by Sharon Blick
The Eugene City Council will be voting April 10 on a proposal that will decide which rural land will next be covered with urban sprawl. This proposal is about the urban reserves.
The city is attempting to put rural land into the urban reserves that is more than two miles beyond the current urban growth boundary (UGB) at the southwest corner of the city. This land contains the last best stands of oak woodlands in our area, including trees that are hundreds of years old. Oak woodlands have already been 97 percent destroyed in the Willamette Valley.
The urban reserves proposal does not comply with Oregon’s Statewide Land Use Planning Goal 5 regarding wildlife habitat. Specifically, at least eight wildlife species that have been designated as Sensitive Species by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have been found in the area of the proposed urban reserves, and at least three of these breed there. Most of these species are associated with or dependent on oak woodland habitat, but neither the species nor their habitats have been inventoried as required for compliance with Goal 5.
In the early 1990s, when Eugene was growing west into another endangered ecosystem, the wet prairie wetland habitat, Eugene took a bold, innovative and comprehensive approach to wetland conservation and development with the West Eugene Wetland Plan. The City Council could uphold Eugene’s reputation for foresight and conservation by completing a detailed inventory of all the oak woodlands in the path of development and determining their value by type, size, connectivity, biodiversity, presence of rare species and land-use history.
Unlike wetlands, oak woodlands take a long time to grow and don’t produce acorns until they are at least 20 years old. If existing, mature oak woodlands are destroyed and new ones are planted elsewhere at the same time, acorn woodpeckers and other wildlife species that are dependent on oak woodlands cannot just wait around for decades while the new oak trees grow.
Actually, the city of Eugene did fund a multi-year study of oak woodlands and was a signatory partner in the resulting 30-year conservation plan published in March 2020. The Willamette Valley Oak and Prairie Cooperative Strategic Action Plan directly contradicts the Urban Reserves 27-year proposal by mapping a Core Conservation Area in what is also the biggest area for development in the urban reserves plan. The city can’t have it both ways. This oak conservation plan was never discussed on the urban reserves website, at any of the public meetings, or at the work sessions.
Oak woodland protection cannot be postponed until the city is actually trying to extend the UGB. At a recent work session, the councilors were told by staff that the urban reserves proposal already contains enough information about the land to bring it into the UGB quickly without doing any more inventory or analysis.
Those who supported the middle housing plan to increase density in order to protect nearby farms and natural areas should speak up now, because the Eugene City Council is trying to have it both ways: increased density and urban sprawl. Please contact the council before April 10 at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharon Blick has lived in the Eugene area for 37 years. She holds a masters degree in ecology and served as education coordinator for the Mount Pisgah Arboretum, founder of Nearby Nature and executive director for the School Garden Project. She was a leader in the initiative campaign which created the Whilamut Natural Area in East Alton Baker Park in 1992 and served on the Citizens Planning Committee to create the plan for this area. For the past 15 years, she has operated the Living Earth Farm just west of Eugene which includes valuable oak woodland habitat.