Oak Savanna is one of the most important eco-systems in the valleys of the Pacific Northwest; however, less than 1% of the savannas that the first pioneers witnessed upon entering the Willamette Valley are protected in parks, designated wilderness, or special management areas. As a result, it is essential for private land owners to protect and restore this critical habitat. At Iris Vineyards, we are fortunate to have the legacy of this unique and much needed habitat in several areas across our 850 acre estate. We have endeavored to restore white oak savanna in areas where feasible, with much success; however, our work is not yet complete. Richard Boyles, co-owner of Iris, explains:
In 1992, Pamela and I acquired a mixed use grazing and timber property. We bought the property for the vineyard potential of parts of the property, but many acres of the property are better suited to forestry or grazing. Virtually all of the merchantable Douglas fir had been harvested from the property in the months before our purchase. Some large oaks had also been harvested for firewood, but remnant stands of older oak remained, often with the faster growing fir growing up through the branches of the venerable oak. It was simply too much work for the production logger to extract the fir from the oak stands. Felling the oak would have slowed production.
Not long after we bought the property we adopted a policy that no standing oak would be cut on the property. This included no mowing of young trees in pastures and open areas. Over the years, I have felled and sometimes girdled fir to release oak for better growing conditions, but my time with the chain saw is far too limited and my skills often unequal to the challenging task of felling fir in oak stands and leaving the oak unscarred. Today, the unique value of oak savanna habitat is increasingly recognized and caring people have banded together to protect and encourage restoration of this habitat.
In support of these efforts, Iris is undertaking three initiatives: 1) our own oak savanna restoration project, engaging professionals to do what we could not in our “spare” time; 2) contributing 5% of sales from our 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir to a local non-profit that works to restore oak savanna; and, 3) blogging about Oak savanna to increase awareness and support for preservation and restoration efforts. We invite you to support Oak savanna habitat work directly through contributions to like-minded organizations or indirectly, through the Iris.
Over the next several weeks and months, we will look at the history of Oak savanna and its importance to the eco-system of the Pacific Northwest, including the legacy of the Kalapuya Tribes and the rapid disappearance of this landscape post-settlement. Next, we will chronical a restoration project that has just begun at Iris Vineyards and connect this project to others that have been undertaken in the Willamette Valley. Finally, we will highlight a local non-profit agency and review the work they have done throughout our region to restore this essential habit. We look forward to sharing this story with you and would encourage any feedback you have be submitted through our Facebook page, via Twitter, directly to our blog via the comments section below, or you can share photos you may have of Oak Savanna restoration to our Instagram account. Cheers!