• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation
A private lands biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife used the Adaptation Workbook to consider climate change adaptation actions that might be possible on private lands in their service area. In particular, their management focus is to maintain and restore Oregon White Oak and Ponderosa pine woodlands in the East Cascades of northern Oregon.

Project Area

Current Oak and Pine within Project Area
The east slope of the Cascades Range in Oregon is habitat for Oregon white oak and mixed oak/Ponderosa pine woodlands. This area is a stronghold of the remaining Oregon White Oak habitat in the Pacific Northwest. For the project area, the target species being monitored are mule deer, western gray squirrels, and songbirds that depend on oak woodlands.

Management Goals

Site-wide goals and objectives for this project:

  • Maintain, restore, and enhance Oregon White Oak and mixed Oak/Ponderosa pine woodlands as habitat for mule deer, western gray squirrel, and oak ecosystem-dependent songbirds
  • Thin areas of multi-stemmed oak woodlands, reduce canopy cover
  • Thin competing vegetation
  • Chemically treat annual grasses, re-seed with native species
  • Complete prescribed burns to promote healthy understory growth
  • Plant native shrubs that provide beneficial forage for wildlife

 

Climate Change Impacts

Key climate change impacts for this project include:

Predicted warmer temperatures will cause greater drought conditions, which increases stress for both plant and wildlife species. Pines in mixed oak/pine woodlands are at higher risk of becoming stressed with increased rates of mortality.
The Northwest region is expected to experience fewer days per year with a minimum temperature below 10 degrees. For deer, and most songbirds present in the area, this will likely reduce cold stress they may experience.
Climate conditions will continue to increase wildfire risks in the Northwest by the end of the century. The risk of stand-replacing fires is a major concern when considering the need to retain mature oak and pine trees for some wildlife.
By the end of the century, average annual precipitation is projected to increase slightly in the Northwest, and when considering precipitation and specific wildlife species, the timing of that precipitation is as relevant as the amount.
The freeze-free season is expected to increase by the end of the century, possibly affecting the acorn production of oaks, depending on the overall number of chilling hours experienced.
Warmer temperatures, reduced snowpack, and greater water demand for agriculture may reduce available water for natural ecosystems, increasing the stress level for Eastside Cascade forests.
Climate change will amplify many existing stressors to forest ecosystems in the Northwest, such as insect pests, tree diseases, and wildfire. All of these stressors are already increasing, and are changing the forest from the canopy down.
Many tree species and ecosystems in the Northwest may decline under climate change, and the Oregon white oak and Ponderosa pine woodlands are home to many wildlife that are dependent on those ecosystems.
Low-diversity systems are at greater risk from climate change. Oregon white oak woodlands historically had high biodiversity. Much of the project area has been impacted by invasive species, contributing to a loss of biodiversity.
Systems that are more tolerant of disturbance have less risk of declining on the landscape, and Oregon white oak are well adapted to disturbance, although long-lived and slower to reach maturity.
The number and intensity of heavy precipitation events, particularly in winter, is projected to increase, increasing mortality rates for mule deer and blacktail deer.
Precipitation is projected to increase during winter and decrease during summer, causing more stress on plant communities in the area, even those that are drought adapted. Additionally, new vegetation in restoration projects will become less successful.
Fire frequency is projected to increase substantially, initially east of the crest of the Cascade Range and then in the western Cascade Range. Being located east of the crest of the Cascade Range, this could greatly impact the forest ecosystem.
Species in fragmented landscapes will have less opportunity to migrate in response to climate change. Oak woodlands are fragmented and this may impact species such as Western gray squirrel, woodpeckers, etc.
Higher air temperature, through its influence on soil moisture, is expected to cause gradual changes in the abundance and distribution of vegetation species. Ponderosa pine in this area may shift from dry forest to woodlands.
Ecosystem responses to climate change will affect animal species through altered food availability, competition, predator-prey dynamics, and availability of key habitat features. Fragmented, disconnected habitat patches negatively affect wildlife.
Peak annual snowpack in the Cascade Mountains could decline up to nearly three-quarters by the end of the century, and less snowpack in the Cascades will increase drought severity for the project area and the wildlife that are present.

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project, including:

Challenges

Wildfire risk is increasing and precipitation is decreasing in the summer months, making the work window for fuels reduction work tighter.
Drier summers and increased drought bring about less snow-pack, increased wildfire, and a shift in forest stand ranges, and invasive species.
Native bunch grasses, forbes, and shrub species that relied on frequent, low intensity wildfires are not as prevalent.
Less spring/summer precipitation and less snowpack may affect any new seeding/planting efforts and seedling mortality may increase.
Increased drought and wildfire risk make the general public wary of prescribed burns.
Windows for active burning are very short due to increased drought conditions.
Drought conditions, increased summer temperatures, less soil moisture, and less summer precipitation will hinder success and survivability of new shrub plantings.

Opportunities

Because there is so much effort going into fuels reduction to address the risk of wildfire, there is a lot of funding currently available for fuels reduction and forest health work.
Average low winter temperatures are predicted to increase, making it more likely that grasses and forbs seeded in the fall will survive until spring.
Average low winter temperatures are predicted to increase, making it more likely that grasses and forbs seeded in the fall will survive until spring.
More research is showing that prescribed burns help forests survive wildfires, and outreach about those findings is reaching more people.

Adaptation Actions

Project participants used the Adaptation Workbook to develop several adaptation actions for this project, including:

Area/Topic
Approach
Tactics
Oregon White Oak Woodland Habitat
Thinning/mastication work will address the build-up of material and overstocking that currently exists.
Creating patch openings of variable size with the different thinning prescriptions will create diversity in the stands and help to enhance the large oaks.
When possible, prescribed fire will be used after thinning/mastication to promote understory regrowth.
Leave some areas untouched to compare with the other management actions and tactics, determine if the management actions selected improve overall habitat or not.
Control areas should be similar to and near the areas that are treated.
Reduce fuel loads and forest stand density in areas that historically experienced regular low-intensity wildfire.
Recent management has led to overstocking and excessive fuel loads.
Thinning will reduce risk of stand-replacing fires sweeping through essential habitat.
In areas of degraded habitat or lacking diversity, treat any invasives/weeds and reseed with natives that will work well with current and future climate conditions at the site.
If shrub species are lacking, plant with native shrubs that provide forage and cover for wildlife, particularly for deer.
Conduct prescribed burns in thinned areas that are adjacent to USFS thinned areas.
Align with prescribed burns completed on USFS lands.

Monitoring

Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
DBH and canopy cover of Oregon White Oaks.
Monitor DBH and canopy cover in June every year for 10 years in each different thinning prescription area and no-treatment area.
Percentage of annual grasses and/or noxious weeds, and percentage and species present of native bunchgrasses and forbs.
Monitor species present and estimated percentages every May/June for 10 years.
Monitor survival of planted shrub seedlings every June for 3 years after planting.

Keywords

Fire and fuels
Oak
Wildlife habitat

Last Updated