4-05 oak habitats

Threatened oak habitats and private landowners have financial and technical assistance available to restore and maintain via the Klamath-Rogue Oak Woodland Health and Habitat Conservation Project.

Financial and technical assistance is available for landowners with oak habitats in Southern Oregon and Northern California via the Klamath-Rogue Oak Woodland Health and Habitat Conservation Project.

Funds are being purposed to aid landowners with enhancing wildlife habitat, reducing wildfire risk, and protecting and promoting oak woodland connectivity. The project is a partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Lomakatsi Restoration Project, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Klamath Bird Observatory among others for the purpose of protecting threatened oak habitats.

The agencies involved provide tailored-management plans, project implementation, contracting and monitoring. This can include thinning operations to reduce encroaching vegetation and tree densities, brush control, prescribed fire and native grass seeding to encourage development of healthy oak habitats. Being able to sustain vital oak habitats for future generations is highly dependent on active conservation by private landowners in partnership with agencies providing available resources.

Oak areas

Regional oak habitats are predominantly located in areas surrounding the Klamath River Canyon, Running Y Ranch Resort, Soda Mountain Wilderness and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Areas.

While oak woodlands and savannas are among the richest wildlife habitats within the region, providing food and shelter for over 300 species native to the region, they are also among the most threatened ecological substructures. Over half of oak habitats, projected as much as a near-total loss, have been lost since settlement of the Oregon and Washington area in the 1800s and over 30 percent of California oak habitats.

Most of these natural oak habitats were cleared to make room for farms, communities and as construction materials for human developments. Active fire suppression efforts have also altered the natural disturbance process of frequent, low-intensity fires that help maintain oak habitat structure. As a result, stands have become greatly overstocked, reducing habitat quality, building fuel loads, and increasing the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

In addition to logging and fires, oak habitats have dissipated in part due to loss of habitat structure, where new oaks have not developed under the same structural traits due to overcrowding due in part to conifer encroachment like Douglas-Fir out-competing oak trees for space. Additionally, exotic invasive species like Scotch broom, Himalayan Blackberry and English hawthorn have reduced optimal growth conditions in the under-story, increasing fuel loads and degrading habitat. Oaks are a very slow-growing tree species comparative to many conifer species.

Species at risk

Continued habitat loss has placed 45 oak-related species in an at-risk consideration for eventual endangered species listing potentially.

To combat continued habitat loss and aid landowners, the Klamath-Rogue Oak Woodland Health and Habitat Conservation Project was formed to specifically aid habitats on private lands. It is a strategic effort aimed at restoring priority oak habitats through partnership resources. This includes financial assistance for private landowners via the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP falls under the NRCS Farm Bill Programs.

Landowners who agree to participate can receive assistance for restoration and management. To apply, contact local USDA Service Centers or the Lomakatsi Restoration Project.

email kliedtke@heraldandnews.com @kliedtkeHN