By Cynthia Orlando
Published in Eugene Register Guard as Guest Viewpoint on March 28, 2013
Usually when we think of wildlife we think of animals that make their homes in large forest ecosystems. We often don’t stop to appreciate that small, privately owned forests close to urban areas also provide essential habitat for Oregon wildlife.
The fact is, with some 60,000 families owning forests between 10 acres and 500 acres in size, privately owned forestlands are a key component to meeting the habitat needs of Oregon wildlife. These family-owned forests — including about 30,000 acres within urban growth boundaries — are the forestlands that most Oregonians see around them every day.
These lands help meet the habitat needs of deer, coyote and other mammals. Birds — especially migratory varieties, and birds of prey such as hawks, owls and eagles — also depend on these forests.
Rounding out the list: amphibians such as frogs and salamanders, and many small mammals, including voles, deer mice, tree squirrels, chipmunks, bats, opossums and moles.
Unfortunately, while many ecosystem services such as clean air, clean water and habitat for fish and wildlife originate on private forestlands, those who own, manage and restore these lands have been compensated historically only through markets for traditional products such as timber. Small forestland owners may live to see income generated from timber sales only once or twice in their lifetimes.
With tough economic times, mill closures and log prices tied to a fluctuating housing market, it’s often difficult for Oregon’s small forest owners to maintain financial stability. One result is that forestlands become fragmented by development, and the likelihood that they’ll be managed for forest values declines.
What can be done to support these forest owners and conserve these important forested parcels?
Assist and compensate Oregon forest landowners.
Many organizations are exploring ways of compensating landowners who provide “ecosystem services” such as clean, cool water, or maintain forests’ capacity to mitigate climate change by storing carbon. A Ties to the Land educational program, available through Oregon State University, helps prepare family forest owners for intergenerational transfer of their properties to their adult children.
Keeping our forests healthy and intact is of high interest to the Oregon Department of Forestry and its board, and these are both worthy efforts.
Support urban parks and gardens.
Gardens, city parks, neighborhood lots, forest remnants on the edge of a community, set-aside natural areas and open spaces within city limits provide much-needed habitat for wildlife.
That’s just one reason to support and encourage city park programs, encourage the retention of open spaces and natural areas, and provide valuable corridors that link patches of wildlife habitat and allow movement among them.
City park departments and industrious backyard gardeners also can play a pivotal role just by their everyday habits. For example, one way to support diversity is to grow native plants — ground cover, small and tall shrubs, and understory and overstory trees that create the site characteristics necessary to meet the food requirements of birds and wildlife.
Providing a fresh water source in your yard or garden is another way to enhance habitat for birds, insects and valuable pollinators.
Conserve oak communities. More than 200 species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals — including rare or threatened species — use Pacific Northwest oak communities for food and shelter.
Almost 99 percent of these oak communities (Oregon white oak, Garry oak) have been lost to urban and agricultural development, management practices that have converted stands of oak to conifers, and invasive plants such as Himalayan blackberry that crowd out native understory plants such as camas. Wildlife species that rely on oak communities include the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and the western gray squirrel.
What can be done to reverse the trend? If oaks are growing on your property, protect them from conifer encroachment and nonnative plant invasion. If you own a large parcel of land, consider planting seedlings of Oregon white oak on your property.
When planting plants or shrubs, choose native species.
Collaboration makes a difference.
Although growth has slowed considerably during the recession, population from 2000 to 2010 in Oregon grew significantly, by 12 percent. Along with population growth comes increased pressures on habitat needed by Oregon wildlife.
Whether you’re a city parks worker, an urban gardener or a private forest landowner on the outskirts of a city, keep your eyes open to observe how birds and wildlife use and depend on different habitat types. Collaborate with others to conserve these areas.
Urban gardeners as well as those living in urban fringe areas also can work with their neighbors to plant native trees and shrubs that enhance habitat.
Lastly, private forest landowners can receive technical (and sometimes financial), assistance from their local Natural Resources Conservation Service, extension office, or the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Cynthia Orlando is a certified arborist with the Oregon Department of Forestry. For more information on wildlife habitat in urban areas, go to rgne.ws/Zy2hlv.