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Tag: Rogue Valley Times

Upper Rogue Oak Initiative in the Rogue Valley Times

Conifers encroach on an oak tree at Cascade Ranch near Lake Creek east of White City at a site slated for restoration as part of a project known as the Upper Rogue Oak Initiative. Several agencies and organizations are collaborating on a six-year, $13 million project to thin conifers and take other action to aid oak habitat and improve ecosystem health while reducing wildfire risk. Lomakatsi Restoration Project

On February 23rd, Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network was featured in the Rogue Valley Times. You can view the original article written by Shaun Hall here.

$13-million initiative seeks to restore 3,650 acres of oak habitat to aid ecosystem health, reduce wildfire risk

A $13-million effort to restore health to oak tree habitat in the Lake Creek area east of White City and near the Table Rocks north of Medford is in its second year.

So far, the thinning of conifers that were competing with oaks has taken place on about 200 acres near Lake Creek and on 100 acres near the Table Rocks. The community of Lake Creek is located about 12 miles east of White City, near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

The work, known as the Upper Rogue Oak Initiative, is due to take place on 3,650 acres — nearly 6 square miles — of private and public land, all but 250 acres of it near Lake Creek. Partners include state and federal agencies, along with conservation organizations, functioning under an umbrella group known as the Klamath Siskiyou Oak Initiative.

The project is slated to take six years to complete.

An estimated 25% of historic oak habitat remains in the Pacific Northwest, according to Jaime Stephens, conservation director for the Ashland-based Klamath Bird Observatory, one of the project partners. The work is intended to restore degraded oak habitat, lessen wildfire danger and support wildlife, including birds whose populations are declining.

The work tasks include brush reduction and low-intensity ground fires, along with the reintroduction of native grasses and plants, in an effort to leave behind a landscape more resilient to fire, insects, disease and climate change.

“We’re looking to create a forest that would burn at low severity,” Stephens said Wednesday, after one of the project partners, the Lomakatsi Restoration Project of Ashland, posted updates about the work. Stephens said the project will benefit “wildlife and people.”

About half of the forest-dependent birds in the West are in decline, according to a news release from the observatory.

“This sobering statistic has sounded the alarm that landscape-level conservation actions are needed now more than ever,” according to the news release. “Restoration will remove conifers that are crowding oaks, use prescribed fire where feasible, reduce noxious weeds and reestablish a native understory.”

Indigenous people once used fire that benefited oaks, but the removal of those peoples, followed by encroaching farms, ranches and development and the advent of wildland fire suppression has led to conifers and non-native plants taking over some oak areas.

“Historically, regular burning as part of indigenous stewardship maintained cultural landscapes of oak conifer forests, woodlands and savanna in a more open state, enriching natural resources and biodiversity, and enhancing the structure and quality of critical food and fiber resources,” according to the observatory. “Following European settlement, many oak habitats were converted for agriculture or urban development. Decades of fire suppression during the latter half of the 1900s have allowed less fire-resistant yet faster-growing tree species, such as Douglas-fir, to encroach upon and displace oak trees.”

According to the organization, oak ecosystems support more than 300 vertebrate species.

Lomakatsi, an Ashland-based forest and watershed restoration organization, recently highlighted some of that work in a social media post.

“Restoration treatments will decrease the density of conifers and shrubs that have advanced from years of fire exclusion,” according to the organization. “Partners will also seed native species into treated areas, focused in the blackened footprints of burn piles to support the fresh growth of native plants and reduce the likelihood that non-native plants might establish and spread.”

The restoration work is expected to protect the oaks from unnaturally severe wildfires. Planned treatments include ecological thinning to reduce conifer encroachment and the density of surface and ladder fuels around large, legacy oak trees. That work sets the stage for the reintroduction of carefully applied low-intensity fire and controlled pile burns. Oak restoration also includes the removal of noxious weeds and seeding the understory to establish healthy populations of native forbs and grasses that provide habitat.

Funding for the work includes $7 million awarded two years ago from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board using Oregon Lottery revenue. It also includes $2.78 million from a U.S. Department of Agriculture program known as the America the Beautiful Challenge, plus $3 million in matching funds and donations.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is one of the partners. Oak habitat benefits birds, deer and elk, according to an agency statement.

“Oak habitat loss is a major threat to wildlife species in Oregon including Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Gray Warbler and game animals such as deer and elk,” the agency said in a November 2022 news release announcing the America the Beautiful funding.