Forest meadow recovering from use as illegal mud bog

July 06, 2001 12:00 am
LUSH AGAIN: A meadow that a year ago was marked by ruts from vehicles is showing signs of recovery.		 (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).
LUSH AGAIN: A meadow that a year ago was marked by ruts from vehicles is showing signs of recovery. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Anyone who doubts the natural power of healing has only to visit a wet meadow near La Grande to have those doubts put to rest.

The meadow above a creek became a mud bog a little more than a year ago, when unscrupulous four-wheel drivers cut doughnuts deep into the ground, tearing up vegetation and scarring the earth.

But it takes more than a group of vandals to destroy the natural world completely, and with the coming of spring, nature began the healing process. Last week, a visitors view of the damage from the road was blocked by abundant grasses and flowers.

The ruts are still there, but with time, they will gradually fill with vegetation and sediment from runoff.

Although the U.S. Forest Service has not yet arrested the vandals, it has protected the area with a fence built last year by Mitch McKinney of La Grande for his Eagle project.

Even a simple fence will keep people out, said District Ranger Kurt Wiedenmann on a recent trip to the meadow.

Were seeing a fair amount of regrowth, he said about the recovery. We want to see vegetation move in. We dont want to see erosion.

Forest Service botanist Joann Harris Rode said shes pleased with the meadows recovery, although she noticed that the deeper ruts continue to hold water. Some undesirable plants, including Scotch thistle, have invaded.

Thistle is fairly easy to eradicate by hand weeding, Rode said.

Theres so much vegetation surrounding the ruts, I dont think the thistle will prevail, she said.

The meadow is lush with native grasses, California oat grass, yarrow, buttercups, sedges and clover.

One rare clover, Douglas clover, has thrived since the fence went up. Last summer, Rode found only about a dozen of the small pink flowering plants in the wet areas. When she returned to the meadow earlier this spring, she counted about 540 plants throughout the meadow.

Meadows absorb snow runoff water, slowing its passage into creeks and streams. Historically, trees that would encroach on this open area have been kept away by low-intensity fires.

Like several other meadows in the Wallowa-Whitman Forest, this one is experiencing some encroachment of trees. Wiedenmann said there probably has been no fire in the area in 40 or 50 years.

This meadow needs a prescribed burn, he said.

No date has been scheduled, but a prescription fire may be scheduled within the next few years.

Meanwhile, the grasses and flowers will thrive and healing will

continue.