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Reclaiming meadows for wildlife

GOLD BEACH — Wildlife biologists and an army of chainsaw-wielding volunteers are in the early stages of an ambitious effort to reclaim for wildlife portions of 334 acres of former forest meadows that are losing their long-term battles with encroaching fir trees.

Lack of wildfire and commercial forest thinning have allowed Douglas firs and other conifers to overtake the edges of a series of Coast Range meadows in Curry County that are home to Roosevelt elk, black-tailed deer and forest birds such as grouse and quail.

Under an agreement with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is being joined by volunteers in cutting back these encroaching conifers to restore some of the fragmented habitats, said Bree Furfey, an ODFW wildlife biologist in Gold Beach.

Meadows in the Coast Range are wildlife magnets, providing key grasslands for foraging and mud wallows for elk and other big-game animals that otherwise live in the dense coastal forests.

“These meadows need to be restored,” Furfey said. “We have lots of meadows here in Curry County that over time the forest has encroached on. We want to keep those meadows open.”

Volunteers in February launched the project by reclaiming about 4 acres of a complex of five meadows called the Potato Patch north of the Rogue River near portions of the Lower Rogue River Trail about 17 miles east of Gold Beach.

Those meadows originally covered about 52 acres but had lost about 20 acres of open ground to encroaching trees and brush, Furfey said.

“It all used to be one big meadow, but because of the encroachment they’ve been broken up.”

Volunteers will be back cutting trees and brush and stacking slash Saturday at the Potato Patch complex. They include members of the Curry Citizens for Public Land Access who are chainsaw-certified by the Forest Service, Furfey said. Others will use loppers and weed-whackers, she said.

Under the Forest Service agreement, crews can cut and pile or remove all meadow trees 14 inches in diameter or smaller as well as encroaching brush, Furfey said.

The work mimics regular burning that Native Americans did to keep meadows open. More recently, the meadows were cleared in forest commercial thinning operations, but no such operations have been in that area for more than a decade, Furfey said.

The brush will be piled along the meadow fringes for grouse and quail nesting habitat, Furfey said. There are currently no plans to burn it, she said.

In all, ODFW and the Forest Service have identified 344 acres of meadow habitat in the Gold Beach and Chetco ranger districts for such treatment.

“It would be great to keep this going,” Furfey said. “There are lots of different meadows. Ideally, we’d like to do it once a month.”

Furfey said she would like to put the meadows on a five-year rotation for maintenance work to keep the encroachment from returning.

The work is being done under a $70,000 Forest Service grant authorized in April 2017.

Volunteers will meet about 9 a.m. Saturday in the parking lot across from the Lobster Creek Bridge over the Rogue off Jerry’s Flat Road about 20 minutes east of Gold Beach.

For more details and information on volunteering, call Furfey at 541-247-7605 or email her at brehan.c.furfey@state.or.us.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.