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Classification of Wildlife Habitats

When defining wildlife habitats, biologists generally consider both the type of vegetation and landscape a species uses, as well as particular attributes of the vegetation. For instance, there are many different wildlife species that occur in forest species. Of these, a small number, including the spotted owl, Pacific fisher, and red tree vole, require older forests. So it is important when thinking about habitats to consider both the type of habitat, in this case forest, and the condition, such as old-growth. Other attributes often important to wildlife are the presence of snags or down wood in forests, the density of shrubs in sagebrush steppe, or whether water can be found nearby.

Habitats are important for predicting where wildlife can be found and for developing strategies for their conservation and management. As a result a number of programs, including the Gap Analysis Program, are working to map wildlife habitats in the United States. The Institute for Natural Resources, the OSU Forest Sciences Department, and the USGS Corvallis Forestry Science Laboratory are cooperating to update the Gap Analysis for Oregon. The Northwest Habitat Institute is an Oregon based non-governmental agency that is focused on the development of wildlife habitat information to promote wildlife conservation and a source of information on wildlife habitats in Oregon.

Unfortunately, there are currently MANY of different ways to classify wildlife habitats. The Northwest Habitat Institute and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote Wildlife-Habitat Relationships in Oregon and Washington, which brought together current thinking about how wildlife use habitats. However, recent vegetation mapping projects in the western U.S. has made the habitat classification in the book more difficult to apply. New mapping efforts use a vegetation classification based on ecological systems to define broad-scale habitats which can be readily mapped. These ecological systems have become the basis of many newer wildlife habitat classifications. This system is being used by the Northwest Regional Gap Analysis Project. The Oregon Conservation Strategy used ecological systems in their analysis to identify habitats of greatest conservation concern, but combined these into Strategy Habitats, which are more easily explained in the strategy.

The states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho are working with the Defenders of Wildlife to create a Registry of Conservation Actions. As part of this effort, the Natural Heritage Programs and Fish and Wildlife Agencies in the 3 states have developed a standard list of wildlife habitats to use in habitat mapping in the three states, and in tracking restoration and conservation of habitats. The list of these habitats found in Oregon can be found below. You can click on any of the names below to get a description of the habitat. The conservation strategy section contains the descriptions of all of the strategy habitats.

Authored by Jimmy Kagan, INR Information Program Manager (2008)