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In Part Two of a three-part series on the wildlife refuges of the Klamath Basin and water in the arid West, reporter Jes Burns puts KBO research and monitoring results in the broader context of bird population declines in the Upper Klamath Basin. Click here to read and listen to the Oregon Public Broadcast series.

The following provides more detailed information about KBO’s Black Tern monitoring results:


Results from long-term monitoring efforts show that Black Tern population declines in the Klamath Basin are higher than declines previously documented for continental and regional populations. Results from a 10 year study conducted by Klamath Bird Observatory show a steady, sharp decline in numbers of Black Terns in the wetlands and open waters of Agency Lake and Upper Klamath Lake.

Klamath Bird Observatory Science Director and the study’s lead author Jaime Stephens points out, “Black Tern populations in North America experienced steep declines prior to 1980, likely a result of dramatic wetland habitat loss. The current population is estimated to be about one-third of its historical size — reversing declines has become a conservation priority. Our findings suggest an alarming decline of 8% loss annually at Agency and Upper Klamath Lakes.”

According to a Black Tern conservation plan created in 2006, the desired population objective within the Great Basin — which includes the Klamath Basin — is 10,000 individuals. The current estimate of Black Terns for this area is already some 20% below the objective, making these local declines a red flag. The 2006 Intermountain West Waterbird Conservation Plan was created by many researchers from multiple organizations and agencies to identify and fill knowledge gaps and aid in all-bird conservation efforts. Conservation plans are developed by looking at historic and current population numbers to create reasonable objectives for maintaining populations with the goal of avoiding costly special-protection actions such as threatened or endangered species listing.

Terns are migratory waterbirds related to gulls. Many tern species travel to inland waterbodies to nest and return to coastal areas for most of the year. The Black Tern is one of the smallest terns in the world with a graceful, floating flying appearance. It is a long-distance migrant, nesting in wetlands across the northern United States and southern Canada and wintering along South America’s northern coasts. Black Tern long-term population declines have been attributed degradation and loss of wetland habitat across North America. Now studies must focus on existing habitat suitability, including water levels and water quality.

Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex manager Greg Austin said, “We find these results reflective of the declines observed in wetland habitat throughout the Klamath Basin. Historically the refuges provided the necessary habitats to support Black Tern populations, however with the loss of wetland habitat throughout the Klamath Basin Black Tern populations have declined. The Klamath Basin is an over-allocated system; drought and increased demands on water resources have put the Klamath Basin out of balance; there is not enough water to completely satisfy every need every year. A balanced approach for water allocation in the Basin is needed for effective management by all stakeholders”.

KBO’s Stephens explained the importance of this study’s results: “It is not well understood how water levels in the Klamath Basin relate to how much Black Tern breeding season habitat is available and how good that habitat is for raising young. Given the challenges that Black Terns face from a combination of water allocation, drought, and climate change impacts, an improved understanding local habitat needs is pressing.”

She added: “The best next step to addressing local Black Tern population loss is to determine the cause of the decline we found.”

The results of the 2001-2010 Klamath Basin Black Tern study were published in the Winter 2015 issue of the Northwest Naturalist journal. To read or download the publication click here.


Klamath Bird Observatory, based in Ashland, Oregon, is a scientific non-profit organization that achieves bird conservation in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the migratory ranges of the birds of our region. We developed our award-winning conservation model in the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California, and we now apply this model more broadly to care for our shared birds throughout their annual cycles. Emphasizing high caliber science and the role of birds as indicators of the health of the land, we specialize in cost-effective bird monitoring and research projects that improve natural resource management. Also, recognizing that conservation occurs across many fronts, we nurture a conservation ethic in our communities through our outreach and educational programs.

Media Contact: Jaime Stephens, Science Director
Klamath Bird Observatory
541-201-0866 x 2#
jlh [AT]

Recently published paper describes meaningful ecological units (i.e., Management Domains) for collaborative conservation in the Klamath Region


August 14, 2015 – For Immediate Release

Contact: John Alexander, jda[AT], 541-890-7067

Patterns of plant, amphibian, mammal, and bird distribution have been used to identify ecological boundaries in the Klamath Region of southern Oregon and northern California, one of the most biophysically complex areas in North America. These patterns are described in a paper, recently published in the Natural Areas Journal, written by collaborators from the National Park Service, US Geological Survey, Klamath Bird Observatory, and other organizations. “This paper represents our first collaborative effort to link biogeography with protected areas management in the Klamath Region,” says the papers lead author, Daniel Sarr (formerly with the National Park Service and now working with the US Geological Survey). John Alexander, Klamath Bird Observatory’s Executive Director and a co-author on the paper added, “In the Klamath Region, natural resource managers are challenged with managing the complex array of environments that characterize the area. In this paper, we describe patterns that help delineate meaningful ecological units, or Management Domains, that are intended to advance collaborative natural resource management in the Region.”

The distributions of species described in the paper illustrate conceptual and spatial domains for natural areas management that provide an eco-regional framework for collaborative conservation. The paper describes a Maritime Management Domain in the western portion of the Region that is similar to other coastal areas. To the east, a Great Basin Domain that is similar to other Great Basin environments is also described. While conservation management approaches that have been tested in other areas of the west coast and Great Basin may be effectively applied in these two Domains, a third Eastern Klamath Management Domain, at the core of the Klamath Region, is more unique and presents novel management challenges. This third Domain has higher species richness and endemism than other environments in the western United States that are climatically similar, such as the southwest. Because the area is so unique, management approaches that have been successful in other areas may not be as easily applied in the Eastern Klamath Management Domain. Lead author Daniel Sarr explains further, “Because of its exceptional spatial complexity, it has not always been clear how management concepts and approaches developed in other areas of the West can best be used in the Klamath Region.”


However, the species that characterize the Eastern Klamath Domain may be the key to the conservation and management of natural areas in the Klamath Region. The Klamath Region will likely serve as an important refugia for a number of at-risk species that may become more threatened by climate change. Therefore management intended to help the Region’s unique array of native species persist into an uncertain future is becoming a priority. This paper presents an improved understanding of how such species are distributed across the region which, in combination with knowledge about the species’ habitat needs, can help inform design of the novel management approaches that may be needed in the Klamath Region.

Dr. Sarr concluded the following about these research results, “This new paper represents ongoing efforts to identify spatially explicit management domains and serves as a step forward. The work will undoubtedly be refined through ongoing observational science efforts being conducted by the Klamath Bird Observatory, National Park Service, and other regional partners.”

To access a copy of this new publication, Comparing Ecoregional Classifications for Natural Areas Management in the Klamath Region, USA in the Natural Areas Journal contact John Alexander (jda[AT], 541-890-7067) or click here.  Click here to view a PDF of this Science Brief and News Release.


About Klamath Bird Observatory

Klamath Bird Observatory, based in Ashland, Oregon, advances bird and habitat conservation through science, education, and partnerships. Klamath Bird Observatory is fueled by partner-driven science programs. We use birds as indicators of the healthy and resilient ecosystems on which we all depend. Our science involves three integrated aspects: 1) long-term monitoring, 2) theoretical research, and 3) applied ecology. We bring our results to bear through science delivery involving partnership driven engagement in conservation planning, informing the critical decisions being made today that will have lasting influences on the health of our natural resources well into the future.

Klamath Bird Observatory’s award-winning model was developed in the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion. We now apply this model more broadly throughout the Pacific Northwest. Plus, our intensive professional education and international capacity building programs expand our influence into Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.