Little meadows make a big impact

Sep 17, 2021
We talk about meadows a great deal at the Land Trust. Many of our core Preserves protect this important feature on the landscape. But what role do meadows play in nature?

Indian Ford Meadow Preserve. Photo: Tyler Roemer.
Indian Ford Meadow Preserve. Photo: Tyler Roemer.
We talk about meadows a great deal at the Land Trust. Many of our core Preserves protect this important feature on the landscape. But why are meadows important ecologically? What role do they play in nature?

First, let’s start with the basics: what is a meadow? Interestingly, “meadow” itself is more of a cultural term and people call lots of open, grassy spaces meadows. However, most meadows are defined as a type of habitat that is dominated by one or more plant communities such as grasses, sedges, rushes, wildflowers, or other non-woody plants. Shrubs and trees can be present in the meadow system, but are not dominant.

In Central Oregon we have all kinds of meadows! From higher elevation alpine meadows to meadows along our streams and rivers to drier meadows surrounded by trees. The Land Trust has conserved and now protects several wet meadows that we are working to restore to a healthier state—think Camp Polk Meadow Preserve or the meadows at Whychus Canyon Preserve. Healthy wet meadows are those that are saturated by water for part or all of the growing season. They do not have standing water, but rather act as sponges, helping store and keep our water clean and cold. Biologically, they offer incredibly rich habitat in our arid high desert. They provide diverse stream and side channel habitats for fish to spawn, rear, and hide. Streamside vegetation provides cover for wildlife and helps maintain cool stream waters. Nearby wetlands and oxbows are home to amphibians and songbirds. Learn more about wet meadows.

A deer browses at Indian Ford Meadow Preserve. Photo: Tim Cotter.
A deer browses at Indian Ford Meadow Preserve. Photo: Tim Cotter.
The Land Trust also protects what are often called dry meadows. These meadows tend to be dominated by drier plants like grasses and wildflowers. Dry meadow habitat is also an important part of the natural world. These meadows are also biologically rich and support all kinds of plants (especially beautiful ones like wildflowers!) that will not thrive under a canopy of trees. These plants in turn support a wide variety of butterflies, moths, and other insects that rely on wildflowers for pollen and nectar. Deer and elk use open meadows for browsing grasses, and raptors hunt in these open areas for small mammals. The east side of Indian Ford Meadow Preserve is a great example of a dry meadow. It stays dry year round while the west side is more of a wet meadow.

Today, dry meadow habitat is shrinking compared to what it would have been historically. Nearby trees are moving into these open spaces in the absence of fire. That’s why the Land Trust has been working for years to maintain the open meadow at Indian Ford Meadow Preserve by hand cutting small juniper and pine before they get too big. You can help care for this important little meadow by staying on the trail to protect the fragile meadow plants that so many other creatures depend on.


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