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State of the Birds Report

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Western Forests

  Public/Private Partners Protect Oak Woodlands  


The Central Umpqua-Mid Klamath Oak Habitat Conservation Project—funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative
and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program—has channelled more than $3.8 million to restore 2,000 acres of oak woodlands on private lands in southern Oregon and northern California. Two local conservation groups, the Lomakatsi Restoration Project and Klamath Bird Observatory, are working with landowners to create and restore oak woodland habitat for Oak Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. This unique collaboration received the 2012 Department of Interior Partners in Conservation Award.

  Image: Acorn Woodpecker by Jon Goulden   
We are too quickly losing important landscapes in this country to development, and I worry that if we do not act to protect them now, future generations will grow up in a profoundly different world.
Louis Bacon, ranch owner

From the lush coniferous forests and oak woodlands of the Pacific Coast to the mixed coniferous, aspen, and riparian forests of the western mountains, western forests cover more than 280 million acres and support 40 obligate forest bird species. Although overall (including southeastern Alaska) 63% of western forests are on public lands, significant acreages of certain at-risk forest types are privately owned. For example, most juniper and oak woodlands on the Edwards Plateau of Texas, as well as Pacific Coast oak woodlands in Oregon and California, exist primarily on private land. Corporate-owned timberlands cover vast coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest, whereas numerous private reserves and easements protect important and unique forest types such as old-growth redwoods and riparian forests.

Western Forest Birds on Private Lands

Private lands support, on average, 31% of the distribution of western forest breeding species—including important habitat for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler (92% of distribution on private lands) and the endemic Island Scrub-Jay (14%). In Texas, Golden-cheeked Warbler habitats near Austin and San Antonio are threatened with development. Conversely, all of the privately owned land within the Island Scrub-Jay’s range is protected by The Nature Conservancy’s Santa Cruz Island Preserve off the coast of California. The National Park Service has partnered with TNC to improve jay habitat by eradicating nonnative animals and restoring oak woodlands.

 Western Forest Bird Distribution

Although more than 60% of western forests are public lands, private forests provide prime habitat for certain bird species. Yellow-billed Magpies have 95% of their distribution on private lands. Yellow-billed Magpie by Bob Gunderson, 

California oak-woodland specialists, such as Yellow-billed Magpie, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and Oak Titmouse, have about 70% to 95% of their distributions on private land. Pacific Coast oak woodlands have declined significantly due to development, with 80% loss in some areas. Most remaining habitat is privately owned and at risk for conversion to agriculture, especially vineyards for wine production. Among other obligate western forest birds, species breeding at lower elevations and especially in riparian habitats tend to be highly dependent on private lands. Species with more than 40% of their distribution on private lands include Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, Lazuli Bunting, and Lewis’s Woodpecker.


Ponderosa Pine by
Scott Roberts,
Mississippi State
Conservation Successes 

In 2012, ranch owner Louis Bacon donated perpetual conservation easements on two of Colorado’s largest ranches to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, protecting 170,000 acres of montane forests and adjacent areas from development. The agreement protects Lewis's Woodpecker habitat. The largest-ever donation to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is one of the first cooperative arrangements of its kind among the federal government, a private land trust, and a private landowner.

Through a series of preserves, conservation easements, and cooperative management agreements, The Nature Conservancy has protected some of the most important and fragile riparian forests in the western U.S. These include nearly 250,000 acres collaboratively managed in the Gila River watershed of New Mexico, 46,000 acres along the Cosumnes River in California, and the Hassayampa River, Aravaipa Canyon, and Patagonia-Sonoita Creek preserves in Arizona. These riparian systems support some of the highest bird diversity in the U.S. 


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