Posted by: kdeversblog | January 26, 2016

Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge in January

The Columbia Land Trust gathered twenty of us together on a bus and we traveled East on Highway 14 along the Washington side of the Columbia River. January 23rd was a chilly and wet Saturday, but we were ready for our adventure.  Everyone was prepared for the winter weather with waterproof jackets and hoods, water bottles, hats, scarves, hiking boots, binoculars, cameras, and even a few umbrellas.

Our trip leader was Sarah Richards, Development and Communications Assistant at the Columbia Trust. We were joined by Wilson Cady, retired from the Camas Mill and a walking encyclopedia of information about wildlife in general and birds in particular. Steven Clark, a biology professor at Clark College and his wife, Cherie Kearney, the Columbia Land Trust’s Forest Conservation Director were also with us. The three of them shared stories about the history of the refuge and restoration plans. They also pointed out birds and explained their behaviors and habitat needs.

This is what makes the Columbia Land Trust tours so valuable to those of us who attend; the trips are much more than just visiting fun places. We learn about the places and the critters who depend on them. As our understanding grows, we realize the impact of our human activities and our responsibilities to protect these places and the wildlife.

We stopped at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. steigerwald_lake_NWR_sign_08-02-09

Steigerwald Map

As we walked along the path, we learned that the open land at the refuge used to be underwater as wetlands and provided a rich habitat for all sorts of wildlife. Even the delicate fungus Tremella mesenterica, commonly called “witches butter” finds refuge on a tree branch.

Currently the land is dry, and in this condition it has been overtaken by Reed Canary grass that is extremely aggressive and spreads by rhizomes underground. It doesn’t have seed pods and provides no food for wildlife. Cat tails are about the only plant that can survive in the same area with this grass. Cat tails emit an herbicide that kills plants that try to get near it. In this open field of Reed Canary Grass there were “island” pockets of cat tails claiming their own territory as well as a small stand of Himalayan Blackberries. The line of Cottonwood trees has survived through both wet and dry conditions because they are located on a raised sandbar.

Mt Hood Steigerwald Lake Natl Wildlife Refuge 14 (1 of 1)

From the perspective of a naturalist, this refuge is an ecological desert. But there is hope, plans have been proposed to flood the area and recreate a wetland habitat. The water is the only way to kill the grass and allow native plants to become established once again. This is a perfect way station for birds and would provide welcome sanctuary for winter waterfowl and Eagles. The Audubon Society has an informative link with photos so you can see the birds and the terrain.

We saw hundreds of crisis-crossing trenches made by voles that are the highways they traverse from one den to another. It’s a race for their lives to outrun a predator that spots them. The trenches have sides that are the same height as the voles and this helps them hide.

The refuge is a wonderful place to walk and spot birds and waterfowl as they pause on their journeys.

You might even see a deer as the sun begins to sit lower in the sky.

deer in path

Once the restoration takes place, the walking path will be moved to the top of a new dike so the view will be spectacular and the refuge will be an even more welcoming and sustainable home for wildlife.





  1. Good writing, informative text, and beautiful images that are well laid out. I could learn a thing or two from you as I continue my own little endeavor.

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