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US Fish & Wildlife Service Journal

PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: Partners -- A Unity of Effort Saving Oregon Oaks in the Colestin Valley

Region 0, November 15, 2011
Mark Bey, director of the Lomakatso Restoration Project, explains how prescribed burning was used in the Colestin project to state and federal partners during a tour of the site.
Mark Bey, director of the Lomakatso Restoration Project, explains how prescribed burning was used in the Colestin project to state and federal partners during a tour of the site. - Photo Credit: n/a
The Colestin Valley, 25 miles south of Ashland, Oregon.
The Colestin Valley, 25 miles south of Ashland, Oregon. - Photo Credit: n/a
David Ross, a biologist and Partners for Fish and Wildlife coordinator for the Klamath Falls FWO, walks through a work site with Ruth Olsen during a recent site visit.
David Ross, a biologist and Partners for Fish and Wildlife coordinator for the Klamath Falls FWO, walks through a work site with Ruth Olsen during a recent site visit. - Photo Credit: n/a
Colestin Valley.
Colestin Valley. - Photo Credit: n/a
Marko Bey, director of the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, speaks with members of the Klamath Tribe work crew during a prescribed burn operation.
Marko Bey, director of the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, speaks with members of the Klamath Tribe work crew during a prescribed burn operation. - Photo Credit: n/a

 

By Jon Myatt, External Affairs, Region 8

Driving south on Interstate-5 from Ashland, Oregon, over the Siskiyou summit and into California, the highway drops from the nearly 5,000-foot high pass through the mountains to the rolling foothills and grass seed fields of Colestin Valley.

Here, amid scattered cattle ranches and horticultural nursery crops, yellowing leaves of Oregon white oak, black oak and brewer’s oak stand in contrast to the dark green conifers and other encroaching vegetation.

For thousands of years, these oak woodlands and savannahs stretched in a 200 mile-wide band from the Canadian border down through central Oregon, ending in Southern California.

Today, while 33 percent of the original oak habitat still exists in California, less than 10 percent have survived in Oregon. What remains is a patchwork of smaller, disconnected stands of oaks.

Beginning in the early 1800s, with the arrival of European and American settlers, the western oaks were harvested for fuel or eliminated to make way for farmland, cattle grazing and towns.

The Colestin Valley lies just above the Oregon-California border and is part of the Klamath River watershed . It is an important focus area for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife because Southern Oregon’s oak woodlands harbor some of the most valuable habitat for terrestrial birds in the Pacific Northwest. The oak stands are also home to sensitive and endangered species such as Gentner’s fritillary and scores of neotropical migratory birds, some of which are in decline.

The area is also the focus of numerous U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnership projects to restore and preserve Oregon’s oak woodland habitat.

This is why Dave Ross, a biologist with the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office is spending much of his time in Jackson County, Oregon, meeting with local conservationists, state and federal land managers, and private landowners.

“Oregon’s oak woodlands have declined over 90-percent due to expansion of subdivisions and urbanization as well as agriculture use,” explained Ross, the Service’s Conservation Partnerships program coordinator for the Klamath Basin and Southern Oregon. “And nearly all the remaining oak habitat is in Oregon is in private hands.”

Working with the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, a non-profit forest and watershed restoration organization and a lead partner in restoring southern Oregon’s oak habitats, Ross and other federal agency conservation coordinators have been reaching out to private landowners.

In August of 2010, a formal partnership was established between the Service, Lomakatsi, the Natural Resource Conservations Service (NRCS), Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO), and multiple other state and federal agency partners, and conservation organizations to expand oak habitat restoration on private lands in Douglas and Jackson Counties in Oregon, and in Siskiyou County in California.

The result of this collaborative effort was a proposal submitted by Lomakatsi to the NRCS Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), and to the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, to fund the Central Umpqua-Mid Klamath Oak Habitat Conservation Project. The project netted nearly $3 million in combined funding for oak restoration in the three counties through 2013. More than $1 million has been provided by the Service.

“These programs offer incentives to landowners, providing financial and technical assistance aimed at restoring, protecting and maintaining oak habitat on their property,” said Marko Bey, director of Lomakatsi and a lead coordinating partner in the Colestin projects. “This includes developing tailored management plans and supervising the restoration operations, specifically thinning to reduce encroaching vegetation and tree densities, exotic brush control, prescribed fire and native grass seeding to promote development of healthy oak habitat.”

Bey and his team work directly with landowners to identify opportunities for habitat restoration. They supervise contractors who perform the actual restoration work and they coordinate with each of the federal agencies to ensure that the work is done properly.
He has high expectations for the future of these oak woodlands.

“Oak habitats are highly dependent upon active conservation by landowners,” he said. “And over the next five years, because of the funding currently available, four different habitat types will be restored or enhanced on properties in this area -- upland prairies and savannas, Oregon white oak woodlands, wet prairie, and riparian forest.”

The individual projects in Colestin will total nearly 2,000 acres of restored habitat over the next two-to-three years, according to Ross, who is working to ensure a bright future for the program.

“Because of the high cost of some restoration projects, it is very important to develop partnerships and obtain funding from several sources so the costs are more bearable,” he said. “Still, the current level of participation in these restoration projects is encouraging, and indicative of the value of oak woodlands to private landowners.”

“In the end, we hope to see these unique oak woodlands restored and in doing so, birds such as the oak titmouse, acorn and Lewis’ woodpecker, flycatchers, and Nashville warblers will have improved habitat,” said Ross. “And at the same time, the landowners will see a healthy oak woodland with a reduced risk of wildfire.”

“But only through partnerships like this are we going to achieve success,” he added.

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View the slide show on Flickr at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfws_pacificsw/sets/72157628130212858/show/ 

 

 
 
 

Oak Woodland Restoration By the Numbers
10 – Percentage of historic oak habitats that remain in Oregon
14 – Number of years Lomakatsi has been implementing ecological restoration projects on thousands of acres of oak woodlands.
45 – Number of oak-associated species considered at-risk
200 – Approximate number of wildlife species that use Oak woodlands in the Klamath Basin
2000 -- Number of acres of restored habitat targeted for completion over the next two-to-three years 
 

Contact Info: Erica Szlosek, 916-978-6159, erica_szlosek@fws.gov