An Introduction to the Willamette Valley Historical Ecology Project

Created by Portland State University Student Shelby Larson

The landscape of the Willamette Valley has continually changed over the last thousands of years, both due to environmental and human impacts on the environment. While changes in the last century might seem the most dramatic, with the appearance of industrialized cities along the busy I5 stretch of highway from Portland to Eugene, Indigenous communities along the Willamette River altered and shaped the landscape long before the arrival of white populations. The main goal of the Willamette Valley Historical Ecology Project is to explore these landscape changes over the past several thousand years to better understand how Indigenous communities used, maintained, and altered the environment of the Willamette Valley.

The Willamette Valley Historical Ecology Project is a US Army Corps of Engineers funded partnership between Portland State University, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Willamette Valley Historical Ecology Project has an initial focus on the southern Willamette Valley, with the intention of building on our work in the years to come that will include: expanding to other parts of the region, building our partnerships with local communities, and helping to prepare students in our academic and professional journeys in Cultural Resource Management.

Beginning January 2022, a group of ten PSU students – six undergraduate and four graduate- have been learning about Willamette Valley ecology, archaeology, and Indigenous landscape relationships to prepare for archaeological field work and public outreach at the Fern Ridge Reservoir in summer 2022.

Using the expert advice and resources of our various partners, PSU students have been working hard creating various exhibits that are featured in this year’s Archaeology Roadshow (linked below), including a Loteria Card Game (a Mexican Bingo game) with native plants to the Willamette Valley, an informative pamphlet on the various laws and practices surrounding amateur collecting in Oregon, a zine exploring the diverse uses of the native plant Wapato, and a story map showing landscape change at the Fern Ridge Reservoir near Eugene. These projects, along with others, will also be available for in-person viewing and participation at our June 24th Event Day (more information will be added about our Event Day soon!).

Visit our website for more information and ongoing updates about the project:


Please enjoy the exhibits created by Willamette Valley Historical Ecology Project students and join us for our In-Person Event Day at Fern Ridge on June 24th, 2022!


This project was funded by USACE-PSU cooperative agreement W9127N2120010.