The Camas Prairie project is a collaborative effort on the part of several federal agencies and Native American tribes to promote camas bulb production using fire to restore a degraded prairie wetland. Through the efforts at Camas Prairie we hope to contribute to the restoration of the indigenous cultural landscape.
The prairie is about 10 acres in size and located on a terrace of the South Santiam River at an elevation of 900 feet. The Forest Service acquired the site in 1994 from private landowners. The project was initiated in 1996 as an interagency and intergovernmental endeavor involving the Siletz and Grand Ronde tribes, Bureau of Land Management (Eugene District), private nursery contractors, along with the Forest Service, Sweet Home Ranger District.
Elements of the project include archaeological testing;vegetation surveys; camas seed collection and propagation; removal of Oregon ash trees and non-native blackberries; prescribed burning in the fall; recreation site management; and planting camas seed and bulbs. The original indigenous inhabitants set fires regularly throughout the Willamette Valley, to discourage the growth of shrubs and trees, thereby enhancing hunting and seed gathering.
Personnel from the Sweet Home and Detroit Ranger Districts conducted the first prescribed burn at the site in September of 1998. The prairie has been burned five times since then, at two year intervals. The Siletz and Grand Ronde tribes provided fire engines and a fire crew to assist Forest Service personnel with the burns.
Reintroduction of fire at this site has had multiple benefits. Prescribed burning improves the habitat for camas, which produces a bulb that was the staple of the Native American tribes. Burning reduces the competition to the camas bulb from other vegetation and creates a microsite for camas seed establishment. Burning the prairie also enhances the winter range forage quality for elk.
Camas seed is collected every summer and scattered after the site is burned in the fall. According to Alice Smith the Sweet Home Ranger District botanist the amount of camas in the prairie has more than doubled since the burning regime began.
The Grand Ronde tribe completed construction of a traditional camas oven in July 2001and the first camas bake was held in the spring of 2002. Bobby Mercier of the Grand Ronde tribe says “I have not seen another agency take restoration as seriously as the Sweet Home Ranger District has at Camas Prairie”.
For more information, contact Alice C. Smith, Botanist, at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tony Farque, Archeologist, at email@example.com; or Nanci Curtis, Fuels Planner, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (541)367-5168.