Often, families income comes only by selling their timber.

by: COURTESY OF OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY  - Hummingbird feasts on red flowerUsually when we think of wildlife habitat 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 comprise another source of essential habitat for Oregon wildlife.

The fact is, with some 60,000 families owning forests between 10 and 500 acres, privately-owned forestlands are a key component to meeting the habitat needs of Oregon wildlife. These family-owned forests – some 30,000 acres located within urban growth boundaries – are the forestlands that most Oregonians see around them on an everyday basis. Such lands help meet the habitat needs of deer, coyote, small mammals, birds, mountain lion and other mammals.

Other kinds of wildlife most likely to be dependent on the these forests include birds - especially migratory varieties, and birds of prey, like hawks, owls and eagles. Amphibians such as frogs and salamanders, and many small mammals including voles, deer mice, tree squirrels, chipmunks, bats, opossums and moles round out the list.

Unfortunately, while many ecosystem services such as clean air, clean water, and habitat for fish and wildlife originate on private forestlands, historically, those who own, manage and restore these lands have been compensated only through markets for traditional products like timber. These small forestland owners may live to see income generated from timber sales only once or twice in their lifetimes. Furthermore, in these tough economic times with 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. As forestlands become fragmented by development, the likelihood they'll be managed for forest values declines.

What can be done to help 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 forests’ capacity to mitigate climate change by storing carbon. In addition, a “Ties to the Land” succession planning education program for family forest landowners is available through Oregon State University that 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 and Board of Forestry, 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 also play key roles in providing much-needed habitat for wildlife. That's just one reason to support and encourage local city park programs, and to encourage the retention of open spaces and natural areas and provide valuable corridors that facilitate wildlife movement by linking habitat patches on the landscape.

City park departments as well as industrious backyard gardeners can also play a pivotal role supporting ecosystem diversity just by their everyday habits. Some ways to support diversity include growing native plants. They should be comprised of ground cover, small and tall shrubs, and understory and overstory trees - creating 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) historically present have been lost. Causes include urban and agricultural development, management practices that have converted stands of oak to conifer, and invasive plants such as Himalayan blackberry crowding out native understory plants like camas. Wildlife species that rely on oak communities include the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and 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 on your property, choose native species.

Collaboration can make a difference

Though 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 can also 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.