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Reflections on the Blue Heron Wetland

Save the Phoenix Wetland is a volunteer group of local citizens who recognize the value of the unique wetlands and waterways at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix and hope to see them restored and maintained in partnership with community stakeholders, the city of Phoenix, and Oregon’s environmental agencies. Here are commentaries from two members:

Haila Williams, Phoenix resident

I had walked by the small wetland at Blue Heron Park many times on my way to the Community Gardens or the Bear Creek Trail, but barely noticed it. But then a friend invited me to a meeting of Save The Phoenix Wetland. They were concerned that the land immediately adjacent to the wetland at Blue Heron Park was going to be sold as an RV park, thereby putting the fate of the wetland in question. I volunteered to do an information board for a community presentation at the library.

The speakers at this event were Ryan Battleson from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Eugene Wier of The Freshwater Trust. Their excellent slide show and lecture opened my eyes to the importance of the wetland at Blue Heron. What I had thought was just an isolated pool of water was, in fact, connected underground to a large system of streams, rivers and wetlands throughout the Rogue Valley that supports the salmon and steelhead, birds and other wildlife, and plants. Yet another benefit of this system of waterways is that it helps deter the spread of fire.

After the presentation, I googled “wetland parks near me” and saw how many forward-thinking towns in Oregon and Washington had developed beautiful areas for serene walks with educational plaques that might show others the connectedness I had recently come to appreciate. Now when I walk past the wetland, I notice not only what is there, but what it could be if maintained with setbacks. I feel the connection to the old willow, twisted and blackened by the Almeda Fire, but still standing, offering nesting space and refuge for birds yet to be born.

Scott English, principal, Northwest Biological Consulting

I recently joined this community group that is speaking out to raise awareness, educate and protect a series of unique and unknown wetland and waterways located above Blue Heron Park and connected to Bear Creek. The Almeda fire destroyed many residences and businesses in Phoenix, including the Bear Creek Greenway, with its many wetland and riparian areas. Phoenix is rebuilding, and my focus is to identify, restore and protect these important wetlands and waterways, these unsung heroes that provide critical elements for fish, wildlife, water quality and people.

In 2018, I completed a study of two wetlands in Phoenix. I was fascinated by the spring seeps that created these wetlands. These springs originate in groundwater and flow underground over soil and rock layers where they magically surface in wetlands that border Bear Creek in Phoenix and other places. These spring-fed wetlands flow into Bear Creek as small, unnamed waterways that provide a year-round source of essential cold water.

This source of water provides critical refuge for juvenile salmon and steelhead that rely on cold water to survive the sometimes-lethal hot temperatures in Bear Creek. The combination of wetlands and unnamed waterways also provides high flow refuge and cover for salmonids during flood events. Wetlands also function as a critical ecosystem link to water quality by filtering out pollutants. Wetlands also provide habitat for birds, mammals, and other wildlife, and provide wonderful urban open spaces.

I was sad to discover that these unnamed waterways/ wetlands often have no protection from development. Cities like Phoenix have ordinances that provide protective riparian setbacks for class 1 and class 2 named streams with documented fish presence. However, unnamed tributaries/wetlands do not have that protection in Phoenix.

Without a riparian setback ordinance in place, the proposed RV park is free to locate as close to the wetland as possible, which is exactly what is happening. The property/fence line is almost on top of the spring that feeds the Blue Heron wetland. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is working with Phoenix and other cities to locate and identify those unnamed waterways and develop strategies for their protection.

We encourage community members to work with ODFW and other environmental agencies and get involved with their local governments and citizen groups to support efforts to protect these special and vital waterways and wetlands.

For more information visit our Facebook page.

Haila Williams and Scott English are members of Save the Phoenix Wetland. The group’s email adress is phoenixoregon@gmail.com.