EDITORIAL: In Our View, April 13: Preserve the Prairie
Hope for a rare — and nearly extinct — snippet of nature's abundance from yesteryear clings to life in the state Senate and House budgets for the 2009-11 biennium. It is a $3.5 million appropriation for the state Department of Natural Resources that would enable it to buy 654 acres of Lacamas Prairie.
As the planet becomes more crowded, this kind of effort must continue. Protection of plants, animals and their habitat must accelerate, or civilization will be the loser. The wetlands prairie north of Camas nourishes Bradshaw's Lomatium, a plant with a yellow flower described as "globally critically imperiled and federally listed endangered plant species." Other rare plants are here, as well as one rare animal species. The rare plant and its proximity to learning centers makes a strong case for funding.
State officials find the location ideal as an outdoor classroom "for studying conservation of rare species and habitat restoration." That's what Kathie Durbin reported in the April 4 Columbian.
Bradshaw's Lomatium and other rare plants exist in this type of terrain known as the Willamette Valley wet prairie ecosystem. The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition (WWRP) stated in a 2006 report: "This … prairie represents the only example of its size and quality in Washington … it also contains habitat for five state sensitive plant species and one rare animal species, the slender-billed White Breasted Nuthatch."
The prairies once were located on more than 1 million acres along the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Now there are some 20 sites remaining on 2,000 acres. The meadows and white oak forest stands were lost in the 1900s to farming and land development.
The DNR budget seeks $235,000 for restoration of the oak forests. Lacamas Creek, bordered by scarce Oregon white oaks and firs, waters the prairie, flowing across it and into Lacamas Lake.
The wetlands likely saved the prairie from extinction. "It's totally surrounded by streets and subdivisions and roads," said Craig Calhoon, a DNR real estate specialist. "But it's poorly drained."
Camas Meadows Golf Course is southeast of this square mile of natural area, and Green Mountain Golf Course is to the northeast.
DNR has designated the prairie a natural preserve. That puts it under the Washington Natural Heritage Program. Since 1997, volunteers for the Nature Conservancy have controlled blackberries and Canada thistle. The Wildlife and Recreation Coalition credits the Columbia Land Trust, Washington Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Clark County as partners in protecting the wet prairie and oak woodland.
In other encouraging environmental news, on the Washington side of the Columbia River estuary, the federal government proposes to spend $40.5 million in the next nine years to aid salmon and steelhead runs. Clark County areas affected are the confluence of the North and East Forks of the Lewis River; a floodplain on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge; lower Washougal Delta and acquisition of a floodplain forest along the lower Lewis River near Mud Lake. Washington endorses the plan, which does not include the Oregon side of the river.
In the 21st century, more attention is focused on natural areas — such as Lacamas Prairie and the Columbia River — and their protection, preservation and enhancement. We can't afford to do otherwise.