Oak Woodland Preservation
Placer Legacy identifies conservation of Placer County oak woodland as high priority. Recent land acquisitions in which Legacy has been a partner such as Taylor Ranch and Spears Ranch are primarily oak woodland. Residents of the county may question why public and private funds are being used to acquire oak woodland, which would appear to be so common. The rationale for acquiring or otherwise protecting oak woodland is complex but to ensure continued public support, it must be understood.
Oak Woodland Areas
There are over twenty-three thousand acres of oak woodland in Placer County. It is not all the same however, and different areas are dominated by different species of oak. Most of us are familiar with the elegant, large oaks in the valley and lower foothills. Areas with this type of oak woodland are relatively rare in the county. From the perspective of conservation, protecting the remaining areas of large "valley" oaks is the highest priority because of their rarity. Replacement of such areas is simply not possible, at least within a human lifetime.
Most of the county has oak woodland that is denser, in many cases comprised of smaller trees that regenerated after fire or agricultural clearing. This kind of woodland may occupy hundreds or even thousands of acres. They are not rare, but their conservation is important for other reasons. Large, intact areas of oak woodland provide habitat for the common and uncommon wildlife that live in the county. For wildlife to persist, they require the physical habitat and food found in the oak woodland.
Threats to Oak Woodlands
There are two general threats to the expanses of oak woodland found in the county. First, there is the threat that they will be developed. Second, there is the threat of wild fire. Either event can result in the total loss of woodland. In the case of development however, there are effects short of total loss that can result in significant impacts on wildlife habitat. These include the effects of human occupation within oak woodland that create changes in vegetation, introduce exotic plants and animals (pets) and generally make the woodland less hospitable for wildlife. There are also effects at the landscape scale, termed "fragmentation" in which a large area of woodland is broken up into smaller areas. These smaller areas and the boundaries between them (typically roads, utility corridors and fence lines) may not be suitable for wildlife that require large territories to meet their life needs.
Conservation objectives for the extensive areas of oak woodland generally focus on maintaining large, contiguous areas free from development. There is also an emphasis on management to reduce fire hazard in preserved areas. There are few areas in the county that still retain large woodland and consequently, that is where conservation initiatives will be proposed.
For people in Placer County today, there are rules and regulations for protecting oaks and oak woodland. In the long run however, the conservation of oaks and the ecological and cultural values they provide will depend on public support for permanent protection. Building that support through enhancing the understanding of county residents about why oak woodland should be protected is a critical task for Placer Legacy.