Birds’-Eye View: Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network receives funding for oak habitat restoration project

The oak titmouse is one of the species that will benefit from an upcoming restoration project within the Little Butte Creek Watershed and Table Rocks. Frank Lospalluto photo
November 27, 2022

Little Butte Oak Initiative intended to restore 2,480 acres within Little Butte Creek Watershed and Table Rocks

By Elva Manquera-DeShields

We are excited to announce that the Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network (KSON) has received funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB)’s Focused Investment Partnerships grant program for the Little Butte Oak Initiative.

KSON partners plan to restore 2,480 acres of oak habitat within the Little Butte Creek Watershed and Table Rocks using ecological thinning, prescribed fire, noxious weed abatement and native understory planting.

With a $7 million investment from OWEB and nearly $3 million secured in matching funds, this initiative will catalyze tribal, federal and private landowner collaboration, support and capacity for important oak restoration over the next six years. KSON partners anticipate equally distributing restoration actions across both private and BLM-administered public lands. Restoration treatments on BLM-administered lands are planned under various environmental analyses, including the Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands (IVM-RL) Environmental Assessment (EA) and the Lost Antelope Environmental Assessment.  

“The BLM designed and developed the IVM EA with a desire to help streamline collaborative projects and increase competitiveness,” said BLM Medford District Manager Elizabeth Burghard. “We recognize the importance of an all-lands, all-hands approach to ecosystem restoration and fuels reduction projects.”

The Table Rock Conservation area includes approximately 1,301 acres of oak woodland habitat and 556 acres of oak conifer habitat. This Initiative will focus on maintenance, using prescribed fire or other demonstration treatments at Table Rocks. Photo by Jaime Stephens.

The project will include several opportunities where the public can learn more about these restoration efforts. Public engagement will include demonstration treatments at Table Rocks and will complement ongoing programs of interpretation, public education and volunteer stewardship. 

KSON’s Little Butte Oak Initiative was selected through a highly competitive, state-wide process that saw grants awarded to a total of five projects across the state. OWEB, which is funded primarily through state lottery revenue, has the mission to help protect and restore healthy watersheds and natural habitats that support thriving communities and strong economies.

“Shovel-ready projects are important to be competitive for large restoration funding sources such as this one. KSON partners have done an immense amount of work to be well-positioned for an opportunity like this, including developing restoration best practices and a strategic conservation plan, building relationships with partners and landowners, and completing federal planning processes like the BLM’s Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Environmental Assessment,” said Jaime Stephens, Klamath Bird Observatory science director and Klamath Siskiyou Oak Network coordinator. 

From time immemorial, oak ecosystems have provided and continue to provide culturally important plants and other resources that sustain indigenous communities. Over the past century, oak-prairie ecosystems have experienced dramatic loss and degradation. Restoration action is essential, climate-smart, and will benefit wildlife and people. KSON is a collaborative regional partnership with a mission to conserve oak habitats on private and public lands in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Guided by the KSON Strategic Conservation Action Plan, the Little Butte Oak Initiative will reduce the two highest ranked threats — fire exclusion and conifer encroachment — through restoration actions and strengthening partnerships to support future work.

Other research has shown that more than 50% of forest-dependent birds in the West are in decline, one of the steepest declines of any bird group. This sobering statistic has sounded the alarm that landscape-level conservation actions are needed now more than ever. Landscape-scale forest structure has moved away from its natural range of variability, resulting in unnaturally severe fire, diminished freshwater supplies and bird declines. The suite of birds associated with oak habitats are among those most at risk. This initiative is part of a regional and national response that is underway to address the Three Billion Birds Crisis, which identifies the urgency for conservation actions to consider declining species in the hopes of keeping species off the federal endangered species list.

This initiative’s targeted ecological outcomes are to support stable populations of oak-prairie-dependent wildlife species sustained by habitat structure and native plant species composition, and to maintain oak-prairie ecosystems resilient to habitat loss and degradation from climate, extreme fire, insects and disease. A central part of the grant application focuses on engaging with tribes and tribal communities with ancestral ties to the project area. This is to ensure an indigenous voice and the incorporation of cultural beneficial resources and subsistence “first foods” into restoration planning.

“We are excited to be a part of this incredible opportunity to restore oak habitat in partnership with tribal, agency, and non-profit partners,” said Marko Bey, executive director of Lomakatsi Restoration Project. “We believe this application was successful because of the demonstrated track records, capacity, and long-term relationships of the partners involved, the emphasis on involving tribal partners and implementing ecocultural restoration, and the focus on oak habitat — one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the West that is unfortunately in rapid decline.”

Core KSON partners are Klamath Bird Observatory, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Pacific Birds Habitat Joint Venture, Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, The Nature Conservancy, Understory Initiative, Bureau of Land Management Medford District, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Additional Initiative partners include Rogue River Watershed Council, Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, the Inter-Tribal Ecosystem Restoration Partnership, and others.

The Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) is a nonprofit organization based in Ashland 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.

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