Vegetation Change from the Euro-American Settlement Era to the Present in Relation to Environment and Disturbance in Southwest Oregon Public Deposited

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This is the publisher’s final pdf. The published article is copyrighted by the Northwest Scientific Association and can be found at:  http://www.northwestscience.org/Default.aspx?pageId=937324. To the best of our knowledge, one or more authors of this paper were federal employees when contributing to this work.

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  • Faced with landscapes degraded by fire suppression, logging, and grazing, land managers in the interior western US are attempting to restore habitat structure and function. In southwest Oregon, landscape-scale fuels treatments are being implemented with goals including recreating historic vegetation structure, despite poor understanding of the nature of the landscape prior to widespread Euro-American influence, or the patterns and processes of vegetation change over time. We compared a General Land Office-based reconstruction of Euro-American settlement era (1850s) vegetation in southwest Oregon's interior valleys and foothills with modern vegetation interpreted from aerial orthoimages to determine patterns of vegetation distribution in both eras, trajectories of vegetation change, and environmental and disturbance factors related to these themes. We found that this landscape was primarily occupied by closed plant community types in both eras, with a comparatively minor proportion in open types; vegetation was distributed along a dominant environmental gradient that ran from prairies in xeric lowlands to conifer forests in steeper, cooler uplands. Temporal shifts from open to closed vegetation were consistent with expected effects of fire suppression in many cases, but in other cases, the long-term persistence of open vegetation in the absence of recorded fire indicated that other mechanisms were also in operation. Human encroachment into wildlands, particularly in valleys, has also been a major driver of landscape-level change in the past 150 yr. Our results suggest that conservation should focus on lowlands, particularly where uncommon vegetation types such as savanna, shrubland, and prairie still exist.
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  • Duren, O., Muir, P., & Hosten, P. (2012). Vegetation change from the Euro-American settlement era to the present in relation to environment and disturbance in southwest Oregon. NORTHWEST SCIENCE, 86(4), 310-328. doi: 10.3955/046.086.0407
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