Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Back to tour Table of Contents

#4 Rick Ward Power Point Presentation, tribal wildlife biologist

I'm the wildlife biologist for the tribes.  I've been here for about 4 years now, and I guess if there is any aspect of wildlife that I would consider my strong point or specialty is habitats and how habitats impact wildlife populations and diversity.  One thing that I would like to talk about specifically is habitat function, which is essentially how the landscape impacts wildlife, that is the vegetation, the topography, water, etc., how that impacts wildlife, how wildlife reacts to that.  I guess kind of one basic concept of wildlife habitat and management is everything is habitat for something.  The tribes desire to restore wildlife populations to a healthy level.  In this case, the target wildlife species are primarily those that were abundant historically.  They were relied on by the tribes for thousands of years for cultural and subsistence needs. 

So what I would like to do is just give you a brief overview of what the current conditions are in terms of wildlife habitats and populations and compare those with historic levels and talk a little bit about where the tribes want to go from here.  I know you have seen this picture already.  I didn't realize everybody else was going to be using it.  When you are talking about wildlife habitat and diversity, there are kind of two scales I look at things on.  There is the stand level, which would be kind of small scale, really what you see in this picture here, and then there is the landscape level.  Really, what we've seen over the last 100 years or so is a conversion from diversity both on the stand scale and on the landscape to a homogenization of the habitat.  I like this picture.  It is not necessarily representative of what the reservation forests were like in the past, not all of them anyway.  As Will mentioned, I think his picture was from 1959.  (Will:  Something like that.)  But, I like this particular stand because it has a lot of structural diversity.  There are various tree species of different tree sizes.  There is abundant and various ground vegetation.  Contrasting that with what we see a lot of today, are these homogenous stands.  Will kind of touched on this, but basically you have a stand that is single species, all essentially 1 age class, 1 size class, and there is almost no vegetation growing on the ground.  This is not good habitat for the wildlife species that the tribe would like to manage for.  Will mentioned briefly some of the forest-associated habitats, and these are some of the most important habitats we have out there.  These contribute greatly to landscape-level diversity out there.  Meadows and scab-rock flats were 2 great examples.  They both have been fading now for the last several decades largely as a result of fire suppression.  The picture at the top, is a meadow that is being crushed down by lodge pole pine, and you can see small lodge pole pine right here.  Those are definitely fairly young, and they definitely moved in as a result of fire suppression, but also, some of these larger trees, it is not quite as obvious but if you went in and cored them the age would line up pretty well with when fire suppression became effective around here.  Scab-rock flats down on the bottom, is a similar story, different tree species.  Those are juniper.  I'm sure a lot of people around here are more familiar with juniper than they care to be, but the same thing, fire suppression has allowed juniper to take over.  A lot of young juniper in this scab-rock flat.  For those of you that aren't familiar with scab-rock flats, they are kind of a unique feature on the landscape.  They are not really a meadow.  They are an area where there is a bunch of rocks out there mixed with the soil, and they hold a lot of moisture in the spring, and generally the only trees that will grow in there are juniper, and those, historically, were probably eliminated when fire came through.  But, these are 2 of our most valuable wildlife habitats out there.  I'm talking specifically about big game.  One important aspect of a meadow is the edge habitat, and that is one of the best aspects, where the meadow meets the forest, and as this encroachment continues into the meadows, the edge habitat shrinks.  If you can imagine a round meadow that actually shrinks in size, and you lose that circular edge.  Meadows also provide some of the best forage in the spring and some of the wetter meadows well into the summer.  Scab-rock flats are critical to big game.  They are the first places to green up in the spring, and that is the most critical time of the whole year for big game is right before spring green up when their fat reserves are at the lowest of the entire year, so that spring green up is critical.  Juniper encroachment, if the forage plant grows, it shades them out.  They compete for resources.  Another important forest-associated habitat are forest riparian zones.  In this particular picture, it is kind of hard to see this with the snow.  There is snow on the ground, and these are aspen, these larger trees, and growing underneath them are small white fir that has moved in.  First of all, a lot of the riparian zones on the forest land within the former reservation don't have year-round flow.  Most of them have seasonal flow just from snow melt, if any flow at all.  A lot of them, like this one I believe, is simply a low spot in the ground where the water table is a little higher.  Historically these types of areas were dominated by animals.  But, historically these types of areas were dominated by aspen and other hardwoods, and again, fire suppression has allowed white fir to move in, in this particular case, conifers in general.  Aspen is a species that relies on some sort of a disturbance event to propagate, and historically that would have been primarily fire.  The fire would come through, and it might kill the mature aspen, but they sprout from the root, so you get this flush of aspen coming up after a fire, and it also eliminates the conifer component.  There are also a lot of other plant species that are associated with these riparian zones.  Things like chokecherry, bitter cherry, and snowberry, that are also good big game forage.  In view of their winter range, while not necessarily a habitat type in and of itself, it is something we have seen some pretty dramatic changes in.  We will be going through a part of the Lone Pine winter range later today, and I've heard estimates of anywhere from 3000 to 4000 deer that used to winter on that winter range, and now we are talking about a handful, maybe a couple hundred.  So, we see some serious changes in the mule deer winter range.  In this particular case, this picture, these ponderosa pine have started to move up.  There is a little draw down behind here; you can't really see it, and they are kind of moving up onto this flat.  They are relatively young.  This brush in the foreground is bitterbrush, and Will talked a little bit about that.  The bitterbrush is light dependent.  It needs direct sunlight to grow.  It cannot grow in the shade of a tree.  So, as these conifers continue to expand, they shade out the primary mule deer forage, which is bitterbrush, and even these ones that are growing out here in the opening in front are old. We always use the term 'decadent', they are no longer providing good forage.  The young plants are the one that put on the most nutritious forage for big game. 

The way things stand right now, if nothing is done to restore the forest, then all habitats are at the risk of being lost, either from this habitat conversion that I have kind of talked about, and Will talked about it in the forest specifically, or from stand-replacement wild fires.  I won't touch much on this other than to say, as I said before, everything is habitat for something, and yes, stand-replacement wildfires are habitat for certain species of animals, but they are not the species of wildlife that were abundant historically, and they are not the species that the tribe would like to manage for.  Anything that happens in the habitat is directly reflected in wildlife, both in terms of population levels and in terms of wildlife diversity. 

We have seen a lot of change in the make up of wildlife populations throughout the former reservation, both in terms of quantities of animals as well as diversity of wildlife.  These 3 species represent species that have specific habitat requirements where that particular habitat requirement has been lost over the last 100 years or so.  Goshawk, right at the top, and the pine martin, at the right, both require a large continuous block of mature timber.  The bird at the bottom is the yellow warbler.  It's more there just to represent migratory songbirds in general.  They have pretty specific needs for riparian areas, and we've seen a pretty dramatic decline both in the population of those and the specie numbers of migratory songbirds.  Species that depend on a variety of habitats have also declined.  Black bears use a variety of habitats over the course of a year.  Pronghorn, somewhat over the course of a year, but more so throughout the course of their lifecycle, and great grey owl, there are the bottom, uses a variety of habitats throughout the day, and they [101] mature conifers and forage in meadows.  Of course, the diminished carrying capacity for subsistence species and fur bearers.  I'll talk more about mule deer in a moment.  Suffice it to say that at this point, that there has been some dramatic changes in the mule deer populations, but they are not the only subsistence species out there.  There are a lot of lesser known subsistence species, things like grouse, rabbits, and hares, and fur bearers like bobcats.  So, to talk a little bit more specifically about mule deer populations,  I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife herd management units.  That's how they allocate sport hunter tags.  The shaded area up there is the Sprague River management unit, and we have some data that goes back about 40 years on that looking at mule deer populations.  It composes about 45% of the Forest Service land within the former reservation, so it's a good one to look at.  The rest of the reservation unit, all this area around here, is broken up into 4 different burn managements units, which extend primarily outside the former reservation, so looking at trend information there isn't as neat and clean as looking at the Sprague.  But, we have about 40 years worth of information, and it's a pretty sad story.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what that graph says.  Mule deer populations trends in 2003 are about 10% of what they were in 1964.  When I look at a graph like this, the first thing that jumps out at me, is that the only thing that can drive a population like that, over 40 years, is changes in habitat.  There are all these other factors out there that affect big game in general, things like predation and disease and harvest, and weather, on a year-to-year basis, has a huge impact on deer, but over the long-term trend, only habitat can drive the population like that. 

What the tribes are seeking is a sustainable population of mule deer, where you don't get these boom/bust cycles on big game but is a sustained level of harvest on mule deer.  Somewhere between what we see today, which is well below the needs of the tribes subsistence.  In 1964, the high numbers of mule deer that we saw throughout the west in the '50s and '60s, were probably artificially high from previous land management activities.  They certainly weren't sustainable as is evidenced by this graph.   So, what we are looking for is somewhere in between those 2 extremes.  Looking more specifically at the former reservation in general, the tribe began collecting data specific to the former reservation in 1981, so we don't have as much data.  It doesn't go back as far, but it is pretty much the same story.  The numbers in 2003 are about a quarter of what they were in 1981, bearing in mind that in 1981, they were already well below what they were 20 years prior to that. 
[138] are always fair for biologists.  This stuff is great.  I really like this one because it kind of gets at the point that the objective of the tribe is not to create a wildlife preserve.  The idea is not to restore abundant diverse wildlife populations strictly for the sake of restoring populations.  The idea is to restore the wildlife populations that the people rely on., the same species that people relied on thousands of years.  The way, really I guess to get there,  is to restore the systems on which wildlife depends, which obviously benefits the resources.  That is kind of the core idea.  Restore abundant populations and diversity and forest health.  They are all intertwined.  The forest management plan, while it talks largely about timber, timber management is habitat management, so they are really one and the same.  I think of equal if not greater importance, is the benefit that you see people.  Tribal members rely on resources for various subsistence needs, our cultural and spiritual well being, and the general public...   You know, you look at the tag numbers in South Central Oregon in general for mule deer, and they've declined dramatically over the past 4 years, right along with population.  This could be a good example of how to increase some big game numbers.  Also, I think this is a good example or a good opportunity for not just the tribe but for the Upper Klamath Basin to serve as a stewardship example.  I've worked on 7 or 8 different national forests in the Northwest, and these problems that I have outlined here are commonplace.  That is the norm in the inner mountain West, from the Cascade Crest all the way to the east slope of the Rocky Mountains.  We face a lot of these same problems, and there is a lot of bickering going on about how to manage forests in the West especially on public lands.  People hear the word harvest, and they start to get nervous, so I think this is an opportunity to show people throughout the West how it can and should be done.





Page Updated:   Pacific

Copyright klamathbasincrisis.org, 2004, All Rights Reserved