Willamette Valley Wetland Restoration
“The aesthetics are a huge part of it,” Willamette Valley farmer Mark Knaupp says, looking across an expanse of lush, verdant wetlands. He restored nearly 400 acres of marginal cropland to its naturally soggy condition in 1996. Today, this wildlife enthusiast is enjoying the benefits.
Touring the site, Knaupp points out rare plant and animal species. Nelson’s checker-mallow, a federally threatened species, is making a strong recovery on the site.
“We also have a significant population of yellow-headed blackbirds. They were [previously] unknown in the Willamette Valley,” he said.
Knaupp and his wife Debbie placed 320 acres of the land into a permanent easement through the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), a voluntary easement program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS. Working with the NRCS, the Knaupps obtained technical assistance to develop this flourishing wildlife habitat.
They also received financial assistance, which allowed him to find additional farm ground better suited to growing grass seed. In short, Knaupp was able to continue farming while devoting his marginal cropland to a use it was better suited for—wildlife.
“WRP provides the financial ability to do this. That’s a huge part of it, because money is a limiting factor,” Knaupp says.
The Vision for Restoration
Restoring wetlands—and achieving the ultimate goals of high quality habitat, improved water quality, and aesthetic benefits—can be a complicated affair. The expertise of NRCS conservation planners Ken Hale and Tom Finegan was a key factor in aligning the project with the Knaupps’ vision for their land.
“Our local NRCS planner Ken Hale would say, ‘we can make your vision a reality,’ which is basically what we did,” said Knaupp.
That vision was to turn the site into a wetland where he could duck hunt and bird watch, a site that could rival any reserve. Today, Knaupp has a place where he not only hunts, but also runs a hunting club, thanks to the quality and productivity of the site’s habitat. At the same time, Knaupp works hard to maintain the integrity of the habitat and the vigor of the duck population. To do this, he closely manages and regulates all activities on the site.
“The word is that it’s the best duck hunting and bird watching spot in the valley,” he says, “and we’re keeping it that way by restricting the amount of people and maintaining for quality.”
Many hunting clubs plant annual crops of corn and rice to attract ducks. Instead, this site was planted with only native plants, such as rush, water plantain, barnyard grass and smartweed to create a healthy habitat and stable food source for ducks and other water fowl. As for the ducks, Knaupp says that more nest at the site every year.
The hunting, however, is secondary to the value of maintaining the site for his family to enjoy.
“There’s opportunity for your kids to really relate to a natural site, wildlife, and the plant community that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Knaupp says.
Wetlands in the Willamette
When the project first began, there had not been many wetland restorations in the area. Some neighbors, Knaupp recalls, weren’t convinced that wetland restorations would be successful in the Willamette Valley. Once wetland plants and wildlife started coming back, however, people took notice.
“After a couple of years, when you could really see results,” he said, “people saw this as a really good area to be investing in [wetland] restorations.”
Since then, a number of Willamette Valley growers have approached the Knaupps to learn if WRP might be right for them too.
Knaupp sums it up this way: “I look at wetland restoration and the WRP program as a tool that individuals can look at. If it fits their economic situation, it can provide them greater stability. In addition, if you enjoy wildlife, there are huge aesthetic benefits.”
The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides leadership
in a partnership effort to help people