Rare Species and Habitats
Historically, the Valley supported a tremendous diversity of native habitats, including dynamic river and floodplain systems, wet prairie grasslands, upland prairie-oak savanna, and oak woodlands. Over time, significant portions of these habitats have been converted to other uses.
Oak savannas and prairies once covered about 1.8 million acres, or about half of the Conservation Study Area. Today, about 47,000 acres remain, a 97% decrease. Riparian forest and shrub-lands, once lining the floodplains of the Willamette River and its tributaries, have been reduced by almost 80%. The consequences of these losses are shown in declining populations of native fish, wildlife, and plants dependent on these habitats.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife identifies 15 wildlife species facing the threat of disappearing from the Valley. They also identify a longer list of vulnerable species that could become imperiled with continued habitat loss and degradation. Several species dependent on these habitats are listed under the Endangered Species Act and two species, the streaked horned lark and Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, have recently been proposed for listing.Read more about rare species and habitats in the Willamette Valley (PDF)
What We've Heard
The early phase of the Willamette Valley Conservation Study has involved a series of information gathering activities, including open houses and meetings with pentential partner, as we seek to develop a cooperative strategy that addresses these rare and endangered wildlife and plant species and habitats in The Valley. Here are some of the key things we've heard:
Responses to these concerns have generally been in support of the Service examining our role in addressing the conservation issues of the Valley, but others are waiting to see the plan take shape before offering comments. Several commenters stressed the need to work cooperatively with other agencies, watershed councils, other non-government organizations, and private landowners and to build upon the goals and strategies from plans such as Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Oregon Conservation Strategy, as opposed to starting from scratch.
Many commenters suggested we look at strategies such as establishing additional wildlife refuges and initiating a conservation easement program. The need to address the potential effects of a changing climate was raised by several commenters. We also heard concerns for the potential of productive agricultural lands being used for conservation or public use activities. Some commenters questioned the need for additional land being managed primarily for fish and wildlife given the status of the federal budget.
What We're Doing
We have reviewed many conservation plans developed for the Valley that address the issue of declining fish and wildlife populations and we plan to incorporate their findings and build upon them. Simply put, there is no reason to start from scratch when so much good work precedes this effort.
We've met with land managers, wildlife experts, and potentially affected parties to explore the issues and potential solutions. We are reviewing modeled climate change scenarios for the Valley and the potential effect to the Valley's habitats and wildlife. We are working with experts outside the Service to learn what they think is necessary to maintain self-sustaining populations of the Valley's native fish, wildlife, and plants.
We are aware of the concern about the loss of agricultural land and have engaged the agricultural community in developing potential solutions. We look forward to continuing our discussions with the agricultural community and others as we develop our response to this issue.
In this section you will find links to resources related to species and habitats in the Willamette Valley. In most cases they are resources produced by the USFWS or resources that we are using to help inform the Conservation Study. If you have suggestions for additional resources, feel free to contact us.