological restoration and public access improvements. The project's partners recently agreed to seek sources of funding to design the Riverwalk – so visible change will soon be coming to this place.

You can help shape that change, by joining our next public open house for the Vision and Master Plan on April 21st. Oregon City staff will be there to discuss the proposed plan, answer questions, and hear public feedback. This is a casual opportunity to see what’s new with the project and learn about next steps. If you are unable to attend, please visit the project’s website, where you can find a great deal of project information, and sign up for public tours.

Through my work over the past year, I've been privileged to spend countless hours exploring the waterfront by Willamette Falls, a place that's been accessible to very few people over the past century and a half.

But soon, you, like me, will have the opportunity to rediscover Willamette Falls. Believe me — it’s unforgettable.

Ken Pirie is a senior associate with Walker Macy Landscape Architects in Portland, and the coauthor of the book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places. Originally from Quebec, via Scotland, Ken works on urban design and master planning projects, teaches graduate classes in planning at Portland State University, and is a member of the Terrain.org editorial board.

What would Bill do?

Honoring Bill Naito's legacy this Arbor Month

April 9 2014

Bill Naito

Consider the local leader who founded the City of Portland’s Urban Forestry Commission.

The leader who was a big part of many of Portland’s most iconic features, from the Portland Streetcar to Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden.

The same guy who thought the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Waterfront Park would be even more powerful, if framed by great swaths of beautiful Akebono Cherry trees.

Then ask yourself: This April -- Arbor Month -- what would Bill Naito do, given the chance?

The more one learns about Bill Naito, who passed in 1996, the more one understands the meaning of community. That’s why every spring since 1995, Portland’s Urban Forestry Commission has chosen one or more recipients for the Bill Naito Community Trees Award.

Bill's son Bob presents the 2012 Awards

The first honorees were Friends of Trees founder Richard Seidman, and Portland General Electric, the company that helped fund the original Seed the Future Campaign. Later recipients include Phyllis Reynolds, the author of Trees of Greater Portland, and an English as a Second Language class from David Douglas High School who planted nearly 1,000 trees in their community.

Throughout his life, Bill Naito championed projects and movements that helped Portland reinvent itself for the benefit of people from many different walks of life. Just a few examples: planting 10,000 street trees; launching the Japanese American Historical Plaza, Saturday Market, and Artquake in the 1980s and early ‘90s; helping to keep alive the White Stag sign; developing the McCormick Apartments that extended the livable city boundary to the north; and leading the preservation of Union Station.

Akebonos in bloom

It’s a legacy that has changed the face of Portland’s urban core, not least because Bill placed trees at the core of community building.

On April 26th, the Urban Forestry Commission will recognize our 2014 Bill Naito Community Trees Awardees. Each embodies one of two aspects that made Bill so effective: big picture thinking (e.g., that if we care for trees, then trees will take care of us); and the steady dedication, seed by seed, that’s required to restore a forest.

Congratulations to:

  • The 936 Portlanders -- led by arborist, Damon Schrosk who had the big idea, and hosted by Hoyt Arboretum Curator Martin Nicolson -- who this past July set the Arboretum's Guinness world record Tree Hug; and

  • A few of Hoyt's world record tree huggers

    Phil Hamilton, an extraordinary individual who has dedicated over 21,000 hours of service to documenting and restoring the forest of Tryon Creek State Natural Area. Almost any Saturday, you can find Phil at Tryon and work shoulder-to-shoulder with him to restore this remarkable state park within the boundaries of two cities.

Why not join us for the celebration? It’s what Bill would do.


Catherine Mushel, an Arbor Month volunteer with the City of Portland, has served on the City’s Urban Forestry Commission since 2011. Her fascination with urban trees began with lightning -- literally -- and has threaded through her work teaching English, remodeling houses, and designing gardens. “Go outside” is her first advice for anyone trying to understand the concept of urban forestry.

Summit Redux

In your words -- takeaways from twenty 2014 Spring Summit attendees

March 26 2014

Last Wednesday, March 19, well over 300 people packed the Oregon Zoo ballroom for The Intertwine's 2014 Spring Summit. We thought this record-setting attendance made for great energy as we introduced Collective Impact, a new guiding framework for our coalition.

But we're even more interested in your reaction. Here's how twenty Summit attendees answered this question:

What stood out the most for you today?

It’s the momentum. I remember an early meeting we had in Vancouver, sitting on the ground. Now we have 327 people and a formal agenda. It’s great to see this growth.” - Rocky Houston, Oregon Parks and Recreation

“Equity -- I’d never made the connection between what The Intertwine does and those who are underrepresented. I guess being from rural Clark County that doesn’t come up so much, but it was in every single session today. I thought that was really cool.” - Casey Gozart, Clark County Environmental Services

“What stood out for me was basically the elevator speech for the Collective Impact model. I see it as the pitch for what The Intertwine does and why it matters.” - Dick Schouten, Washington County Commissioner

“For me it was the emphasis on Collective Impact and the deliberate mingling of folks who generally see the world with one lens. You can’t develop a common vision until you have a common language.” - Beth Kaye, Oregon Public Health Authority

“I’m glad the conversation on equity is happening. We need to do better at that.” - Corrina Chase, Tryon Creek Watershed Council

“I was staggered by the quality and immense experience of the breakout group I was a part of. I’d like to do longer breakouts, or follow-on sessions.” - Rich Hunter, Clean Water Services

“That the public might not know the difference between a watershed and wetlands, for example. As we identify ourselves as a common group, a common language will make it easier for people to understand what we’re  asking for.” - Bryan Burch, Portland Parks and Recreation

“I’m really excited to see the beginnings of a collaborative marketplace here today -- the idea that we can’t work competitively, in silos.” - Maria Cahill, Green Girl Land Development Solutions

“One of the challenges The Intertwine faces is understanding how to improve the quality of services through equity. We’re not going to get the answer tomorrow, but hopefully these kinds of gatherings can help move things forward.” - P.K. Melethil, Zero Waste Alliance

“What I noted was the participation by so many community-based organizations, from trail advocates, to folks trying to expand GPS for underserved communities, to those focused on children.” - Dick Springer, West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District

“What stands out about this group is the wide variety of folk. It will take many different people to figure out how to message fish and wildlife values to the broader public. ” - Meg Kenagy, Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

“I came in late and was looking all around for a seat. That’s cool, but it could also be a challenge for The Intertwine -- how many partners can share a common goal or belief?” - John Jackson, NW Regional Education Service District’s Outdoor School

“When I looked around at the different breakout groups, I saw how they could all be a fit for me.” - Kari Schlosshauer, Safe Routes to School

“I really appreciated the breakout session dialogue. It’s a good reminder of big picture thinking.” - Lisa Goorjian, City of Hillsboro

“What was interesting, at least in my breakout group, was the level of awareness that exposure to nature at an early age is an important tool for environmental stewardship. We all have stories of those seminal experiences, like a camping trip or Outdoor School, that create that bond.” - David Karstad, Frank Creative

“For me it was the comments shared after the breakout session -- how excited people were in subjects outside their interest area. I suspect there would have been a lot more comments but people get shy about standing up.” - Matthew Crampton, Walker Macy

“I was one of the table facilitators, and one person brought up the need for one voice on what are ecosystem services and why should we care. We don’t have coordinated messaging on important issues like this.” - Lori Hennings, Metro

“I love that the organization is growing. I was at the very first meeting and we’ve more than tripled. I also reconnected with someone who’s retiring soon -- we had an ‘aha moment’ about how we both know exactly why we’re doing this work at this point in our lives.” - Roberta Schwarz, Neighbors for a Livable West Linn

“What stood out for me is that Collective Impact is something we’ve been doing but weren’t aware of it. This takes the conversation to a level that’s more intentional. Maybe the formal study of it will give us tools to be more effective.” - Jim Desmond, Metro



Through storytelling outlets like Outside Voice and the 2013 Our Common Ground Report, Writer & Editor Ramona DeNies uses her words to raise awareness of The Alliance’s 100+ partners and their work to build and enhance The Intertwine Alliance. A freelance journalist and former nonprofit Executive Director, Ramona has called Oregon home since 2001.

Grass is greener

Two questions from the Bay Area Open Space Council

March 12 2014

This winter, San Francisco Bay Area is experiencing a severe drought. Here at the Bay Area Open Space Council, we’re thinking about connections between land and water. And today, for our friends in Portland, I offer this post about green grass, reasons your grass is greener, and what we all need to keep it green.

Grass is green

The Portland and San Francisco Bay Areas are both really lucky. We have science-based biodiversity visions for our respective regions: your Regional Conservation Strategy and our Conservation Lands Network. Both regions have an ethic that values urban parks, trails and working ranches and farms.

Grass is greener

But keeping nature in our cities and sustaining watershed function takes commitment by elected officials and planners. And this is one area where Portland is ahead: you have a strong regional entity that also leads on transportation planning.

While we are lucky to have California's Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, we have much work to do to integrate land use, housing, transportation and conservation to meet greenhouse gas targets.

Your unique directly-elected regional government, Metro, implements regional policies. We envy that Metro has a Planning and Conservation function. And I'm inspired by The Intertwine’s work to calculate the benefits derived from natural areas and to challenge civic leaders to lead this agenda.

Keeping it green

Here in the Bay Area, we’re working on two big questions aimed at making land stewardship as sexy as acquisition, and as ubiquitous as pavement.

The first is a movement we are embarking on within our community: How do we encourage people of all kinds to engage in meaningful ways with our efforts to protect and steward land?

The Bay Area land conservation community has done great work – protecting 1.3 million acres in 10 counties. And now, that land needs to be managed and stewarded. There are streams to restore, school groups to involve, histories to understand, and relationships to build. From rare habitats to day-lit urban creeks, active and adaptive stewardship is critical and increasingly will be the focus of land conservation efforts in the Bay Area.

The second question is about listening: How do we create a land conservation culture that is welcoming, interactive and participatory?

This isn’t a one-way street where we need to convince others of the value of protected lands. It is an exchange of information and resources that flows in both ways.

On May 8th, we'll be looking at habits and transitional approaches with a close eye to what we can do differently to get results. We’ll report back here on what we are learning and we hope to keep learning from you, our neighbors.


Jenn Fox is the Executive Director of the Bay Area Open Space Council, a coalition of land trusts and public agencies executing a conservation vision for the San Francisco Bay Area. We work regionally to protect the land, connect people to land, and convene efforts to steward parks, trails, and agricultural lands. Like the Intertwine Alliance, we’re a member of the Metropolitan Greenspaces Alliance.

Silt vs. Soil

Protecting The Intertwine from the evils of erosion

March 5 2014

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

Franklin Roosevelt wrote those words in a letter to all State Governors in support of the act that created Soil & Water Conservation Districts. That was in 1937 and the nation had just passed a series of laws in response to the devastation caused by the Dust Bowl.

Eighty years later, our understanding of the strength and fragility of native soils is greater than ever. Yet erosion will always be a concern -- even here in The Intertwine.

We know that soil erosion occurs when soil particles detach and move around, usually caused by water, wind, gravity and even ice. And we know that erosion can be devastating, both to the natural landscape and to our homes -- compromising foundations, clogging drains, and dislodging whole gardens.

Lastly, we know that our native soil is precious. It takes about 200 years to form one inch of soil!

But you might be wondering, why is erosion a concern here in the fertile Willamette Valley -- sheltered from Gorge winds, hundreds of miles from from drought-stricken California and half a continent from the locus of the Dust Bowl?

One word: silt.

In Portland, the most erosive areas are in the West Hills. Most of the soil there was formed during the Ice Age following events known as the Missoula Floods, which would have covered Portland is as much as 400 feet of water carrying soil and rocks from distant parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana. After the flood water receded, it left mostly sand and silt, which was then carried by wind up into the West Hills.

Silt causes two main problems.

First, silt is the most erosive type of soil, its fine particles easily carried by wind and unlikely to bond chemically, as do small clay particles. This windblown matter, called loess, dominates the soil of the West Hills.

Second, silt can bury preexisting soil, forming a layer that engineers call a slip plane. Rain and irrigation water seeps through the newer soil, but stops at the slip plane, blocked by less permeable older soil.

With enough water and not enough support (from cover, roots, or other erosion control measures) a slope can fail. These types of landslides have occurred for thousands of years. More recently and close to home, we've seen the media pictures of homes sliding into each other in the West Hills.

So, how do we combat loess and the slip plane factor?

One of the best ways to stabilize both slope and soil is to plant grass, shrubs and trees. Here are just a few reasons why vegetation is a soil savior's best friend:

  • Root systems, and the fibrous mycorrhiza fungus that attach to them, literally hold the soil in place.
  • Roots can also create holes, known as pores, which allow water to seep into the ground, rather than pond on the surface and wash soil away.
  • Plants pull the water they need from the ground, they help prevent soil in steep areas from getting too saturated and heavy.
  • Plant roots also pump organic matter, formed from the breakdown and composting of living material, deep into the soil -- forming a "glue" that holds soil together. This organic matter contributes to a virtuous cycle, holding water deep within the soil  (more efficiently than mulch, compost and other amendments, I might add) and providing nutrients for crops, trees and ornamentals in your garden.

So now that you know erosion could be just a rainstorm away, take a look around your home. Does your native soil need more cover? We're here to help.

Contact West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District for more information on soil, erosion, or other conservation practices. Or check out WMSWCD's Soil School -- an April 5th course intended for gardeners and beginning small farmers. Held at Lewis & Clark College, you’ll learn what’s in your soil, how to test and analyze your own soil sample, and determine the best way to amend your soil for your growing needs. 


Since 2008, Scott Gall has served as a Rural Conservationist with the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. Previously, Scott was District Manager and Watershed Technical Specialist with the Columbia County Soil and Water Conservation District. Scott holds a BS in Natural Resources and an MS in Soil Science from Oregon State University. Scott's family keeps him busy, but when he gets a chance, he enjoys kayaking the Columbia River.

What would you do with five minutes on TV?

February 12 2014

If you had five minutes a month on television, what topics would you talk about? For the last seven years I’ve asked myself that question over and over. Here are some of my answers – as seen on KATU’s morning magazine show, AM Northwest.

1) Think before you sprink

When the sun’s high in the sky, and it’s time to drag out the garden hose to do a little watering, or maybe just cool off under the sprinkler…pause. A recent study by HealthyStuff.org found several toxic chemicals in common garden hoses.

Should you be concerned? Bottom line: a little concern is warranted, but no need to immediately trash your hose and rush to the store for a greener alternative. Get the full scoop or see the study findings here.

2) Willamette Valley gardeners – this booklet’s for you

Native plants are growing in popularity thanks to their beauty, adaptability and value to wildlife. And thanks also to the many public agencies and organizations promoting them – 23 banded together last year to create a new edition of the Native plants for Willamette Valley yards booklet, with more than 140 plants, color photos, growing requirements and maps.

Ask Metro at 503-234-3000 for your free copy now, view it online, or watch this video to learn more.

3) Beware common household chemicals

A 2013 statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine warns against the harmful effects of pesticides and other common chemicals on children and pregnant women.

With a young family of my own, children’s health is top of mind for me. Fortunately there are plenty of ways we can help protect our families and ourselves from both pests and pesticides, indoors and out.

Click here for the video tips, or check out the medical groups’ statement.

4) You can protect your pets – and wildlife – while you garden

It’s great to share your yard with your furry friends. But how do you protect your pets from pesticides and poisonous plants – and how do you protect your plants and your local songbirds from your pets?

It’s all about nontoxic pest control, picking the right plants (including lots of natives) and of course making a catio -- otherwise known as a cattery. See the clip here.

Got ideas for me to consider for future AM Northwest topics? (Ones that relate to reducing pesticides and other toxic chemicals in homes?). Please let me know by emailing me. Otherwise, check out our online library of video clips and other  resources, or give us a call at 503-234-3000.

Carl Grimm is Metro’s natural gardening expert.

Intertwine without borders

Clark County: part of the natural habitat of the Intertwine human

February 19 2014

Oregon and Washington – when it comes to things like bridges, taxes, political agendas and just plain attitude, the river between us can seem insurmountable.

Some see it that way, perhaps. For others, the Columbia River is what makes us one interconnected habitat: the heart, the spine, the natural seam of The Intertwine.

We never questioned, as The Intertwine Alliance took shape, that our concept should find its geographic center along the Columbia. After all, habitat knows no borders. Animal migration and native plant dispersal aren’t curtailed by the complexities of hometown territoriality. Nor do pollutants, invasive species, and development politely observe the boundaries of governing jurisdictions.

And so we set out to launch a bi-state coalition that likewise transcended political lines on a map.

Three years later, we admit our “enlightened” approach has hit some snags, mostly of the human kind: traffic-related reluctance to cross the river, either direction, for Intertwine events, and a parallel lack of cross-state communication and cohesion.

Yes, we were beginning to feel that the human population of The Intertwine moved at the speed of a western painted turtle when it came to embracing a bi-state identity. So we decided to start building a stronger case for getting people to think less about I-5 and more about our five watersheds.

This past November, we held a listening session at the Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, inviting our Washington-side partners -- Columbia Land Trust, the Parks Foundation of Clark County, Vancouver Parks and Recreation, and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, just to name a few -- to share with us their needs and goals. We expected 20 people, but over 40 enthusiastic stakeholders showed up, making the conversation deep, rich, and relevant.

From this first meeting, we learned that our Washington partners want more unity among the many Clark County organizations focused on recreation and the environment; more support from their elected officials; and more connection with similar activities and programs across the river in Portland.

Participants like Vancouver Watersheds Alliance Executive Director Sunrise O’Mahoney shared that prior to this listening session, she often felt she’d been watching The Intertwine Alliance from the outside.

“The choices we make in Vancouver and Portland impact the entire region environmentally,” said O’Mahoney. “The more collaboration in improving the place we all live, the better.”

Now, we’re planning to expand the conversation in a larger gathering.

In late spring 2014, we hope to convene 150 Vancouver and Clark County leaders in the environmental and recreation sectors, with the goal of catalyzing the county-wide collaboration our partners seek.

But we hope this event also serves to remind Intertwine partners south of the Columbia that Vancouver and Clark County are our habitat’s other half -- and that regardless of what side of the river we live on, our actions, by nature, flow together.

If you'd like to get involved, let us know. And we’ll see all of you downriver.


David Cohen, The Intertwine Alliance's Program Manager, has close to 30 years of non-profit management and program development experience. For the four years prior to joining our team, he served as the Executive Director of the Friends of Tryon Creek, one of this region’s leading providers of innovative environmental programs focusing on children.


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