Oregon white oak woodlands, savannas, and prairies once dominated the Willamette Valley and supported a wide array of plants like camas lilies and animals like western gray squirrels and white-breasted nuthatches. Today, native oak and prairie habitat is an increasingly rare part of the local landscape.
Learn about ways to protect and enhance oak habitat in the Oakscaping Guide.
To address the troubling decline, Metro partnered with the Intertwine Alliance, Kingfisher Ecological Services, the Urban Greenspaces Institute, Portland State University’s Indigenous Nations Studies program and many other organizations to map existing oaks in greater Portland. The group also created a 51-page guide with tips, resources, and detailed information for community members to protect and enhance oak habitat in urban and suburban settings.
According to experts white oaks are now found in five to 10 percent of their original range in the Willamette Valley, says Lori Hennings, a Metro senior natural resources scientist and co-leader of the regional Oak Prairie Work Group and mapping project.
“What’s left is fragmented, making it hard for animals and plants to move between,” she said. “We need to know where the oak trees are, so we can do effective conservation and outreach.”
The six-year mapping effort yielded data that will allow Metro and other organizations to do just that. The mapping project was supported by Metro, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, and Clackamas and Tualatin soil and water conservation districts.
Oak habitats have deep cultural significance to Native Americans, who carefully managed them for generations and cultivated the land for foods such as acorns, camas, deer and elk.
Project leaders hired Savahna Jackson and Sequoia Breck through the Native American Youth and Family Center and PSU’s Indigenous Nations Studies program to manage about 200 volunteers in the field to map oaks with their smart phones for two summers.
The volunteers made valuable contributions, Hennings said. “They learn about the resource, they learn to care about it.”
Hennings believes that everyone can make a difference and offers three tips:
Plant. Plant oak trees and encourage neighbors to do the same. They will contribute to essential ecosystems and help connect oak habitats, creating “critter corridors” for plants and animals to travel and thrive.
Preserve. Don’t cut an oak tree down unless absolutely necessary. A mature oak takes generations to replace.
Pamper. Remove invasive species and plant native flowers and shrubs like snowberry that grow naturally with oak.