The Oak Titmouse is a species of conservation concern that depends on Pacific Northwest oak habitats.
Photo – Joseph Oliver, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Willamette Valley landowners pledge to conserve oaks
A unique conservation initiative that sustains healthy local economies and valuable oak habitat is gaining momentum in Oregon. The goal of the Willamette Valley Oak Accord is to generate awareness and support for oak conservation and to help landowners conserve or establish oak habitat on their property. Oak habitat, including the large iconic oaks of open landscapes, provide critical food, shelter and nesting habitat for resident and migratory birds, insect pollinators, and other wildlife.
Only 5-7% of historic oak habitat remains in the Willamette Valley, with habitat loss due to conversion to residential and agricultural uses, fire suppression, and invasive species. Climate change is also expected to affect the Pacific Northwest’s oak ecosystems in the coming years. The dwindling number of oaks has long been a concern of state and federal agencies, conservation groups, private landowners and public land managers. Several years ago, Willamette Partnership took the lead in harnessing stakeholder support for this initiative, building upon the vision and enthusiasm of landowners who wanted to conserve some of the Valley’s oak landscapes while sustainably using the land. Most of the Valley’s remaining oak habitat is found on private lands.
In March, official signatures for the Accord were recorded at a celebratory event at the Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton, Oregon. Pacific Birds was recognized for its support of the Accord and for helping to make the founding vision a reality.
Signatories, all voluntary, will work with Willamette Partnership to assess baseline or current condition of oak habitat on their property and from there will protect, restore or plant oaks as needed and feasible. Willamette Partnership will help to track these restoration projects so that improvements made to oak habitat throughout the Willamette Valley can be measured over time. There are currently 40 signatories, including 35 vineyards. There are also private and public forest holdings, including Oregon State University’s Research Forests and the Oregon Department of Corrections.
Gabriele and Craig Keeler, owners of Keeler Estate Vineyard, officially signing the Accord on March 23rd. Photo courtesy of Willamette Partnership.
Conserving oaks benefits restores biodiversity and helps conserve landbirds
The conservation and biodiversity goals of The Oak Accord align with habitat goals in the Oregon Conservation Strategy. Recommended approaches for the conservation of oak woodlands include using a suite of conservation tools and strategies to restore and maintain open canopy oak-dominated woodlands on private and public lands.
The Accord will also benefit about two dozen landbird species found in oak woodland and oak savanna habitats. Cavity nesters such as the Slender-billed White-breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpecker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Oak Titmouse are dependent upon or highly associated with mature oaks, and Western Meadowlarks, Western Bluebirds and other landbirds are found in oak savanna habitats. Lewis’s Woodpecker has been disappearing from its range for more than fifty years, along with the large, open-grown oak trees it requires for nesting. Along with the Oak Titmouse, it is a 2016 State of the Birds Watch List species. The state of Oregon’s Sensitive Species list includes several species or subspecies found in oak habitats such as the Oregon Vesper Sparrow and Western Meadowlark.
Overall, the Accord is a win-win for the Willamette Valley’s economy, people, oaks and wildlife.
“We believe that the collective impact of the conservation work done through the Oak Accord will be key to restoring a resilient network of oak across the Valley. These oak habitats are a key feature of our native landscapes that are important to people and the natural communities on which we depend.”
– Nicole Maness, Resilient Habitat Program Lead, Willamette Partnership
Pat Dudley and Ted Casteel, owners of Bethel Heights Vineyards, are working to restore a patch of oak habitat on their property. Photo courtesy of Willamette Partnership.