As I’ve mentioned before, restoring and preserving natural habitat at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge requires a long-term perspective. I’ve come to love the agricultural setting of the refuge. It’s made up mostly of small farms growing a variety of things. The landscape consists of planted fields rolling over gentle hills framed by Douglas Firs, breaking the land into a pleasing matrix. It’s a great contrast with the vast fields of the San Joaquin Valley where I grew up that stretch on as far as the eye can see. Farming in the Willamette Valley is more intimate, personal, and, I think, beautiful.
So I’ve started to take an interest in what’s happening with land use around here. The refuge was actually welcomed by the community of Sherwood on which it borders. About 20 years ago the town saw the residential expansion of Portland to the northeast cascading down the hills toward them. They supported the refuge, in part, as a buffer to keep their community from being swallowed in standard suburban sprawl.
But the impulse to sprawl continues. As an article today from The Oregonian’s website indicates (Shaping the roads of South Cooper Mountain), the long-standing conflict between development and preservation is active again. Development was stalled by the recession starting in 2008, but with the economy rebounding the chain saws and bulldozers have stated up again. The article details developments just a few miles north of the refuge designed to expand the infrastructure of roads and utilities for residential growth. It references the current traffic dilemma now along Scholls Ferry and Roy Rogers Rds. I know the problem well because to get to the refuge I use both roads and have experienced the traffic congestion. The prospect of converting more forest and farmland into housing is unsettling.
Just yesterday at the naturalist training I talked with some longer-tenured volunteers about the feasibility of opening up more of the refuge property along the Tualatin River to the public to increase public access while lessening the impact the current heavily utilized portion (100,000 locals in 2013). But that discussion has to happen with an awareness of land development just a few miles away. If the refuge is to continue to host hundreds of thousands of birds on their annual migrations, we need to speak up for them. Decision makers with other agendas need to take into account the needs of the entire region.