USDA Forest Service

Blue Mountains Natural Resources Institute

This research program is no longer active.
Education Links
Information Providers
Managing Disturbance Regimes
Pacific Northwest Research Station
USFS Research & Development
Evaluate Our Service
Your comments and suggestions are very important to our service improvement.

Pacific Northwest Research Station
Blue Mountains National Resources Institute

Forestry and Range Sciences Laboratory
1401 Gekeler Lane
La Grande, OR 97850

United States Forest Service.

BMNRI Home > Publications > Search For A Solution > Chapter 11


Search For A Solution: Sustaining the Land, People, and Economy of the Blue Mountains


Rodney D. Sayler and Sandra K. Martin


Forest wildlife management is currently being redefined in the broader context of maintaining biological diversity. Past forest management practices in the Blue Mountains, including fire suppression, selective timber harvest, and selective reforestation, have resulted in a modern forest environment plagued by extreme fire hazards and insect and disease problems. This forest health problem in the Blue Mountains complicates an increasingly difficult forest management situation. How do we balance the growing demands for commodity outputs from our forests and ensure the long-term sustainability of both the forest and the numerous wildlife species dependent upon it? We are now realizing that intensive timber management, although often working to the benefit of edge species such as elk and deer, may be detrimental to the long-term survival of other wildlife species. How do we design and implement truly sustainable forestry across landscapes capable of supporting a full complement of species?

It is clear that forest and range management issues are being elevated to a new and higher level of complexity for which few specific guidelines are available. A multitude of individual studies document effects of forest management practices, such as clearcutting, on various wildlife species. These studies sometimes provide a variety of qualitative or semi-quantitative models predicting the effects of forest manipulations on wildlife in specific regions or forest settings. Indeed, the 1979 Jack Ward Thomas report—Wildlife Habitats in Managed Forests: the Blue Mountains of Oregon and Washington—provided the first comprehensive set of guidelines for forest-wildlife planning in the Western United States. This planning model has spurred the development of similar approaches elsewhere. But where do we go from here? Much of the technical information that is available does not address many of the current wildlife management issues that have arisen because of the effects of forest fragmentation, reduction of old-growth forest acreage, intensive forest management, massive insect and disease infestations, and high probabilities of catastrophic wildfire.

There are a number of general issues of pressing concern for selected wildlife species or groups throughout forested regions of North America. Neotropical migrant birds are declining or of questionable status in many forest environments in North America (table 11.5). At issue is the extent of factors affecting reproductive success on the breeding grounds (e.g., forest fragmentation, increased nest depredation, nest parasitism) versus the loss of forest habitat on wintering areas. Amphibians and reptiles are possibly declining in many areas around the world. The potential causative factors are many and include widespread aquatic pollution, introduction of alien species, increased solar radiation, disease, and changing climate, among other possibilities. Preservation and management of aquatic habitats (e.g., forested wetlands, riparian zones, lakes, streams, ponds) thus becomes a key factor in conservation efforts. The role of amphibians in biomass and energy flow through western forest ecosystems deserves much greater attention than previously given by forest managers. At present, there is little understanding of keystone species in North American forests and their role in influencing ecosystem structure and function.

The long-term survival of large carnivores, such as wolves and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), although not an issue in the Blue Mountains because they are already locally extinct, is in serious question elsewhere. However, efforts to reintroduce and manage wolf populations in areas where they formerly occurred are highly controversial, as is almost all management of large predators. The consequences of altered predator-prey dynamics needs to be considered in the long-term management of wildlife communities. Opening of continuous forests through clearcutting promotes high populations of small mammalian predators (e.g., skunks, raccoons), avian predators (e.g., black-billed magpies (Pica pica) and other jays and crows (Corvidae), and brood parasites (i.e., brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater). The secondary effects that these animals have on nesting birds and other species is sometimes quite large and may effectively preclude the preservation of other species unless environmental conditions are modified over large areas. Management for high populations of ungulates, mainly elk and deer, also may affect the survival of rare or sensitive plant species through overgrazing.

Some of the specific wildlife issues faced in the Blue Mountains include conservation and management of northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, martens, fishers, wolverines, tailed frogs, and a number of other threatened, endangered, or sensitive wildlife species. A review of predictive wildlife habitat and population models indicates that many are untested and none are extensive enough to adequately predict the effects of forest management alternatives on many wildlife species at the landscape level. A variety of monitoring protocols are used for various species, but an integrated approach that would indicate the response of many different wildlife species over large areas of managed forests is not yet possible. Schemes for integrating diverse information into landscape-level models for decisionmaking are urgently needed. Considerable uncertainty exists about how to best measure both ecological and biological diversity at various levels and how to relate this information to management needs.

Many challenging technical problems remain to be solved in research and management fields to better manage wildlife in the Blue Mountains in a future increasingly dominated by human population pressures and environmental concerns. Some of these include (1) quantification of edge effects on sensitive species, (2) documentation of the role of critical keystone species that regulate other aspects of the ecosystem or community, (3) evaluation of linkages between local management actions and landscape-level productivity and persistence of wildlife populations, (4) development of effective ecosystem and wildlife monitoring strategies, (5) description of wildlife species and community responses to forest health situations and management actions on scales large enough to reflect metapopulation dynamics, and (6) more detailed classification of wildlife species into functional guilds to facilitate analysis of habitat changes.

In addition, future management actions are likely to be increasingly constrained by energy inputs and additional regulatory restrictions on use of chemicals and other management tools commonly used now. The most sensible environmental management tool in the long run would appear to be restoration of low- to moderate-intensity fire to mimic historical conditions in the Blue Mountains and manipulate broad areas of forest cover economically. The feasibility, potential methods, and effects of restoring fire to the Blue Mountains is a subject of considerable importance.

Not only are forest managers challenged to define conditions necessary for sustainable ecosystems, they must determine how to maintain biological diversity while faced with all the uncertainties of getting from the current state of unstable forest conditions to this distant future. Given all the uncertainties of human population growth and environmental impacts (e.g., global climate change) the challenge certainly is like that of trying to hit a distant, yet constantly moving target. But the failure to accept this challenge, both aggressively and with all the wisdom we have, is critical to countless future generations of people. These decisions will determine whether future generations have nearly the same conservation options that exist now or whether they will inherit increasingly depauperate forest environments worldwide.

Contents of Chapter Eleven:

  • Introduction
  • An Overview of Forest Management in the Blue Mountains
  • The Current Blue Mountains Forest
  • Forest Vegetation
  • Blue Mountains Wildlife
  • Threatened, Endangered, and Sensitive Wildlife
  • Tailed Frog
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Bald Eagle
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Wolverine
  • Other Rare Species
  • Harlequin Duck
  • Ferruginous Hawk
  • Sandhill Crane and Long-Billed Curlew
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Black Rosy Finch
  • Preble's Shrew
  • Gray Wolf
  • Townsend's Western Big-Eared Bat
  • North American Lynx
  • California Bighorn Sheep
  • Forest Health and Widllife Populations
  • Effects of Forest Management on Wildlife
  • Amphibians
  • Primary Cavity-Excavating Birds
  • Blue Mountains Cavity-Nesters
  • Snag Retention
  • Avian Predators
  • Small Mammals
  • Ungulates
  • Large Carnivores
  • Black Bear
  • Mountain Lion
  • Small Carnivores
  • Forest Fragmentation and Edge Effects
  • Forest Edges and Bird Populations
  • Forest Too Deer—Browsing Effects by Ungulates
  • Effects of Large Herbivores on Blue Mountains Ecosystems
  • Modeling Forest Wildlife Relations
  • Wildlife Monitoring and Research
  • Wildlife Research Issues in the Blue Mountains
  • Are Forest Ecosystems Sustainable Effects of Global Climate Change
  • Summary

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station, Blue Mountains National Resources Institute
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:18:43 CST

USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.