NDOW Begins Long Restoration Process at Oxbow

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Students admire the Oxbow Nature Study Area before the April 27 fire that burned 18 of the facilities 22 acres.When it comes to the history of the Oxbow Nature Study Area (ONSA), Nevada Department of Wildlife conservation and wildlife educator Aaron Keller knows his stuff. He should, Keller has been the main NDOW representative for the past two years, maintaining the center and running daily tours for school children.

Unfortunately for Keller, it was exactly that knowledge that made the Oxbow fire that charred 18 of the facility’s 22 acres at the end of Dickerson Road in Reno on April 27 so painful for him to watch.

“I could not believe it was happening,” said Keller. “It had survived so many natural disasters over the years. To stand there and watch it burn in a human-caused fire was absolutely heart-breaking.”

Approximately 20 large cottonwood trees had to be cut down during fire suppression activities with another 15-20 large trees cut down in the ensuing weeks due to the immediate hazard to potential users. Several hundred other mature and young cottonwoods, willow, alder, serviceberry and other trees were affected by the fire. NDOW anticipates that most of these trees are either dead or will die in the near future.

Keller reports that the Oxbow’s road to recovery is a long one. “The first part of the restoration and rehabilitation is the cleanup. We are working hard to remove the hazardous trees that are hanging over the trails, the dead and downed trees, and the abundance of newly burned material out of the site,” he said. Keller reports that the east side of the Oxbow Nature Study Area, which includes the River Deck, the Oxbow Pond Deck, and the front grass area is currently open, but the west side of the ONSA remains closed due to remaining hazards. In addition to the burnt and downed trees, Keller is working to control invasive weeds and poisonous plants. “We are using herbicides in the back of the park that we do not want the public to come in contact with,” he said.

The ONSA, which opened in 1991, is designed and operated as a wetland and riparian interpretive center and encompasses the last natural riparian zone found within the Reno City limits. The area has been a haven for birds, deer, small mammals and other wildlife. NDOW manages Oxbow as an educational interpretive facility. Before the fire, it was visited by more than 12,000 school children each year as well as many birders, nature enthusiasts, walkers and anglers.

“We recently received approval for $100,000 in emergency funding through the Question 1 bond fund to start restoration on the area,” said Keller. “We have a real opportunity to use this tragedy as a teaching experience. The people who visit Oxbow now will get to see first-hand what nature does to recover from a fire.”

The wildlife portion of Question 1 amounts to $27.5 million of the overall $200 million bond initiative that authorizes the state of Nevada to issue bonds for projects to protect and preserve natural resources in Nevada.

Keller reports that he has begun mapping out new trails utilizing more of the area and allowing the public to walk through the entire master planned trail system. Interpretive sites will be put in both the burned and unburned areas to teach the public about fire.

“I plan on putting in benches and possibly a few picnic tables for the public to enjoy lunch and hear the sounds of the wildlife,” he added. “With the help of donations and local businesses we will be planting trees and shrubs throughout the Oxbow Nature Study Area this fall. This will be a great opportunity for the public to get involved in the restoration efforts. We will also be working with Home Depot on the installation of a new bridge on one of the new trails that will go over the wetland area in the middle of the park.” He adds that the Wildlife Diversity Division was also able to allocate $12,000 from a mining assessment fee to the Oxbow restoration efforts.

Keller states that there are several ways the public can help in the restoration efforts. “We are still in the planning stage, but I am compiling a list of available volunteers and I will be calling them soon. If people would like to donate to the Oxbow Nature Study Area fire rehabilitation, they can contact me at (775) 334-3808 or by email at rkeller [at] ndow [dot] org. We cannot accept money, but we will work out a way for people to use their money and labor to give back to the Oxbow, such as buying trees or shrubs,” said Keller.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW’s wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen’s license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. For more information, visit www.ndow.org.