Sheridan, Ore. — Private landowners in Yamhill and Polk counties are restoring native Oregon white oak habitat -- and bolstering habitat for the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly -- thanks to a new five-year conservation project funded by federal and local partners.

The $5.9 million project, called the North Willamette Valley Upland Oak Restoration Partnership, broke ground last year and will continue through 2019.

“Native white oak habitat is quickly disappearing in the Willamette Valley, with only one to five percent of historic oak stands remaining,” says Amie Loop-Frison, a habitat conservationist with the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). “This is highly valuable wildlife habitat; more than 200 species depend on it.”

With financial incentives from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and with science-based guidance from the Yamhill and Polk SWCDs, participating landowners such as Leo Krick of Sheridan are tackling threats to oak habitat on private lands using conservation techniques like mowing, prescribed burning and brush management.

“There used to be blackberries 12 to 14 feet high on some areas on the property, and unless something was done, they were going to choke out the oaks,” Krick said. “So my goal was to knock the brush back and open it up, so that the oaks get enough space to flourish and grow; and so they don’t have to compete so much for sunlight and nutrients.”

Krick is using a combination of mowing, burning, reseeding and grazing to achieve his objectives. He’s also planting Kincaid’s lupine—a federally-threatened plant species that provides essential host habitat for the Fender’s blue butterfly.

“I believe this work is making a small difference for wildlife in a stressed world,” Krick said. “It’s my small way of doing something to help the environment and to take good care of the land and the wildlife.”

Leo is one of 12 landowners currently participating in the program; however, NRCS plans to award funding to additional landowners in the upcoming years of the project.

“Oak restoration is typically very expensive work, with an average cost of $2,000 per acre,” Loop-Frison said. “So having the NRCS funding to help landowners offset the cost is incredibly helpful.”

The project is made possible through the NRCS’ Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a highly-competitive Farm Bill program that combines NRCS federal investments with contributions from partnering groups to achieve greater conservation results.

For this particular RCPP project, partners exceeded the NRCS investment by contributing $3.9 million, bringing the total investment to $5.9 million over five years.

The Yamhill SWCD and NRCS serve as the lead partners on the project. Additional partner groups include the Polk SWCD, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Trust for Public Lands, the Greater Yamhill Watershed Council, The Nature Conservancy, and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

To learn more about program eligibility and to apply, contact the USDA Service Centers in McMinnville (503-472-1474) or Dallas (503-837-3689).