Flora and Fauna of the Willamette Valley

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Personal Blurb: Jessica Thompson

I am a sophomore in the Environmental Studies program with special interest in Pacific Northwest environment and culture. I jumped at the chance of being involved in a project centering around local oral histories, as it is these stories that are of great importance in creating an organic sense of place. I am also new to Eugene, and was interested in becoming more acquainted with it through this project. I enjoy drawing, playing piano and traveling. Being part of a team that is doing this kind of work is both a thrill and an honor.


Flora and Fauna of the Willamette Valley

The Willamette Basin is home to a wide variety of ecosystems. Four of them can be found right around Eugene: open water, riparian bottomland forest, wet prairie, and oak savanna.

Open water, when one thinks about it, is a living and thriving

ecosystem. The Willamette River’s channels, ponds and lakes are home to 61 species of fish, half of which are exotic or have been

introduced. Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), Steelhead

(Oncorhynchus mykiss), Cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki) and Bulltrout (Salvelinus conluentus) are all native salmon to the area, and are in decline due to overfishing, pollution and damming. These fish are an integral part of the river’s ecology, as well as an important part of the Northwest way of life.

Alongside the Willamette basin’s rivers, streams, ponds and lakes, one can find Riparian bottomland forest. It is characterized primarily by Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) and Black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera). It used to be that riparian forests extended for 5 miles out of their respective water sources; however, today, they may only extend a few hundred feet. Species of trees, such as black cottonwood, are declining – and with that, much of the forests’ vital canopy cover. It serves as critical habitat for over 200 species of vertebrates, many of which are birds like Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) and bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).


Wet prairie or “wetland” is a partially aquatic environment

dominated primarily by grasses and wildflowers, such as camas lily

(Camassia quamash), and Willamette daisy (Erigeron decumbem). These are seasonal wetlands and remain saturated through winter and early spring, drying in the summer. Species that call this ecosystem home are amphibians, such as Spotted frog (Rana pretiosa), reptiles, such as Western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata) and birds like the Great blue heron (Ardea herodias). On top of being a critical habitat area for these and many other species of wildlife, the wet prairie ecosystem acts as a water filter and is quite important in flood control. (http://willametteexplorer.info/issues/habitats/prairie.php)

Oak savanna and upland prairie can be found on hillsides above the Willamette River, and is distinguished by groves of Oregon white oak (Quercus garryanna), grasses and flowers. There is only 1 percent of the original oak savanna remaining, primarily due to early settlers arriving and eliminating fire from the ecosystem. Over the years, this has caused woody vegetation, such as Douglas Fir, to overcrowd the sensitive oak. This important ecosystem is home to over 250 wildlife species, including the acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) and the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly (Icaricia icarioides fenderi).

These ecosystems have been challenged greatly over the past 150 years due to agricultural and industrial development. What is left today is quite valuable to those living in the Willamette valley, and many work to protect and preserve its biodiversity.

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