White Oaks Restoration Project Underway in Scenic Gorge

October 23, 2011

by Martha Martin

DNR helicopter preparing to transport trees to Lawton Creek. ----Photo submitted by DNR

You may have noticed the sound of a large helicopter that was flying in the West end of the Scenic Gorge area about two Sundays ago.  It wasn’t the Army helicopters that fly up the Gorge, but the Department of Natural Resources working on a very important project.

This project is Phase Two of a grant funded DNR project, which involves the restoration of important fish and wildlife habitat in the Washougal Oaks Natural Area.  This area contains the largest high-quality native oak woodland remaining in western Washington State, and is an ecosystem of major conservation concern.

DNR helicopter with load of debris. --Photo submitted by DNR

The helicopter was flying over a 15 acre horse pasture that is currently being restored to native oak habitat. Oregon White oaks and other native plants are being planted to restore the oak forest and reduce habitat fragmentation.  Large “woody debris” and Douglas fir trees that have been thinned were being placed in Lawton and Walton Creeks using the helicopter as part of the projects improvement of fish habitat.  This part of the project eventually calls for construction of an off channel pond, additionally for improvement of fish habitat.

DNR helicopter. ----photo submitted by DNR

The helicopter worked all day, making several trips back and forth, as it picked up logs and debris, and then deposited them in the creeks.  The purpose of this placement is to replace what historically had been in these creeks before a past mining operation and past timber harvest practices in Lawton creek dramatically altered the natural hydrology of Lawton Creek and greatly reduced large woody debris that is important for healthy salmon habitat.

Logger preparing to top Fir Tree. --Photo submitted by DNR

Oak woodland ecosystems in western Washington have declined dramatically, and have been significantly degraded by land conversion, fire suppression, conifer invasion, grazing, and invasion of non-native plants, the biggest being the Himalayan blackberry.  This plant is being safely removed from this area by the DNR.

Logger "girding" Fir Tree. ----Photo submitted by DNR


Carlo Abbruzzese, Natural Areas Manager for DNR added “We still need to do more weed control and we need to create the off channel pond along Lawton creek.  We may still do some more girdling of fir and potentially some thinning of oaks.”

So, the next time you hear the helicopter, you’ll know that the Department of Natural Resources is actively working to restore fish and wildlife habitat in the White Oaks Natural Area.