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Regional conservation project areas dealing with priority oak habitat span the Oregon/California border.

A suite of several hundred species are expected to benefit from a recent federal award to improve the Northwest’s oak woodlands.

Several specialized birds like the oak titmouse, Lewis’ woodpecker and acorn woodpecker inhabit the oak woodlands Lomakatsi Restoration Project Executive Director Marko Bey called “the most diverse ecosystem in Oregon.”

Last week, the Lomakatsi Restoration Project and the Klamath Bird Observatory, both of Ashland, learned $3 million was awarded to their proposed project, the Klamath-Rogue Oak Woodland Health and Habitat Conservation Project.

According to the proposal, the funding was landed to help restore and protect oak woodlands in Klamath, Jackson and Siskiyou County.

More projects

Along with the Klamath-Rogue project, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) announced that five major conservation projects in Oregon will receive help from the program, which is designed to support public-private partnerships and conservation and natural resources projects.

According to a news release, the funding is for five-year projects aimed at protecting sage grouse, restoring critical wildlife habitats, increasing water quality, improving native fish habitats, and enhancing landscapes and watersheds.

The Oregon Model to Protect Sage Grouse, proposed by the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District, received $9 million to preserve sagebrush steppe habitat for the greater sage grouse, the release said.

Conservation goals

The Klamath-Rogue Oak Woodland project prioritizes restoring 3,200 acres of quality oak habitat that is at risk from conifer encroachment, overcrowding from other species, and uncharacteristically severe wildfire, all of which result from a century of fire suppression, according to the proposal’s general summary.

Bey said the program is not open to all Klamath County landowners because the proposal targets areas with declining oak habitat on Upper Klamath Lake’s west side — primarily in and around the Skillet Handle at the Running Y Ranch Resort.

“There are about 600 acres of priority oak habitat we’ll work to treat in there,” Bey said.

Bey explained that the RCPP funds aren’t designated for any one restoration activity or area. The money is placed in a pool managed by each county’s Natural Resources Conservation Service office, and it is distributed as part of the competitive cost-share Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which promotes ag production and environmental quality as compatible goals.

Bey said Oregon and California agencies are available to help landowners cover their part of project costs.

“Landowners might be more inspired to treat their declining oaks if there are a good amount of dollars to help them do it,” he said.

Private landowners who want to participate in an oak restoration program must to apply for funding, Bey said. Proposals will be ranked based on priority, he added.

High priority projects will have a high percentage of oaks and oaks that are in decline. Bey said the group is specifically looking for large “legacy trees” that provide old-growth habitat.

“We are looking for legacy trees or really good quality habitat for wildlife that have existing threats — that are right on the verge,” Bey said.

He noted that in the Klamath Basin, juniper encroachment is a major threat to oaks.

“If we do work now on (oaks), we are going to really benefit them. If we wait another 20 or 30 years, it’s going to be beyond the point of no return.”

Bey said woodland improvements will include cutting down trees encroaching on oaks, reducing the density of other unwanted species, and re-seeding the land with native grasses. Fire could be prescribed in some cases.

ljarrell@heraldandnews.com; @LMJatHandN

Contact Lacey Jarrell by email or follow her on Twitter @LMJatHandN.