Green Guide

Project aims to save dwindling old-growth oak savannas

Posted October 9

— A project to protect some of the last remaining stands of old-growth oak savannas is underway in southwestern Oregon.

The two-year, $1.28 million project is treating 1,400 acres of public and private land in and around the Upper and Lower Table Rocks for oak habitat restoration, The Mail Tribune reported (

"It's not about creating a museum piece," said Darren Borgias of The Nature Conservancy. "It's restoring a habitat that can continue to evolve."

The Nature Conservancy and Klamath Bird Observatory have joined with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest service and other federal agencies in the project intended to protect trees that can be more than 200 years old. Experts say only about 10 percent of the low-elevation oak savannas that several hundred years ago stretched from northern California to British Columbia still exist.

The restoration work includes reducing the threat of high-intensity wildfires.

"You're going to have fire," Borgias said. "The question is, how do you want your fire? To sustain the legacy trees or to kill them?"

The Rogue Valley has pockets of old oaks. Areas around Agate Lake and in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument have significant stands, as do the Table Rocks.

The oaks are important for various species, particularly the Lewis' woodpecker, which nests in cavities in the trees.

"Lewis' woodpeckers have been slowly blinking out in the Western states along with the big oaks," said botanist Kristi Mergenthaler of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

The restoration effort in and around the Upper and Lower Table Rocks area last year included removing brush that posed a fire danger. Low-intensity prescribed fires are planned for this fall and spring.

"There's more urgency to safe-harbor this habitat through upcoming climate change," Borgias said. "This way, these oaks can lifeboat their way into the future."


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