On Caledonia Ranch, not far from the Running Y Resort, experts from nonprofit and federal agencies spoke recently about successful restorations of oak habitat.
The Klamath Basin contains the region’s easternmost oaks, which largely have been decimated, said Dave Ross, biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Yet, they remain important historically and ecologically.
Slow to grow and fire-resistant, as well as shade-intolerant, oaks require particular conditions to thrive as they once did. Ross said some estimates indicate more than 90 percent of pre-settlement oak habitat has given way to conifers, pines and invasive plant species.
Without oaks, Klamath Bird Observatory’s monitoring director Jamie Stephens said, forests lack many indigenous birds that frequent their woody cavities. Species include the acorn woodpecker, white-breasted nut hatch and oak titmouse.
Gathering in Klamath
A restoration award, Partners in Conservation, issued by the Department of the Interior, brought this group together on Wednesday.
“Our monitoring of vegetation and the bird community showed returned ecological function,” Stephens said.
“And monitoring was a main reason for the award,” she added. “There had been lots of work done on pines and not on oaks, which are our most biodiverse habitats.”
Marko Bey, executive director of Lomakatsi, a nonprofit organization that employs tribal workers, including a local restoration crew, the Klamath Forest Warriors, used the area as an example.
Although the Caledonia Ranch wasn’t part of the partnership’s more than 2,000-acre project area, Bey said it demonstrated restored oak habitat. Variable density tree stands were punctuated by aggressively thinned underbrush using logging and fire, and reseeded native grasses.
“A precedent was set on this project,” Bey said, indicating future oak restoration projects are in the works in Oregon and Northern California.
Work on the Central Umpqua-Mid-Klamath Oak Habitat Conservation Project supported 200 species commonly reliant on these habitats, Ross said.
“This was by far the most functional, pragmatic, get-it-done partnership I have ever seen,” said Peter Winnick, Natural Resources Conservation Service soil conservationist.
In total, 23 partners contributed to the project.