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Klamath-Siskiyou Forests Ranked High for Species Survival

By MALCOLM TERENCE
Two Rivers Tribune

New Study by Conservation Biologists Say Mid and Low Elevation Sites May Buffer from Climate Change

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The shifts in global climate could endanger many species of plants and animals over coming decades and a new paper by conservation biologists say the Klamath-Siskiyou region is among the most important half-dozen such regions in the world for protecting these species from extinction. Conservation biology is often referred to as a discipline with a deadline.

The authors, who include Dominick DellaSala from the Geos Institute in Ashland, note that many high elevation areas are already protected by wilderness designations.

These areas have been heavily fragmented and otherwise altered by more than a century of logging, mining, livestock grazing, dams and ill-considered patterns of fire management.

DellaSala and the others ranked in importance what they called the Klamath-Siskiyou Eco-region with only five other areas in the world. They included Caucasus, Southwestern China, the coastal plain and southern Appalachians in the US, and the Valdivia rainforests of Chile and Argentina.

The scientists studied computer mapping and extensive sets of data on regional climates and wildlife distributions to calculate what areas were most likely to retain the local climatic conditions that will provide safe haven for wildlife seeking refuge from rising temperatures and changes predicted changes in rainfall.

The studies suggest that annual temperatures will increase one to three degrees Fahrenheit by 2040 and four to eight degrees by 2080 and, even steeper, by 7 to 15 degrees in summers by 2080. This translates to more precipitation—more rain and less snow which will reduce spring stream flows.

These shifts will increase the importance of older forests with their closed canopies but add even more importance to north-facing slopes and canyon bottoms, lower- and middle-elevations and wetter coastal mountains.

Specifically, the paper designated seven specific areas in the Klamath region that should receive specific conservation attention because of their older forest and microclimate conditions. They include:
1. The southern bend of the Klamath River in California
2. The lower slopes of the Klamath River area from around China Point east to Hamburg
3. The northern slope of the Scott Bar mountains and along the lower Scott River
4. The coastal areas in Oregon and in the foothills behind Northern California’s redwood belt
5. The middle Smith River, areas west of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness
6. Southeastern watersheds of the Siskiyou Mountains like Dillon and Rock Creeks
7. The northern Siskiyou Mountains to the Western Siskiyou Crest region

The article, which appeared this year in the Natural Areas Journal, also focused attention on 1.6 million acres of mature and old-growth forest in western Oregon’s BLM landholdings that are critical for threatened species like spotted owl and marbled murrelet and 1.8 million acres of habitat critical to the recovery of coho salmon.

The situation will be helped by reducing man-made stresses, especially logging and road building, the paper says.

The approach, still an area of some public policy conflict, is consistent with the field of conservation biology.

The term conservation biology was introduced in 1978 at a conference in La Jolla prompted by the concern among scientists over tropical deforestation, disappearing species, eroding genetic diversity within species. The scientists sought to bridge a gap existing at the time between theory in ecology on the one hand and conservation policy and practice on the other.

Its practitioners seem to strive for the rigor and objectivity of many other hard sciences but to avoid the Ivory Tower remove of many disciplines.

Ashland-based DellaSala, who led the project team, said, “For millennia our region’s mature and old-growth forests have been a wellspring for nature and they now hold the keys to sustaining the very ecosystem benefits we will increasingly depend on for freshwater, clean air, and viable fish and wildlife populations as global climate disruptions increasingly impact our area.”

Another of the authors of the study, Reed Noss, Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Central Florida, underscored the importance of the studies’ findings for land managers.

“Climate change, combined with habitat loss and fragmentation, is the greatest threat we face to nature. This study shows that land managers can reduce impacts of climate change by protecting older forests in a region whose biological diversity has been recognized globally as among the top 10 coniferous forests on earth.”

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