White Oak Info

Mosier’s White Oaks 

One of the most striking characteristics of the Mosier area is the abundance and beauty of our white oak forests.  But most residents and visitors are not aware of the important contributions that healthy white oaks make to our ecosystem.  Here are a few facts about Mosier’s white oaks:

White oaks are NOT scrub oaks:  Many of us refer to our oaks as scrub oaks, but really, they’re not.  This misnomer could have developed because oaks on the east side of the Cascades often do not grow as big as those on the west side.  Scrub oak is a common name given to many short, shrubby oak species, and while there are variations of white oak (Quercus garryana var. breweri and Quercus garryana var. semota) that occur in Southern Oregon and are more shrublike, what grows in the Mosier area is the tree form of Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana var. garryana)

Habitat to more than 200 local oak associated species:  White oak habitats contribute and are vital to the health and wellbeing of over 200 animal, bird, and insect species living in our environment.  White oaks provide food, shelter, nutrients, and shade for the many species that share this space with us. In addition, white oak habitats provided traditional food, medicine, and a variety of other uses for indigenous peoples.  To learn more about the genius of complex habitat systems within a white oak forest, see the Doug Tallamy presentation, The Nature of Oaks, in the link below.

Fire resistant:  After the Mosier Creek fire tore through land south of Mosier, many landowners with white oak, pine, and fir on their properties noted that the white oak bark had significantly less charring than fir or pine trees.  Plus, the oaks continued to live and returned to good health in subsequent years.  There is strong evidence that before the settlers came to this area, low intensity wildfires occurred in the local oak forests on average every 6 years.  These frequent fires would clean out the understory and encourage wildlife that thrive on the grasses, and freshly sprouted shrubs. These fires moved fast and emitted low heat, and aided our white oaks in developing bark that can withstand future, hotter fires. 

Drought tolerant:  White oaks have interconnected root systems with other oaks.  Clumps of trees are often families. This interconnectedness is one of several reasons white oaks are drought tolerant.  While leaves might turn color early in the summer due to drought conditions, the tree is able to revive the following year. They also have long taproots which enable them to access water deep in the ground.

Douglas firs are not helping:  Seeing the abundance of Douglas fir trees in this area, it is easy to imagine that these trees have always been here in large numbers. But the Douglas fir population was historically controlled by regular fire intervals. Due to the active fire suppression of the last one hundred and fifty years, as well as the prioritization of planting and preserving Douglas firs for their commercial value, their numbers have grown rapidly. Today Douglas firs are literally suffocating white oak forests by encroaching into their stands and limiting light and water to the oaks. They also endanger humans and wildlife because young Douglas firs burn hot and fast during wildfires.  

Historically and culturally significant: If you are in Mosier while reading this, take a look outside at the white oaks within your vision.  Some of these trees might be hundreds of years old.  It’s sobering to consider the history these trees have lived through. Not only did these white oak forests help sustain indigenous populations, but interwoven were cultural traditions involving these trees.  A local indigenous elder speaking at a meeting of the East Cascades Oak Partnership in 2018 talked about how young children were given the job of tying oak saplings into knots that would develop into strong wood used to make grinding bowls many, many decades later. If you look around, you may find signs that the oak trees in and around Mosier had some cultural significance or use which may have been meant to span generations. 

East Cascades Oak Partnership (ECOP):  Formed in 2017, ECOP is a partnership with a variety of stakeholders: county, state, and federal forest and land management agencies, as well as tribal and non-governmental organizations, landowners, and anyone interested in nurturing and protecting our white oak stands.  ECOP has embarked on a ten-year plan to  protect thousands of acres of critical oak habitat and corridors in priority areas. The plan includes outreach to landowners about the importance of healthy white oak forests for our communities and habitat.  More info and a full list of ECOP partners can be found at https://www.columbialandtrust.org/our-work/east-cascades/east-cascades-oak-partnership/

ECOP meets each quarter, with meetings open to everyone.  There are always interesting speakers at these meetings. Recently, ECOP hosted a live webinar featuring celebrated entomologist, environmentalist, and best-selling author, Doug Tallamy. Doug shares lessons from his book The Nature of Oaks, demonstrating the irreplaceable role that oak trees play in the health of the environment. Video of presentation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLqtvGVPQmI )

What can I do? By learning more about the importance of Mosier’s white oaks, we hope you will join us in finding ways to improve the health of these majestic and important forests in our community. The Mosier White Oak Group meets every other month, to get on our email list for announcements contact mosierwhiteoaks@gmail.com.

More learning resources:

Sign up for information about ECOP’s informational quarterly meetings by sending your email address to oaks@columbialandtrust.org. 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released a beautiful informational video about restoration in oak habitats that will benefit wildlife. The video footage was captured near Mosier last summer.  Local photographer and videographer Sean O’Connor contributed some stunning footage of the wildlife in the Oak trees.  The video also includes Mosier White Oak video created by ODFW:   https://youtu.be/UuxbptCgzxc

Learn more about local ecology including oaks by becoming a Master Naturalist. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/mn/become-master-naturalist

Get technical and financial assistance in caring for oak trees and wildlife on your land. Some properties might qualify for grants from the Natural Resource Conservation Services:  https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/conservation-basics/conservation-by-state/oregon/barlow-area-forestland-enhancement

Technical assistance and grant contacts:

Emily Huth, Wasco NRCS District Conservationist: 541-298-8559 x111

Hilary Doulos, ODFW Conservation Liaison: 541-298-8559 x125


Contact Mosier White Oaks Group: mosierwhiteoaks@gmail.com