CORVALLIS, Ore. - Workers have begun clearing understory along Oak Creek as part of a yearlong project to restore and protect areas of the creek that wind through Oregon State University's livestock facilities.

Over the years, nonnative plants made the areas their home, unruly blackberries ran amok and fences deteriorated. So the university applied for and received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to create wildlife habitat and riparian buffers along more than five miles of streams that include Oak Creek and its tributaries. Oak Creek originates in the McDonald-Dunn Forest and flows into the Mary's River.

"We want to be good stewards of our property," said Irene Pilgrim, the farm manager for OSU's livestock facilities. "We're going to selectively clear the understory where we need to, control invasive species and noxious weeds, eliminate nonnative vegetation, plant around 11,000 oak and 11,000 ash trees and fence off portions of the creek from OSU farm animals."

The project, which Pilgrim expects to be finished by the end of summer 2009, will encompass parts of OSU's sheep, horse, dairy and poultry centers and will protect 140 acres by installing new fences or mending current ones. Although farm animals won't be able to access the restricted areas, deer will be able to.

The restoration work will not cause any disruptions to the public, Pilgrim said, adding that she encourages people not to enter the work sites, like the area around the Irish Bend covered bridge on the west side of campus. "We don't want anyone getting hurt," she said.

The university plans to eventually undertake a similar riparian restoration around its Soap Creek and Berry Creek ranches.

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Irene Pilgrim,