POLK COUNTY — Endangered Fender’s blue butterflies living in and around Baskett Slough may soon find they will be able to expand their territory. That is thanks to an approximately $134,000 grant awarded to Polk Soil & Water Conservation District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Natural Resource Conservation Service to restore oak savanna and oak woodland near Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge. The three-year grant was awarded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to thin and enhance a dense oak grove on 41 acres of private land. The ground work should begin this fall. The property owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, has already completed restoration projects with USFWS’s Partners Program and through the NRCS. The grant will provide an opportunity to continue that work. Marc Bell, PSWCD’s resource conservationist, will be the project manager. “The oaks are at a much higher density than they should be to be healthy,” Bell said, “and additionally, there is competition on the ground floor from blackberry and other invasive grasses.” Conifer trees, mostly Douglas fir, are encroaching on the area, too. “All of which will choke out the much slower growing oak,” Bell said. Invasive plants also prevent Kincaid’s Lupine — a threatened flower Fender’s blue butterflies depend on for survival — from getting a foothold. About 95 percent of oak savanna and woodland habitat most friendly to both species has disappeared from the Willamette Valley, decreasing their number and range. The Fender’s blue can now only be found in a few counties in the valley, including Polk. Bell said the main objective of this partnership project is to give the Kincaid’s Lupine and Fender’s blue butterfly another area where they have a fighting chance. “There are, throughout the county and throughout the valley, other pockets of the butterfly and the associated lupine, but they certainly can’t easily travel back and forth,” he said. “What we are emphasizing in this project is increasing the connectivity of allowing these isolated patches of population to combine and comingle and enlarge their population.” The oaks left after thinning — and the bird species that nest in them — will also be healthier as a result of the restoration. “Currently as they are, they are too skinny and too tall for their own good,” Bell said. He added PSWCD and its partners in this project are always looking for other places suitable for restoration work, which could prove critical to the survival of those threatened and endangered species. “Currently, if a catastrophic wildfire came across Baskett Slough or throughout any of this individual ones (habitats), entire chunks of this population would be lost,” Bell said. For more information: 503-623-3489.