SALEM -- Used for erosion control and other environmental purposes, Oregon's grass seed crop long has been known as environmentally friendly.
New research shows the crop provides environmental benefits even earlier, as grass seed fields in the south Willamette Valley now are viewed as invaluable for small native fish during storms.
A study by Oregon State University ecologist Guillermo Giannico found that farm fields provide sanctuary for native fish in floods. Fields inundated with floodwaters provide temporary food sources and shelter from fast waters and introduced fish species during floods, according to the study.
"We have found that native fish have adjusted their behavior to these floodplains, mostly in agricultural lands, to great benefit, Giannico said.
Several factors contribute to grass seed's reputation as an environmentally friendly crop, including that the crop takes up carbon dioxide, has deep roots that stabilize soil and efficiently consumes nitrogen and other nutrients. Also, because most grass seed is grown as a perennial crop, production fields typically are undisturbed for three years at a stretch.
Tom Silberstein, Marion County extension agent, said studies by Linn County Soil and Water Conservation District and OSU show farmers can enhance fish habitat by grading swales and planting native grasses that can survive being underwater for long periods.
"That helps filter the water and slow things down and give fish better habitat," Silberstein said.
Recent feature stories on Oregon radio and print media outlets have highlighted the crop's newfound reputation as a sanctuary for native fish.
-- Mitch Lies