New group works to restore threatened Oregon Dunes
“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”(Baba Dioum, 1968)
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA) is the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, attracting more than half a million visitors each year. Yet, as non-native species such as European beachgrass and Scotch broom take hold and spread, the entire ecosystem is being thrown out of balance and the windswept dunes are disappearing. The impacts to wildlife, plant life and recreational opportunities are significant. A new book, Restoring Oregon’s Dunes, and complementary website aim to raise awareness about the disappearing dunes and build support for restoring them.
The Oregon Dunes encompass 40 miles between the Siuslaw River in Florence to the Coos River in North Bend, creating vast opportunities for hiking, photography, off-road vehicle use, horseback riding and even “sandboarding”.
“The dunes are an incredibly diverse ecosystem, home to more than 400 species of wildlife,” says Andy Vobora, vice president of stakeholder relations for Travel Lane County. He says the dunes are a primary motivator for visitors to come to Lane County. Once people explore the dunes, Travel Lane County and its partners encourage them to stay, providing them with trip ideas up and down the Coast. “But if this resource is lost because all the dunes become vegetated, that could all change. It would be a huge loss.”
“Decades ago, the dunes were mostly open sand with an isolated tree island and some sparse vegetation,” says Lisa Romano, public affairs staff officer, U.S. Forest Service, Siuslaw National Forest. “Today, it’s overrun with shrubs and trees. You might not notice a difference day to day, but if you’ve been coming to the dunes over a lifetime, you notice the change.”
One of those people is Jody Phillips, who has been off-roading in the ODNRA since the 1950s. He has been witnessing the gradual shift from windswept dunes to non-native vegetation. “It’s unlikely we will be able to restore the dunes to their natural state, but we can slow down the spread of invasive species. We owe that to future generations. Without intervention, the dunes will be lost forever.”
Getting the word out
In 2014, a group now known as the Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative began meeting to discuss what they could do. The group is prioritizing restoration projects, pursuing funding opportunities, and raising public awareness about why the dunes are disappearing and steps people can take to stop the spread of invasive species in the ODNRA.
“Becoming aware of the problem is critical to understanding how to slow it down,” Philips says. “People want to save only what they know.”
With support from Travel Oregon’s small grants program and the Forest Service, the group wrote and published Restoring Oregon’s Dunes, launched www.saveoregondunes.org, and printed 5,000 tri-fold brochures, rack cards and table tents for restaurants for hotels. Travel Lane County is helping serve as a liaison between the hotels and restaurants, who can help with outreach by displaying the book and other marketing materials.
“Hotels are the front line in connecting with visitors,” Vobora says. “People love the dunes and are beginning to understand why it’s so important to protect them.”