The Wildlife Area

Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area
Wildlife
Wetland Habitat
Recreation at the Lakes
Environmental Education

Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area

The Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area, comprising about 2000 acres, makes up one of the nation’s largest urban freshwater wetlands. Located near the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, the lakes function as a flood absorption system for the lower Columbia River. Hidden within an industrial area and just minutes from downtown Portland, the wetlands provide for diverse communities of plant and animal life. Numerous local schools use Smith and Bybee Lakes for a variety of outdoor education programs.

Metro Regional Parks and Greenspaces manages the wildlife area. The Friends of Smith & Bybee Lakes works closely with Metro.

Wildlife

The wetlands provide habitat for wildlife, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Mammals include beaver, nutria, river otter, mice and blacktail deer. The only reptiles found at the lakes are turtles and garter snakes. Amphibians include salamanders and frogs, including the pacific chorus frog and the non-native bull frog. The lakes also contain non-native fish such as largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and carp.

Over 100 species of birds have been recorded in the area. Ospreys, who excel at fishing, nest here and bald eagles, those expert scavengers, winter here. You can regularly see great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and several species of waterfowl. Many songbirds and shorebirds stop in for a while along their migration routes.

In the spring and summer you may see western painted turtles basking in the sun on logs in the sloughs and ponds adjacent to N. Marine Dr. With over 200 turtles living in the wildlife area, this may be the largest population of this species west of the Cascades. The western painted turtle is listed as sensitive-critical by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). This species has been declining in Oregon, but not enough is known about them to warrant a threatened or endangered listing. Turtle studies, using many volunteers, are being performed in the wildlife area by Metro.

The lakes also support a large population of beavers. Although beavers are generally nocturnal, evidence of their presence abounds: fallen trees with the characteristic beaver munchings, beaver lodges and dams. Sometimes you can observe beavers in the summer evenings or you may hear the slap of a tail on the water, warning other beavers of possible danger. It is easy to confuse beavers and nutria, an exotic from South America, that has a round rat-like tail.

Wetland Habitat

The Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area consists of several different wetland plant communities. Many plants and animals can be found in more than one plant community.

Riparian Forest is dominated by trees, including cottonwood, Oregon ash, alder, big leaf maple, willows, along with an understory of shrubs. The Interlakes Trail passes through this habitat.. The south shore of Bybee Lake sports some old-growth Oregon ash trees that are over 100 years old.

Wetland Forest may be seasonally flooded and is dominated by willow and ash trees. Much of this habitat at Smith and Bybee Lakes has been lost because it was immersed in high water for too long. The high water levels were caused by impoundment by the water control structure.

Shrub Swamp includes willow thickets, red-osier dogwoods, spiraea and other small shrubs. This habitat is seasonally flooded.

Wetland Prairie, which may be seasonally flooded, includes the open meadow seen from the Interlakes Trail. This community includes grass-like plants such as the scarce Columbia sedge, many other sedges, rushes, beggars tick, rice cutgrass and the invasive reed canary grass.

Submerged and Floating community contains truly aquatic plants, which are adapted to life totally in or on top of the water. This habitat exists in the sloughs and ponds in the wildlife area. Pond lilies, duckweed and algae are typical plants in this community.

Recreation at the Lakes

The lakes are a popular area for wildlife viewing, fishing and non-motorized boating. The Interlakes Trail, less than 1 mile in length, provides an opportunity to walk through the riparian forest with many small birds chattering away. The forest opens up as you walk towards the lakes. Two wildlife viewing platforms exist, one on Smith Lake and one on Bybee. If you are observant you may see waterfowl, great blue herons and raptors. Walking or bicylcing along the old N. Marine Dr., now part of the 40-mile loop trail, can be quite enjoyable.

Canoeing and kayaking have become popular at the lakes. Many people fish for the non-native fish species at the lakes, including prized largemouth bass.

Check out our Paddle Trips and other Activities.
To get to the Interlakes Trail see How to Get There.

Environmental Education

Metro’s Regional Parks and Greenspaces Department offers a number of programs. Guided walks featuring painted turtle and birds occur from spring through fall. Programs, including field trips, are offered for school groups throughout the school year.

For further information see Metro’s Education Resources.