KSON was formed to address oak restoration needs and challenges. Because 65% of oak habitat in southern Oregon and northern California is on private land, the Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network (KSON) partnership has secured $7.5 million to restore more than 6,400 acres of oak woodland across federal and private lands, largely supported by NRCS partnership programs and USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.
Oak habitats support a high diversity of birds and other wildlife species, but are threatened by conifer encroachment, invasive species, and fragmentation. Since 2011, KSON partners have already successfully leveraged millions of dollars of public and non-federal resources to restore 3,000 acres of oak woodland in southern Oregon and northern California in the last five years, with an additional 3,400 acres of restoration planned for the next several years.
Over the last few months, with the support of a grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, KSON has been developing a Strategic Action Plan for oak conservation in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion. Strategic conservation planning is a science-based process that helps regional conservation partnerships plan for the future. Why prioritize? Both time and conservation dollars are limited, so identifying the projects that have the most impact is important. Strategic planning helps identify the species, habitats, and places that most need our help, and the conservation actions that are likely to be effective. Ultimately, partnership-based strategic conservation planning is how we can have the most impact at a regional scale for oak habtiat conservation.
Science-based maps of oak habitat help us identify priority restoration areas and set specific, measurable goals. When complete, the KSON Strategic Action Plan will serve as a road map for oak habitat restoration actions across the region for the next 10 years, and will enhance our ability to protect and restore oak habitats for birds and other oak-associated animals and plants.
California’s oak woodlands have been dramatically reduced over the past two centuries. Numerous factors have contributed to this decline including the encroachment of coniferous species into oak habitats following the disruption of historic fire regimes. Oaks are slow-growing, shade-intolerant species that can be rapidly overtopped and suppressed by faster growing conifers. Initially, suppression leads to crown dieback in the oaks and reduces acorn production. Over time as more of the oak crown becomes shaded the oaks eventually die.
On the dry east side of the Scott River Valley in Siskiyou Co., CA, juniper encroachment poses a major threat to the health and function of oak habitats. To address this issue the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Lomakatsi Restoration Project partnered with the Scott River Ranch to reduce juniper encroachment on 91 acres of oak habitats. Treatments focused on removing junipers growing within 10 feet of an oak to reduce competition for resources including sunlight, water, and nutrients. This approach removed approximately 85 percent of the junipers while leaving scattered large junipers for habitat diversity. An additional 164 acres of juniper reduction are planned for the ranch beginning in 2018.
Before (Left): Oak encroached by juniper pre-treatment on the Scott River Ranch, Siskiyou Co. CA, October 2014
After (Right): Open grown oak free from competition following juniper reduction treatments on the Scott River Ranch, Siskiyou Co. CA, October 2015.
A number of oak obligate bird species are in decline, making oak habitat restoration a priority. Oak-chaparral plant communities, characterized by open grown oaks with a thick shrub understory, also provide important habitat for wildlife but sometimes require reduction during restoration as chaparral can burn at high severity and threaten large, old oaks and other high value resources (e.g. homes).
KSON identified the research need to inform landscape and site-level planning when chaparral reduction is warranted to reduce fire risk and meet oak restoration objectives. Klamath Bird Observatory research found that retaining large patches of chaparral and prioritizing retention in a landscape context will help ensure sufficient habitat remains for chaparral-associated birds. As part of KSON’s adaptive management strategy, management recommendations are being incorporated into restoration design. The results from our study of chaparral can be found in a decision support tool, Oak Woodlands and Chaparral: Aligning chaparral-associated bird habitat needs with oak woodland restoration and fuel reduction in southwest Oregon and northern California