What makes Liberty Hill special

Liberty Hill Butte Bluff meadow St. Helens Oregon Columbia County Pittsburg Road

NOTE – as of December 16, 2022, the gravel mining company has re-submitted its application to destroy Liberty Hill and its camas meadow for the purposes of basalt mining for crushed rock. The deadline for public comments on their proposal is January 15. Please see the link at the bottom of this post for information on how to submit a comment.


Soon after my exciting first visit to Liberty Hill, Matt went to take a look. He reported back to me that he had found skinks there. Skinks weren’t known to exist in Columbia County! I had to see this for myself.

The meadows of Liberty Hill were as beautiful as they had been at first sight…and again I found wildlife enjoying them.

Liberty Hill Butte Bluff meadow St. Helens Oregon Columbia County Pittsburg Road

I headed to the portion of the bluff where Matt had spotted the skink. Sure enough, I soon found two! First was a little blue-tailed juvenile that got away too quick for a picture, and then this gorgeously sleek adult.

Western Skink Liberty Hill St. Helens Columbia County northwest Oregon
Western Skink

Field guides had previously suggested that Western Skinks only made it as far north as Yamhill County in our region. With this new information along with a find I had made in Washington County and other sightings gathered from collaborators, we were able to publish a 35-mile range extension in a herpetology journal. So far as we know, the only area skinks still exist in Columbia County is on Liberty Hill and in similar adjacent habitat.

Matt and I now know of at least 6 species of reptiles and 6 species of amphibians found on Liberty Hill [now 7 and 7]. Three of the six reptiles are otherwise very rare in Columbia County. These locally rare reptiles are denizens of the endangered Willamette Valley prairie ecosystem, of which less than 1% of the original habitat exists due to agriculture and development. Liberty Hill represents the most northern remaining example of this ecosystem and is the largest surviving plot within 50 km in any direction. Its unique moist rocky meadow holds in the heat that sustains these reptiles in a way no other local habitat can.

Of course it’s not just reptiles that make Liberty Hill unique. The Camas meadow on Liberty Hill is the last of its size remaining in the county and supports camas bulbs that were once an important resource to resident Native Americans. The vernal wetlands of the meadow support prairie marsh vegetation difficult to find elsewhere. Even the dirt track that crosses through the meadow is a historical landmark, formed by wagons making their way to the nearby Masonic cemetery that dates back to the 1850s.

If we lose this land, none of it can be replaced.

A public comment period has begun for the mining project that is slated to destroy Liberty Hill and its unique residents. They are asking for your input as to why Liberty Hill should or should not be razed. For more information, check the Friends of Liberty Hill facebook page and the Friends of Liberty Hill website.

I want to save Liberty Hill, because there is no other.

Please read this notice from Friends of Liberty Hill on the current progress of the mining permit and what you can do to help

Published by Jonathan

Educator, Herpetologist, Hiker.

9 thoughts on “What makes Liberty Hill special

    1. Great Alyse! I just found out the comment period has been extended to next week, so anyone who reads this and wants to have an impact on the process, please comment!

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  1. Hi Jonathan, Thank you for your great post and fascinating info about your finds on the hill. I just wanted to let you know that we were honored to have a skink reside in our garden in North Portland, near Willamette bluff, for a few weeks. Sad to say, a cat got to it and it died, but I was delighted to see it skittering around for awhile. This was about 3 years ago.

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    1. Thanks Janene! In the last 4-5 years I’ve heard several reports of skinks in northwest Multnomah County, though I haven’t seen them myself. I don’t know whether they’ve been “officially” reported yet but they’re certainly there as you know.

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