To read about all the major projects happening within the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex, visit the website created specifically to educate everyone about them called Refuge 2020


Steigerwald Oaks Unit Addition

Our local Wildlife Refuges are a part of a mosaic of protected habitats throughout our region.  Just north of Steigerwald Lake lies 277 acres of protected oak woodland and oak savanna habitat managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) called the Washougal Oaks Natural Area.  According to DNR’s website, “This combined natural area preserve (NAP) and natural resources conservation area (NRCA) protects the largest remaining high quality Garry oak (Oregon white oak) woodland in western Washington, as well as rare plants, a stream corridor (Lawton Creek), and fish and wildlife habitat. The site is representative of the native oak woodlands that were once relatively common in the Puget Sound and Willamette Valley regions, but are now exceptionally rare.”


Over the past couple of years, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been acquiring small parcels of land that now total 88 acres (pink area on map below) of oak woodland and savanna habitat directly to the west of the Washougal Oaks (yellow area on map below). 

1

According to the Land Protection Plan and the Environmental Assessment for the property, this Oaks Unit addition to Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge will: 

  1. Contribute to the protection and overall health and function of the Oregon white oak forest/oak savanna habitats; 

  2. Create an opportunity to enhance and restore Oregon white oak forests and re-establish forest biodiversity and the successional stages that support long-term mature forest function;

  3. Protect and restore important migratory bird habitat, especially for species of concern such as the slender-billed white-breasted nuthatch, and for other wildlife, including the western gray squirrel;

  4. Protect and restore a healthy understory to support rare plant species such as the bolandra, tall bugbane, and small flowered trillium, and other native plant species; and

  5. Provide high-quality, wildlife-dependent public use, where appropriate.


At the end of 2020, Refuge management began conversations with neighboring landowners to hear about their thoughts, concerns, and opportunities at the site. A short time later, Service and Stewards’ staff walked the site and discussed two projects that neighbors brought up. The first was an infrastructure project completed this summer with the help of two of the neighbors (who are now volunteers!) and five of our experienced volunteers.  Previously, during the rainy season, the ditches that carried water from the Refuge to the neighbor’s settling pond frequently overflowed and flooded their property.  In order for the Refuge to mitigate this issue, volunteers removed a quarter mile of barbed wire fence and mowed around the ditches.  Once the site was prepared, maintenance staff from Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge spent a week at the site rerouting the ditches and installed two new culverts under the easement road to another neighbor's property.    


3

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Before fence removal.

4

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Volunteers wrapping up four rows of barbed wire fence.

5

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Truck bed full of t-posts and barbed wire leaving the site. 

6

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Fence removed, ditch mowed, ready for heavy equipment work.

7

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Ditch re-routed along the road to a new culvert under the road

. 8

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Ditch re-routed along the road to a new culvert under the road. 

9

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Project complete, old cattle grate and ditch removed.

10

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Second new culvert under easement road. .


The second project is the seemingly never ending battle with Himalayan Blackberry. Brush blade volunteers started to clear blackberry around the oaks and through large patches of blackberry so we can get a better view of any obstacles there may be within the vast expanses of blackberry within the oak savanna area. Once obstacles are identified, Refuge Staff will bring out heavy equipment to remove the blackberry further. This is the first step to identify the potential uses for the site which have yet to be determined.  As always, a huge thank you to the brush blade volunteers and our new volunteers who live next door to this beautiful site.


Franz Lake Overlook

As people took respite from the stresses of the pandemic at the many hikes in the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area this summer, many folks passed by and stopped at the Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge overlook off of State Route 14 near milepost 31.5. The refuge observation platform offers views of waterfowl and lush wetland landscapes amid a backdrop of the waterfalls and rugged canyon walls of the Columbia River Gorge. In keeping with the refuge's unique habitat attributes and wildlife value, public access to Franz Lake is limited to research and management needs. We want to thank our volunteers, Dave and Curt, for keeping the overlook clean and tidy! 


Nature Bags for local Food Bank 

On August 5th, volunteers distributed 42 “fish” bags to children at the Clark County Food Bank’s “Food Bank Fresh” food distribution at Mill Plain United Methodist Church in Vancouver.  Each child received a “healthy waters, healthy fish” bag to color, crayons or colored pencils, two new books at their reading level, Daycation nature guide and sticker, Columbia Springs pencil, nature notebook, and “Let’s Discover” brochure with nature activities the children can do with their families. On the first and third Wednesday of the month from June-September, children have been receiving a bag containing snacks, books, and a science activity.   These book bags help keep children engaged in reading over the summer and help reduce the summer reading slide. Many of our participants are English language learners and we had books available in both English and Spanish.   These books and activities are particularly important this year with disruptions to regular class activities.  Iit was wonderful to have a nature themed activity bag.  The fish bags were a big hit and the kids were excited to show them off. Thanks to the Gorge Refuge Stewards and other partners for supporting this opportunity to reach these children in our community.


2021 Purple Martin Banding Program

Over the past 5 years, volunteers for the Ridgefield NWR Complex (Complex) have banded an average of 300 Purple Martins (PUMA) from Ridgefield, Steigerwald Lake, and Pierce NWRs, with an increase in over 150 fledglings. After suffering a severe population crash in the 20th century due to human development and the spread of invasive European starlings, the effort began to see the populations restored.

Volunteer Cindy reading PUMA Bands

PUMA nest boxes were installed at Steigerwald Lake in the mid 1990’s and, alongside local partners including the Gorge Refuge Stewards, Vancouver Audubon Society, Deacon Construction Company, and Georgia-Pacific Paper Mill, the number of gourd arrays have increased and been updated over time.


PUMA Aging

Under the guidance of the Refuge Biologist, dedicated volunteers run the program and help to track success. Each year they clean and mount the gourds (112 across the Complex), conduct resight surveys for banded birds, monitor use of natural cavities, and band newly hatched birds to support the long-term goal to redevelop a self-sustainable wild-nesting population. In addition to supporting PUMAs at the Complex, the volunteer leads also manage PUMA gourds at the Port of Vancouver, a Columbia Land Trust property in Skamokawa, and in coordination with several private landowners near Skamokawa and Woodland.


Baby PUMA

The data collected each year is presented at the Western Purple Martin Working Group Annual Fall Meeting and banding data is submitted to the USGS Bird Banding Lab to ensure our data supports the broader national effort. The Refuge team and volunteers are encouraged by the increase in populations and are proud to track the numbers as they rise.


Volunteers Randy and Cindy Aging

To learn more about the program visit the Gorge Refuge Stewards Youtube channel to view a short video


Steigerwald Reconnection Project


This is the largest restoration project to take place at Steigerwald Lake NWR and even in the lower Columbia River. Headed by the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, and in collaboration with Refuge Staff and many other partners, this project will restore 965 acres of Columbia River floodplain habitat and restore year-round access to salmon and lamprey. To learn more, visit the Estuary Partnership's project page and follow the Refuge2020 Blog for in depth stories about different details of the project.


CLOSURE ALERT: The Steigerwald Lake NWR Trailhead and the interior trails are closed for construction. The Columbia Dike Trail is available from William Clark Park off Index Street in the Camas/Washougal Port Industrial Park. Click on the features on the map below to learn more about access and projects taking place this year.


.


The initial work on Gibbons Creek Alluvial Fan Restoration was completed in the Spring of 2020.  Contractors installed wood structures throughout the 55 acre alluvial fan area (See photo below) to increase fish habitat once Gibbons Creek is reconnected to Steigerwald Lake.  


Gibbons Creek Alluvial Fan Restoration Map



Arial Map


Western Pond Turtle Restoration at Pierce NWR


Gorge Refuge Stewards and Friends of Ridgefield NWR volunteers have been removing blackberries, creating habitat piles, constructing nesting sites, and planting native trees and shrubs at Pierce NWR to enhance the state endangered Western Pond Turtle wintering habitat. Funding for the project is from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.


 


54-40 Brewing Restoration Ale Series


We have partnered with our neighbors to the west, 54-40 Brewing, to help bring awareness of the Gorge Refuges and quench your thirst after hiking at Steigerwald Lake.  There will be a beer release at our annual meeting on April 16th at 6:30 to try the new beer of the series, Restoration Pale Ale.  The Camas-Washougal Post Record wrote a great article about the partnership which can be found here


Can


For directions to 54-40 Brewing and more information about the beer visit their Taproom page.


Family Nature Backpacks at Camas Public Library: View what backpacks are available here.


Urban Refuge Initiative

With 80% of the US population residing in urban areas, USFWS began an initiative to specifically address connecting our urban communities with their local Refuges.  The Portland Metro area is lucky to have 4 Refuges included in the Portland-Vancouver Urban Refuge Program: Ridgfield, Steigerwald Lake, Tualatin River, and Wapato Lake.   Learn more about the program here and follow them on Facebook


To read about all the major projects happening within the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex, visit the website created specifically to educate everyone about them called Refuge 2020


Steigerwald Oaks Unit Addition

Our local Wildlife Refuges are a part of a mosaic of protected habitats throughout our region.  Just north of Steigerwald Lake lies 277 acres of protected oak woodland and oak savanna habitat managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) called the Washougal Oaks Natural Area.  According to DNR’s website, “This combined natural area preserve (NAP) and natural resources conservation area (NRCA) protects the largest remaining high quality Garry oak (Oregon white oak) woodland in western Washington, as well as rare plants, a stream corridor (Lawton Creek), and fish and wildlife habitat. The site is representative of the native oak woodlands that were once relatively common in the Puget Sound and Willamette Valley regions, but are now exceptionally rare.”


Over the past couple of years, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been acquiring small parcels of land that now total 88 acres (pink area on map below) of oak woodland and savanna habitat directly to the west of the Washougal Oaks (yellow area on map below). 

1

According to the Land Protection Plan and the Environmental Assessment for the property, this Oaks Unit addition to Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge will: 

  1. Contribute to the protection and overall health and function of the Oregon white oak forest/oak savanna habitats; 

  2. Create an opportunity to enhance and restore Oregon white oak forests and re-establish forest biodiversity and the successional stages that support long-term mature forest function;

  3. Protect and restore important migratory bird habitat, especially for species of concern such as the slender-billed white-breasted nuthatch, and for other wildlife, including the western gray squirrel;

  4. Protect and restore a healthy understory to support rare plant species such as the bolandra, tall bugbane, and small flowered trillium, and other native plant species; and

  5. Provide high-quality, wildlife-dependent public use, where appropriate.


At the end of 2020, Refuge management began conversations with neighboring landowners to hear about their thoughts, concerns, and opportunities at the site. A short time later, Service and Stewards’ staff walked the site and discussed two projects that neighbors brought up. The first was an infrastructure project completed this summer with the help of two of the neighbors (who are now volunteers!) and five of our experienced volunteers.  Previously, during the rainy season, the ditches that carried water from the Refuge to the neighbor’s settling pond frequently overflowed and flooded their property.  In order for the Refuge to mitigate this issue, volunteers removed a quarter mile of barbed wire fence and mowed around the ditches.  Once the site was prepared, maintenance staff from Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge spent a week at the site rerouting the ditches and installed two new culverts under the easement road to another neighbor's property.    


3

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Before fence removal.

4

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Volunteers wrapping up four rows of barbed wire fence.

5

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Truck bed full of t-posts and barbed wire leaving the site. 

6

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Fence removed, ditch mowed, ready for heavy equipment work.

7

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Ditch re-routed along the road to a new culvert under the road

8

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Ditch re-routed along the road to a new culvert under the road. 

9

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Project complete, old cattle grate and ditch removed.

10

© Jared Strawderman, Gorge Refuge Stewards.  Second new culvert under easement road. .


The second project is the seemingly never ending battle with Himalayan Blackberry. Brush blade volunteers started to clear blackberry around the oaks and through large patches of blackberry so we can get a better view of any obstacles there may be within the vast expanses of blackberry within the oak savanna area. Once obstacles are identified, Refuge Staff will bring out heavy equipment to remove the blackberry further. This is the first step to identify the potential uses for the site which have yet to be determined.  As always, a huge thank you to the brush blade volunteers and our new volunteers who live next door to this beautiful site.


Franz Lake Overlook

As people took respite from the stresses of the pandemic at the many hikes in the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area this summer, many folks passed by and stopped at the Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge overlook off of State Route 14 near milepost 31.5. The refuge observation platform offers views of waterfowl and lush wetland landscapes amid a backdrop of the waterfalls and rugged canyon walls of the Columbia River Gorge. In keeping with the refuge's unique habitat attributes and wildlife value, public access to Franz Lake is limited to research and management needs. We want to thank our volunteers, Dave and Curt, for keeping the overlook clean and tidy! 


Nature Bags for local Food Bank 

On August 5th, volunteers distributed 42 “fish” bags to children at the Clark County Food Bank’s “Food Bank Fresh” food distribution at Mill Plain United Methodist Church in Vancouver.  Each child received a “healthy waters, healthy fish” bag to color, crayons or colored pencils, two new books at their reading level, Daycation nature guide and sticker, Columbia Springs pencil, nature notebook, and “Let’s Discover” brochure with nature activities the children can do with their families. On the first and third Wednesday of the month from June-September, children have been receiving a bag containing snacks, books, and a science activity.   These book bags help keep children engaged in reading over the summer and help reduce the summer reading slide. Many of our participants are English language learners and we had books available in both English and Spanish.   These books and activities are particularly important this year with disruptions to regular class activities.  Iit was wonderful to have a nature themed activity bag.  The fish bags were a big hit and the kids were excited to show them off. Thanks to the Gorge Refuge Stewards and other partners for supporting this opportunity to reach these children in our community.


2021 Purple Martin Banding Program

Over the past 5 years, volunteers for the Ridgefield NWR Complex (Complex) have banded an average of 300 Purple Martins (PUMA) from Ridgefield, Steigerwald Lake, and Pierce NWRs, with an increase in over 150 fledglings. After suffering a severe population crash in the 20th century due to human development and the spread of invasive European starlings, the effort began to see the populations restored.

Volunteer Cindy reading PUMA Bands

PUMA nest boxes were installed at Steigerwald Lake in the mid 1990’s and, alongside local partners including the Gorge Refuge Stewards, Vancouver Audubon Society, Deacon Construction Company, and Georgia-Pacific Paper Mill, the number of gourd arrays have increased and been updated over time.


PUMA Aging

Under the guidance of the Refuge Biologist, dedicated volunteers run the program and help to track success. Each year they clean and mount the gourds (112 across the Complex), conduct resight surveys for banded birds, monitor use of natural cavities, and band newly hatched birds to support the long-term goal to redevelop a self-sustainable wild-nesting population. In addition to supporting PUMAs at the Complex, the volunteer leads also manage PUMA gourds at the Port of Vancouver, a Columbia Land Trust property in Skamokawa, and in coordination with several private landowners near Skamokawa and Woodland.


Baby PUMA

The data collected each year is presented at the Western Purple Martin Working Group Annual Fall Meeting and banding data is submitted to the USGS Bird Banding Lab to ensure our data supports the broader national effort. The Refuge team and volunteers are encouraged by the increase in populations and are proud to track the numbers as they rise.


Volunteers Randy and Cindy Aging

To learn more about the program visit the Gorge Refuge Stewards Youtube channel to view a short video


Steigerwald Reconnection Project


This is the largest restoration project to take place at Steigerwald Lake NWR and even in the lower Columbia River. Headed by the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, and in collaboration with Refuge Staff and many other partners, this project will restore 965 acres of Columbia River floodplain habitat and restore year-round access to salmon and lamprey. To learn more, visit the Estuary Partnership's project page and follow the Refuge2020 Blog for in depth stories about different details of the project.


CLOSURE ALERT: The Steigerwald Lake NWR Trailhead and the interior trails are closed for construction. The Columbia Dike Trail is available from William Clark Park off Index Street in the Camas/Washougal Port Industrial Park. Click on the features on the map below to learn more about access and projects taking place this year.


.


The initial work on Gibbons Creek Alluvial Fan Restoration was completed in the Spring of 2020.  Contractors installed wood structures throughout the 55 acre alluvial fan area (See photo below) to increase fish habitat once Gibbons Creek is reconnected to Steigerwald Lake.  


Gibbons Creek Alluvial Fan Restoration Map



Arial Map


Western Pond Turtle Restoration at Pierce NWR


Gorge Refuge Stewards and Friends of Ridgefield NWR volunteers have been removing blackberries, creating habitat piles, constructing nesting sites, and planting native trees and shrubs at Pierce NWR to enhance the state endangered Western Pond Turtle wintering habitat. Funding for the project is from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.


 


54-40 Brewing Restoration Ale Series


We have partnered with our neighbors to the west, 54-40 Brewing, to help bring awareness of the Gorge Refuges and quench your thirst after hiking at Steigerwald Lake.  There will be a beer release at our annual meeting on April 16th at 6:30 to try the new beer of the series, Restoration Pale Ale.  The Camas-Washougal Post Record wrote a great article about the partnership which can be found here


Can


For directions to 54-40 Brewing and more information about the beer visit their Taproom page.


Family Nature Backpacks at Camas Public Library: View what backpacks are available here.


Urban Refuge Initiative

With 80% of the US population residing in urban areas, USFWS began an initiative to specifically address connecting our urban communities with their local Refuges.  The Portland Metro area is lucky to have 4 Refuges included in the Portland-Vancouver Urban Refuge Program: Ridgfield, Steigerwald Lake, Tualatin River, and Wapato Lake.   Learn more about the program here and follow them on Facebook