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Willamette National Forest outside Oakridge



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Project Overview

(from Oregon Conservation Strategy)
The West Cascades foothills once had extensive woodlands and savannas of widely-spaced large Oregon white oak, ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir trees with a grass and wildflower understory. Native Americans are thought to have maintained these habitats through the use of fire, which produced forage for big game, improved traveling conditions, and selected for important subsistence plants such as camas, tarweed, and desert-parsleys. As a result of changes in fire frequency and intensity after European settlement, Douglas-fir now dominates in many of these areas, and many of the open woodlands and savannas converted to forests. Almost 95 percent of open oak and pine habitats have been lost in this ecoregion. Currently, remnant patches of oak-pine woodlands and savannas are found on the margins of the Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue valleys and some dry, south-facing mid-elevation slopes.

One site with a remnant oak-pine woodland and evidence of Native American use is the area around Jim’s Creek, on the Willamette National Forest near Oakridge. The site’s important ecological and cultural value has inspired a comprehensive planning effort to restore some of the oak-pine habitat. Once a savanna with large, scattered oak, pine, and Douglas-fir trees, the area is dominated by a relatively dense Douglas-fir forest. Several of the large ponderosa pines have scars characteristic of bark removal. Native Americans removed the inner bark (cambium) for medicine, so these large trees are considered “medicine trees.” However, the large pines are declining in health, and oaks are now restricted to the margins of small, rocky openings. With no pine or oak regeneration occurring, the site will convert to a Douglas-fir forest if no actions are taken. The large heritage ponderosa pine trees will be lost.

In response, the Willamette National Forest began an extensive outreach effort to the communities of Oakridge and Eugene, including political leaders, Native American leaders, the timber industry, and environmental groups to discuss the issues and ask people how they thought the landscape should be managed. Ecological studies on current and historic vegetation, small mammal populations, and fish populations have been initiated to determine restoration opportunities and to guide management in an adaptive management approach.

These ecological studies also will provide valuable lessons that could be applied to other sites. So far, competing conifers have been removed from around several large oak and ponderosa pine trees in three test treatment plots. The plots are being used to demonstrate potential techniques and results. The plots also will test the effects of treatment on the individual oak and pine trees. The extensive planning process will be completed in 2005, with potential treatments being implemented in 2006. The Jim’s Creek project is a comprehensive approach to building partnerships and planning science-based restoration that will hopefully restore an important cultural and ecological landscape for future generations to enjoy.



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