Starkey Experimental Forest and Range
The Starkey Experimental
Forest and Range is a unique facility with a rich history. The
first research emphasized the improvement of rangelands and livestock
grazing methods. The setting is ecologically similar to the interior
western forest landscapes. The history of use, logging, and grazing
is also typical. Current ecological conditions, both in the understory
and overstory, are also typical of conditions in the interior West.
However, the ungulate-proof fence enclosing 40 square miles, as
well as interior fencing, provide control of herbivory effects and
even the mix of herbivores (cattle, mule deer, and elk), making
the Starkey a unique facility for research.
Annual precipitation on the Starkey EFR is extremely variable, but the average is 510 mm, falling primarily as
winter snow. Temperatures vary from summer highs over 37 °C to winter lows of -30 °C.
Soils range from extremely shallow basaltic soil types supporting grasslands to deep volcanic ash derivatives
supporting forest stands.
Typical for this elevation (1,067 to 1,524 m) in the Blue Mountains, the Starkey’s vegetation types are primarily
bunchgrass scabland, ponderosa pine-bunchgrass, Douglas-fir associations, some grand fir types, lodgepole
pine, and mixed conifers.
Long-Term Data Bases
For the Starkey, there are 12 years of deer and elk handling data and radio telemetry locations for deer, elk,
and cattle (ongoing). In addition, there are 20+ years of varied data sets for riparian grazing in Meadow Creek.
Condition and trend transects and range exclosure data began in the 1950s. Big-game exclosures with vegetation
data collection will be the subject of long-term analysis.
Research, Past and Present
On the Starkey, limited research on developing techniques of survey and measurement of forage
production, use, and cover was conducted on site before it was officially designated as an experimental forest in
1940. Exclosures were constructed to assess ecological change over time. A two-unit deferred-rotation grazing
system was established in 1942. Practical management projects to improve livestock distribution through water
development, salting, and range riding were also initiated.
A study begun in 1955 addressed the questions of proper stocking level for range improvement and animal gain,
the effect of tree overstory on forage production, the effect of livestock grazing on deer and elk, and the influence
of grazing on runoff and erosion. Of particular note is the initiation of research on cattle, elk, and deer interactions.
Also in the 1950s, the first broad-scale study in the Pacific Northwest correlated forest and range soils inventories.
The Meadow Creek Riparian Habitat Study was initiated in 1975 as a large multidisciplinary effort that involved
11 cooperators and included research in hydrology, water chemistry, aquatic biology, fisheries, and livestock
nutrition. Another significant direction change was the initiation of research on nongame wildlife. Research was
also conducted on upgrading decadent forest stands with modern timber harvest concepts.
In the 1980s, riparian research continued on Meadow Creek, as did research on nongame wildlife. Study plan
development and construction of fences and facilities began for the elk, deer, and cattle interactions study. The
current elk, deer, and cattle interactions project was initiated in 1989 to increase our understanding of how
these ungulates respond to each other, and to management activities.
Cooperative research with Oregon State University on livestock grazing management in riparian areas has
continued on the Meadow Creek study pastures. Also, a cooperator at Eastern Oregon University is studying how
bats use forest stands before, during, and after fuels reduction. Research on forest insect dispersion and
abundance has also been conducted. Recently, a research logging entry provided treatments to remove all
Starkey Experimental Forest and Range (Oregon) mistletoe-infected trees and a partial removal of mistletoe
brooms for a study of logging effects on tree and flying squirrels.
Major Research Accomplishments and Effects On Management
Reseeding studies on the Starkey have helped identify the best methods for rehabilitating mountain summer ranges
and those depleted by logging. The effects of grazing systems and stocking rates on deer and elk provided
information still in use today. Nongame wildlife research provided information to formulate snag retention
policies in regional Forest Service management plans. Research on grazing methods for riparian zone
improvement provided methodology on adjusting season of use and stocking rates as an alternative to expensive
fencing, and the best sequence for grazing riparian meadows, forest and grassland ranges. The first wild-land
soil survey was conducted on the Starkey and provided a template for use on three adjacent national forests.
Recent studies on the Starkey have provided the following results:
- Effective resolution of controversies surrounding management of domestic versus wild ungulates on range allotments
- Delivery of critical knowledge regarding the management of deer, elk, and other wildlife in relation to fuels treatments
to reduce fire risk
- Effective transfer of knowledge on the compatibility of ungulate and timber management
- Defensible options for managing roads and human activities on public lands
- Enhanced opportunities for hunting and viewing of elk
- A better understanding of the role of ungulate grazing in relation to forest productivity, plant
succession, fire risk, and habitats for fish and wildlife
- Information on cattle grazing distribution relative to streams and steelhead trout spawning habitat used
- Identify factors affecting cattle distribution relative to riparian areas
Collaborators working on the Starkey include researchers from Oregon State University, University of Alaska-
Fairbanks, University of Idaho, University of Montana, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Boise
Corporation, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Sustainable forest ecosystem management, watershed health and restoration, and recreation and viable road
management could all be addressed on the Starkey. The background information on ungulate activity, roads and
traffic, and vegetation and physiographic features provides an excellent data base from which to begin
modeling efforts. A fuels reduction project is in place with treatments completed in 2003.
There are opportunities for collaborative efforts to pursue research on the following topics: fuels/fire
management, threat of invasive weed species, insect and disease response, biodiversity issues, and riparian/water
quality concerns. Small-mammal, avian, and threatened and endangered plants research opportunities also are available.
Meadow Creek, a stream with an anadromous fish population, is cross-fenced and thus provides a laboratory
for intensive research related to livestock use. The presence of a telemetry system for tracking ungulate movement in
response to various management manipulations greatly enhances the opportunities for research.
The Starkey is located 45 km southwest of La Grande. Facilities include a headquarters residence compound,
telemetry computer center, and animal handling facilities, hay barn, pens, shops, and laboratory.
Lat. 45° 10-18' N, long. 118° 28-37' W
Starkey Experimental Forest and Range
USDA Forest Service
Pacific Northwest Research Station
Forest and Range Sciences Laboratory
1401 Gekeler Lane
La Grande, OR 97850
Tel: (541) 962-6539
1Information has been updated since original publication.