Gahr Farm Nature Reserve
The 350-acre farm is in a small valley surrounded by low hills with mixed forests and grasslands. There are 150 acres in forestland, the remainder is in meadows, wetlands, and riparian areas. Two forks of Muddy Creek pass through the bottomland. Rock mounds in the fields are ancient landmarks caused by undersea volcanoes prior to the continental uplift millions of years ago. In the valley rocks can be found from the upper Columbia which were transported here during the demise of the last ice age about ten thousand years ago. A massive lake in Montana created by ice dams collapsed sending torrents of water and debris laden icebergs down Columbia River. This clogged the channel below Portland and created a large lake that covered the Willamette Valley to Eugene.
In April the beautiful blue Camas flowers shoot up among the rocks and along the protected riparian fringes. These are fugitives from the plow and reminders of the past cultures. Native Americans propagated the Camas bulbs for food. Much of the region was regularly burned to reduce competition to encourage the spread of this favored food plant. As recorded by early explorers, the blooming Camas dominated many valley bottomlands appearing as lakes of blue water. The fire regime spread to the ridge tops effecting the ecology of the whole region. The surrounding hills were grasslands with widely spaced Oregon White Oak, which survived the flames. Many of the flowers and plants on the endangered list today thrived with burning and declined after settlement when the fire management was stopped. Without fire, the hills sprouted with Oak seedling which grew into a dense stands of pole type trees among remnant old Oaks. A few Douglas and white fir were dispersed through the stand provided a seed source for a future new generation of conifer trees. The early settlers plowed up the valley lands and hand dug a tile drainage system to carry water from the hills under their cultivated fields. Later a meandering small stream crossing the cropland was channelized to accept a network of new machine dug tiles for a more efficient drainage system.
Until 1982 the forest remained unmanaged except for planting Douglas Fir seedling among the Oaks and periodic small harvests of firewood and saw logs. A contract logger suggested we do some thinning as the dense shade from the thick stand of Oaks was suppressing the young Fir trees. Narrow access roads were constructed through much of the 130 acres of forestland. On the first 60 acres most all of the Oaks and Maple were removed. After some years our management goals changed and on the remaining acreage we are spacing the Oaks for shelter wood and habitat trees. Today the forest is highly diversified. Many species of deciduous trees intermingle with the evergreens and understory native plants. Through the spring the forest is continuously changing with budding leaves and blooms. In February the show begins with the flowering Indian Plum, then the Maples, Cherries, and Dogwoods follow in an ever-changing scene.
Our wildlife projects began in 1993 when we started constructing dikes to create wetlands in the lower fields. There are now 115 acres in the US Department of Agriculture "Wetland Reserve Program" with more than 60 acres of wetland ponds that provide habitat for wintering waterfowl. This project was initially motivated by an appreciation of wildlife and later for sediment collection as it became apparent that substantial sediments were accumulating in the quiet waters of the ponds. Also, we have constructed many upland shallow ponds that are well utilized by amphibians and other wildlife. Deer and elk are often seen grazing the bottom land. Many songbirds, as well as thousands of ducks and shore birds visit the farm on their annual migration. The Farm is now managed as a nature reserve