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Lomakatsi wins conservation award

A collaborative effort to restore the natural oak habitat in Southern Oregon and far Northern California, led by the Ashland-based Lomakatsi Restoration Project, received a national conservation award Thursday.

Lomakatsi Director Marko Bey, along with several representatives of other partners in the ongoing effort, were on hand to receive the Partners in Conservation Award when it was presented by U.S. Department of Interior officials in Washington, D.C. The effort includes a 23-member partnership to restore more than 2,000 acres of oak woodland ecosystems in Jackson and Douglas counties in Oregon and Siskiyou County in California.

Known as the Central Umpqua-Mid-Klamath Oak Habitat Conservation Project, the work includes removal of encroaching conifers, reseeding native grasses and using prescribed fire to restore oak environments.

The work began a year ago and is expected to be completed next year.

Less than 10 percent of the oak habitat that once existed in Oregon and Northern California remains, according to Interior Department estimates.

"The Partners in Conservation Awards offer wonderful examples of how America's greatest conservation legacies are created when communities from a wide range of backgrounds work together," said Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes, in a prepared statement.

"These awards recognize dedicated citizens from across our nation who collaborate to conserve and restore America's great outdoors, to encourage youth involvement in conservation and to forge solutions to complex natural resource challenges."

The effort is different because of its unique approach, added Robyn Thorson, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Region.

"The strength of this initiative is that instead of taking a piecemeal approach to resource management, the partners are focusing their efforts toward restoring oak habitats through connected landscapes and corridors," she said.

"Their collaborative approach brings in expertise and good science from all participating partners and helps leverage funding to achieve better restoration," she added.

Bey cited the partnership approach for the success of the project.

"This cutting-edge, collaborative, conservation effort brings together a coalition of nonprofit organizations, landowners and federal and state natural resource management agencies who share a collective mission and interest in improving the condition and function of oak woodland habitats," he said.

"This project demonstrates a model for accomplishing landscape-scale ecosystem restoration where project partners share resources and expertise for conserving a critically important habitat for wildlife," he added.

The project includes working with 20 private landowners to restore the health of the oak habitat, creating an important connection to surrounding federal lands for wildlife, officials said.

Scientists have identified oak habitat as the primary habitat in the Pacific Northwest for terrestrial neo-tropical migratory birds. In Oregon and California, oak woodlands and savannahs are richer in wildlife than any other terrestrial system, providing habitat for more than 200 species, plus many plants and other organisms.

However, because of development and the exclusion of wildfires, the oak habitat that once blanketed much of the region has become one of the most threatened ecosystems, officials said.

The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service provided $1.8 million in funding, and project partners brought in more than $2 million in other funds and contributions for the collaborative effort. Participating property owners receive financial benefits for embracing conservation practices on their properties that protect, enhance or restore declining oak habitats.

In addition to Lomakatsi, core members of the partnership include the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the nonprofit Klamath Bird Observatory.

Other partners include The Klamath Tribes, Northern California Resource Center, Douglas County Soil & Water Conservation District, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, California and Oregon Departments of Fish and Wildlife, California and Oregon Departments of Forestry, Oregon State University Extension Service, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, Defenders of Wildlife, Colestin Rural Fire Department, Jackson County Small Woodlands Association, Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, Oregon Oaks Working Group and private landowners.

For information about the oak habitat restoration project, see lomakatsi.org/oak-habitat-restoration/.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.