Tom Hartz, president of the Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, shared a little about this national treasure in King City's backyard at the Feb. 27 meeting of CPO 4K (Citizen Participation Organization-King City).
"It is not a park or a zoo, but it is a sanctuary," he said. "It is all about the wildlife and is run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. There are more than 560 wildlife refuges in the U.S., and ours, which was formed in 1992, is one of the first 10 urban refuges. Now there are over 100."
However, Hartz pointed out that if refuges don't have support from their local population, they can't expand.
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A national wildlife refuge complex is an administrative grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas or other refuge conservation areas that are primarily managed from a central office location.
The other refuge in the Tualatin River complex is the Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Situated within the floodplain of the Tualatin River, the refuge comprises less than 1 percent of the river's 712-square-mile watershed. Yet due to its richness and diversity of habitats, the refuge supports some of the most abundant and varied wildlife in the watershed.
The refuge is now home to nearly 200 species of birds, more than 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians, and a wide variety of insects, fish and plants. The refuge also is a place where people can experience and learn about wildlife and the places they call home, whether through self-guided discovery or by participating in one of many educational programs, according to its website.
The refuge could eventually include 7,370 acres, with 3,360 in the Sherwood area and 4,310 at Wapato Lake outside Gaston.
"We have acquired 1,400 acres so far, and including Wapato, manage 2,150 acres," Hartz said. "The Fish & Wildlife Service competes with other buyers to buy land at fair market value.
"What's beautiful is what we have in Sherwood is great gravel trails to walk on with no dogs, bicycles or running allowed."
He told the audience that visitors never know what they will see during any visit.
"There have been wildcat sightings, and we are on the Pacific Flyway for birds flying between Alaska and South America," Hartz said. "They migrate through the refuge. We have more than 60 species of ducks and geese. It was kind of fun watching them land on ice when the water was frozen over.
"Before landing at the refuge they might have flown 24 to 48 hours, and they stop here to eat and rest. And it's like an alarm clock goes off at sunrise when they all rise up and fly at the same time."
Hartz urged everyone to attend the upcoming annual Bird Festival on Saturday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A popular program at the refuge is a summer camp for kids who get to use one of 30 cameras that were donated.
"When kids hold a camera, they slow down and start looking," Hartz said. "The kids make souvenirs, and they frame their best photo to take home."
A new sight at the refuge last year was a controlled burn over five acres, which is what Native Americans did to regenerate the soil, according to Hartz, who added that he spends 600 hours a year volunteering at the refuge.
He praised the work that the Fish & Wildlife staff does, saying, "It's a wonderful organization. We're fortunate to have this in our own backyard."
The refuge is located at 19255 S.W. Pacific Hwy., Sherwood; for more information, call 503-625-5944.