NEWS RELEASE: Oak associated bird community benefits from restoration, new paper shows

NEWS RELEASE: December 2, 2020

CONTACT: Jaime Stephens, Science Director, Klamath Bird Observatory

Oak ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest are highly biodiverse and host more than 300 vertebrate species; yet a significant proportion of historic oak ecosystems in the region have been lost, and most remaining habitat is in a degraded state. Songbirds that are closely associated with oak ecosystems have experienced concerning declines, which is one of the reasons why research and restoration in oak habitats are priorities in our region.

A new study from Klamath Bird Observatory, recently published in the journal Restoration Ecology, “Restoration treatments reduce threats to oak ecosystems and provide immediate subtle benefits for oak-associated birds,” describes a restoration and monitoring project that sought to reduce factors that stress oak trees and improve ecosystem function in oak-associated plant communities. The researchers studied the effectiveness of the oak restoration by monitoring birds both before and after oak restoration.

Partners visit a restoration site in northern California to discuss restoration treatments. Shared learning during project implementation, combined with robust research projects, allow us to evaluate restoration success and inform future work.

Historic, natural fire regimes in the Klamath Siskiyou Bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California have been disrupted by excluding fire from landscape dynamics, and by silvicultural practices that favor conifer growth. Fire exclusion and conifer-centric management results in conditions that allow Douglas firs and junipers to become dense, encroach upon and overtop oaks, and outcompete them for resources and sunlight. As a result, oak ecosystems are rapidly degrading. This project restored 450 ha of degraded oak habitat on private lands in Jackson County, Oregon and Siskiyou County, California. Support for restoration on private lands is particularly important in the Klamath Siskiyou Bioregion because 65% of remaining oak ecosystems are located on private lands. Restoration treatments varied and included an array of management actions. In most treatments, Douglas fir, western juniper, and shrubs were removed from areas surrounding mature oak trees to reduce competition and to reduce the likelihood of unnatural, high-severity fires.

“One thing that is interesting about this type of restoration is that the result is immediate. Remove the Douglas fir and you have your oak woodland back! This is in contrast to many types of restoration that can take decades or even centuries to achieve the desired condition. In this sense, saving oak habitat by removing threats is incredibly time sensitive. If we lose these habitats and then have to restore them from scratch, it would take a century to see these same results.”
— Jaime Stephens, KBO Science Director and lead author

Importantly, restoration at this scale is made possible through highly effective long-term partnerships. This project was coordinated by Lomakatsi Restoration Project (Lomakatsi), funded through the Natural Resource Conservation Service Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. This was one of the first large-scale restoration projects of the Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network (KSON), a collaborative regional partnership that conserves oak habitat on private and public lands in southern Oregon and northern California. The KSON partnership earned a Partners in Conservation Award from the US Department of Interior recognizing its implementation of the Central Umpqua-Mid Klamath Oak Habitat Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative.

Marko Bey, Executive Director of Lomakatsi says, “Oak ecosystems provide valuable habitat—they are richer in wildlife than any other terrestrial ecosystems—yet are in rapid decline. We are grateful to partner with KBO and appreciate their leadership in developing science products that continue to inform and refine our on-the-ground approaches to restoring these treasured habitats.”

“The Natural Resources Conservation Service was thrilled to partner on such a large, collaborative, landscape-level project that helped implement meaningful conservation across thousands of acres of high quality, intact oak habitat on private lands,” says Peter Winnick, District Conservationist. “Through shared vision and the diligent efforts of partners, this was a truly regional project spanning three counties in two states that produced meaningful science to help inform future conservation efforts.”

Klamath Bird Observatory studied bird and vegetation response to the restoration and found benefits for both oak trees and oak-associated birds. Birds serve as indicators of ecosystem functioning and can tell us more about restoration success than vegetation metrics alone. Data were collected pre-restoration in 2012 and 2013, and post-restoration from 2015 to 2018. Restoration reduced the cover of conifer trees and shrubs, reducing immediate threats to the oak trees. Researchers measured a subtle shift towards a more oak-associated bird community following restoration, indicating that restoration treatments resulted in the desired ecological outcome. “While the changes observed in the bird community were subtle, we noticed that the community as a whole shifted to a more oak-associated group of birds following restoration,” says Caitlyn Gillespie, one of the authors of the study. The researchers expected to see a more dramatic response, however the gradient of habitat types and variation in restoration treatments across the study likely played in to the results, causing the restoration effect to appear more subtle. KBO will continuing this study at additional restoration sites to disentangle how specific restoration actions interact to affect bird response.

Bird communities show subtle change following restoration. This graphic displays ‘species-space’, a metric that describes the bird community, that is, what species are present at a study site. For example, study sites clustered in the lower left had more Acorn Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches, whereas study site in the upper right had more Hutton’s Vireos and Nashville Warblers. The arrows show how the bird community at a given study site differed before and after restoration. The orange lines are from control sites; the variation in the length and direction of these arrows show the background noise of year-to-year variation in bird abundance at a given site. The longer blue lines consistently pointing towards the lower left corner of the graphic show that bird communities had more species that like open oak habitats after restoration.


Download the full article here:

Recommended Citation:
Stephens, J.L., Gillespie, C.R. and Alexander, J.D. (2020), Restoration treatments reduce threats to oak ecosystems and provide immediate subtle benefits for oak‐associated birds. Restor Ecol.



Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) is a non-profit organization that advances bird and habitat conservation through science, education, and partnerships. Working in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the ranges of migratory birds KBO emphasizes high-caliber science and the role of birds as indicators to inform and improve natural resource management. KBO also nurtures an environmental ethic through community outreach and education.

Lomakatsi Restoration Project is a non-profit organization that develops and implements forest and watershed restoration programs, initiatives and projects in Oregon and Northern California. For twenty-five years, Lomakatsi has been successfully implementing restoration projects across thousands of acres of forests and miles of streams. In cooperation with a broad range of partners—including federal and state land management agencies, Native American Tribes, land trusts, private landowners, watershed councils, city and county governments, and The Nature Conservancy—their work has set precedents on nationally recognized projects. Lomakatsi provides expertise and capacity in project development, planning, management, fine-scale ecological treatment design, monitoring, and implementation for ecosystem restoration projects. They integrate restoration practice with science delivery, education and workforce training. Lomakatsi coordinates closely with multiple funding partners and manages a diverse workforce in complex social settings supported by critical community outreach. A leader in the field of oak restoration, Lomakatsi has applied their collaborative, holistic approach to restore oak ecosystems throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California since 1995. Learn more at

Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network (KSON) is a regional collaboration that works to conserve oak ecosystems on private and public lands in southern Oregon and northern California. First established as an informal working group in 2011 and formalized in 2014, KSON is a partnership of local agencies and non-profit organizations. Each KSON partner brings significant and unique contributions in the form of financial assistance, technical assistance, and in-kind contributions. Together, we accomplish project objectives in a cost-effective manner, incorporating diverse expertise into all phases of restoration planning, implementation, and monitoring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s private lands program, provides technical and financial assistance to landowners and other cooperators who are interested in restoring and enhancing wildlife habitat on their lands. Since the program’s start in 1987, some 50,000 landowners have worked with Partners staff nationwide to complete 60,000 habitat restoration projects. Partners Program projects are both voluntary and non-regulatory, and allow participating landowners to continue to manage their lands to serve their needs while they improve habitat for wildlife.


For high resolution images, contact Debra Agnew, Klamath Bird Observatory’s Science Communication Specialist


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