'For the dunes to exist, the sand needs to move'

Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative brings awareness to vanishing dunes

In 2014, the U.S. Forest Service created a strategy group tasked with developing an “Oregon Dunes Restoration Strategy.” In October 2016, the Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative (ODRC) formed to continue the group’s work. Now, ODRC has released a new book, “Restoring Oregon’s Dunes: The bid to save a national treasure.”

Developed as an image-heavy “coffee table” book, “Restoring Oregon’s Dunes” tells the story of the coastal dunes that run from Florence to Coos Bay, their history, why they’re disappearing and the partnership that has formed to try and save them from invasive species.

The foreign plants that threaten the dunes, such as European beach grass, were originally planted in the early 1900s to protect facilities like highways, jetties and towns from being overtaken by sand.

“The sand would blow over these and bury them,” ODRC representative Bill Blackwell said. “(The plants) were a good thing at the start, but they quickly became a problem.”

The problem was twofold.

First, the invasive species began overtaking native plants, like the short-lived perennial Pink Sand Verbena.

“Species like the Western Snowy Plover need open sand to nest in, but they’re losing to the European beach grass and Scotch broom,” Blackwell said.

Second, the plants themselves are altering the natural geological processes of the dunes.

“For the dunes to exist, the sand needs to move,” said Blackwell. “If you’re out there, you can see it will look different from one day to the next. With the vegetation stabilizing things, the sand can’t move, which stabilizes the dunes and simplifies processes.”

Because of this, dunes have been altered drastically from where they were before the invasive species were planted. Aerial photographs from the 1940s compared to today shows that much of the open sand has disappeared.

In 2014, the Siuslaw National Forest, which manages the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, convened a group of stakeholders — recreation and tourism groups, environmental groups, tribal representatives, elected officials, community members and federal, state and county agencies — to develop a strategy for tackling dunes restoration. It is there that the ODRC was conceived.

“One of the things the collaborative did was identify our priority areas for restoration and get rid of the invasives,” Blackwell said. “Obviously, next to Highway 101 would not be a priority area. We don’t want to cause the roadway to get buried. It’s more out in the open where we’ve done restoration work already, like the Oregon Dunes Overlook.”

The ODRC regularly has students from the Siuslaw School District cutting scotch broom at the overlook, as well as at Heceta Beach north of Florence.

The methods used to get rid of the plants has involved mostly hand treatments, including pulling the plants or cutting them down.

“There have also been some areas where the Forest Service has done mechanical treatment with bulldozers and excavators,” Blackwell said.

The Siuslaw National Forest is currently involved in environmental assessment to look at specific areas on the beaches, and how best to treat the area.

Blackwell and the ODRC hope that the book will help raise awareness for dune restoration.

“The Oregon dunes are a special place for many of us,” Dina Pavlis, ODRC member and author of “Secrets of the Dunes,” said. “If we do nothing, they will be lost forever. That’s why I’ve been a part of this effort. I’m hoping this book will help others see that all of us working together is how we can save the dunes.”

The book is available on request at the ODRC’s new website at SaveOregonDunes.org. There, the public can also see aerial photographs of the dunes from different decades to see the progression of the invasive species and the loss of open space.

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