Restore Oak Woodlands

What you can do to restore oak woodlands, which will improve water retention in soil throughout the watershed:
  • Plant acorns of every oak species native to your locale.
  • Protect oak seedlings from rodents with wire cages, tree tubes, and/or milk cartons.
  • Don’t use living oaks (or any native tree) for fence posts.
  • Strive for a good mix of older and younger oaks on your property. Avoid removing trees unless they are diseased, especially the largest, oldest trees.
  • Plant native grasses and shrubs to mimic the diversity and structure of a natural oak woodland plant community.
  • Retain areas of other native trees, chaparral, riparian, and native grassland plant communities adjacent to oak woodlands.
  • Protect young trees and shrubs from grazing animals with selective fencing.
  • Remove all easily accessible dead wood from native trees and shrubs.
  • Don’t disturb or compact the soil significantly anywhere near native trees: keep roads, driveways and structures at least twice the radius of the canopy from the trunk.
  • Don’t use herbicides or pesticides.
  • Restore beaver habitat and encourage beaver population growth.

Oak Woodlands in the Elder Creek Watershed
Many of us who live in the Elder Creek watershed or Tehama County in general chose to live here because of its scenic beauty and abundance of possible outdoor activities. The majority of the county was once dense blue oak woodland, which accounts for so much of the rural aesthetic and also serves as habitat and food source for most animal species prized for hunting or observing. Tehama County still has more blue oaks than any other county in the state, but much of the former woodlands have been clear-cut or severely thinned, as the aerial photo below shows.

Kramer Ranch

Valley oaks, which live in the moister soils along creeks and rivers, have been reduced to only about 2% of their former population and area[i], making the future for this ancient species threatened. Likewise, all other native riparian trees have seen similar levels of reduction, as most of the valley oak woodlands have been converted to mono-crop agriculture or hay fields. For more on the former richness of this ecosystem, see our Indigenous Sacramento Valley page in our History section.

While there are still significant stands of blue oak woodlands with normal stand density (see below) in our watershed, there are also plenty of areas where the density is poor or the trees have been cleared altogether. In fact, two large ranches that border Elder Creek, totaling several thousand acres, have been removing these trees at an alarming rate in recent years. Locally, and statewide, regeneration of blue oaks has been abysmal since the early 1900’s. The land is not recovering from the removal of its keystone species and cutting most or all oaks from one area only accelerates the processes of soil depletion, desertification and diminishing wildlife.

Some of our neighbors have begun researching how to bring an issue before the Tehama County voters and want to ban the cutting of native oaks in the Upland Ag zoned lands. For more information, and to support this effort, contact us to add your name to the list.

Stand Density
California Oaks did a survey of oak woodlands in the state and used aerial photography to classify stand “density.” Density is simply the percentage of the land area, as seen from above, that is covered with live tree crowns. It is very important for determining habitat value of forest and woodland areas, so each stand observed was classified when possible.
canopy comparison Most of these forests are in sparse to medium density stands: 32.8% had sparse (10-25% by area) crown cover, 30.4% had poor (25-39%) crown cover, 29.7% had normal (40-59%), and only 6.9% had “good” (60% crown cover or greater). As regeneration, particularly of blue oaks, has been abysmal since the early 1900’s, oak woodland densities can be expected to continue to decrease across the state. Similarly, tree size is important. Larger creatures require larger cavities and larger nesting cavities require larger trees. Where possible woodlands were classified as to consisting of “Large” or “Small” trees. Of the 10.4 million acres so classified 11.2 percent were “Large” trees while 88.2% percent were “Small” (as are most blue oaks).[ii]

Threat of Development
California Oaks’ study also states that more than 300,000 acres of oak woodland are threatened with development by 2040 in a region including sixteen inland counties from Tehama to Sacramento. Statewide, 1 million acres of oak woodland is slated to succumb to development over the next 30 years and 750,000 more acres will be threatened. That’s on top of the one million acres of oak woodland already lost to development since 1950.

While logging oak woodlands for firewood has been fairly common practice since the arrival of Euro-Americans, it throws a wrench into evolutionary succession. A complex, near-apex biological community is removed and the land tries to recover from the trauma. Non-native pioneer species like medusa head and yellow star thistle proliferate for decades, making the land rather unproductive on all counts. In many instances, subdivisions or ranchette development follows the clear-cutting.

We see that a wise culture would maintain its oak woodlands and match its own population to the carrying capacity of these lands.

roots.clearcut

Oaks and Food
Finally, oaks provide us with acorns, which are a fantastic staple food source that requires no fertilizer, no irrigation, no industrial processing, no refrigeration and no intensive management. See our Water-wise Food Choices page for more on this. These acorns also are a significant food for the animals that provide the foundation of a sustainable human diet in this region: feral and domesticated pigs, deer, sheep and goats.