East Cascades

Upper Klamath Lake
Photo Credit: William Tinniswood, ODFW


The East Cascades ecoregion extends from just east of the Cascade Mountains’ summit to the warmer, drier high desert to the east. Stretching the full north-to-south length of the state, the East Cascades is narrow at the Columbia River but becomes wider toward the California border. This ecoregion varies dramatically from its cool, moist border with the West Cascades ecoregion to its dry eastern border with the Northern Basin and Range ecoregion. The climate is generally dry, with wide variations in temperature. The East Cascades ecoregion includes several peaks and ridges in the 6,000-7,000 foot range, but overall the slopes on the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range are less steep and cut by fewer streams than the West Cascades ecoregion. The East Cascades’ volcanic history is evident through numerous buttes, lava flows, craters, and lava caves, and in the extensive deep ash deposits created by the explosion of historical Mt. Mazama during the creation of Crater Lake.

The terrain ranges from forested uplands to marshes and agricultural fields at lower elevations. The northern two-thirds of the East Cascades ecoregion is drained by the Deschutes River, ultimately flowing into the Columbia River. Most of the southern portion of the East Cascades ecoregion is drained by the Klamath River, with a small portion draining into Goose Lake, a closed basin. In general, the East Cascades is drier than the West Cascades, with fewer rivers flowing over the mountain slopes. However, the East Cascades is characterized by many lakes, reservoirs, and marshes, providing exceptional habitat for aquatic species and wildlife closely associated with water, including waterbirds, amphibians, fish, aquatic plants, and aquatic invertebrates. In fact, the East Cascades ecoregion supports some of the most remarkable biological diversity in the world.

When compared to Oregon’s other ecoregions, the East Cascades has the second-highest average income (the Willamette Valley ecoregion supports the highest per-capita income). Much of this income is related to tourism and recreation, but forestry and agriculture also provide important roles. Towns include Bend, Klamath Falls, Lakeview, and Hood River; many of these towns are experiencing rapid population growth. Most of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation is found in the East Cascades ecoregion.


Important Industries

Recreation (tourism and hospitality), lumber and wood, agriculture

Major Crops

Fruit (Hood River Valley), wood, potatoes, onions, barley (Klamath Basin), alfalfa, and cattle (Lake County)

Important Nature-based Recreational Areas

Klamath Marsh, Goose Lake, Newberry Crater National Monument, high Cascade lakes along Century Drive, Pine Mountain, Warner Mountains, Wilderness Areas (Gearhart, Badger Creek), Metolius and Deschutes sub-basins


70 feet (in the Columbia River Gorge area) to over 7,700 feet (peaks in the eastern portion of the ecoregion)

Important Rivers

Deschutes, Hood, Klamath, Metolius, Link, Williamson, Sycan, and Sprague

Conservation Issues and Priorities

Habitats of the East Cascades ecoregion present much variation, from sagebrush flats to alpine fields. The conservation issues are similarly diverse as well as complex. Timber harvest practices, grazing, and fire suppression have altered the distribution and structure of much of the ecoregion’s historical ponderosa pine forests and oak woodlands, and many riparian and wetland habitats have been degraded. Rapidly expanding urban and rural residential development is another major emerging conservation issue, resulting in development within riparian zones, the loss of big game winter range, and water diversions to support development. Along with this development, Highway 97 traffic volume continues to increase, creating a major barrier to wildlife movement. Lastly, a high percentage of wetlands have been converted in the Klamath Basin, and water continues to be a complex and challenging issue in the area.

Key Conservation Issues of particular concern in the East Cascades ecoregion include Invasive Species, Disruption of Disturbance Regimes, Water Quality and Quantity, and Land Use Changes. In addition to the statewide issues, habitat fragmentation and increasing recreational use are of concern in this ecoregion.

Limiting Factors and Recommended Approaches

Limiting Factor:

Altered Fire Regimes

Past forest practices and fire suppression have resulted in young, dense mixed-species stands where open, park-like stands of ponderosa pine once dominated. These mixed conifer forests are at increased risk of forest-destroying crown fires, disease, and damage by insects. Shading from encroaching trees and fire suppression has reduced the vigor of shrubs, particularly bitterbrush, an important forage plant for mule deer. Efforts to reduce fire danger and improve forest health may help to restore habitats but require careful planning to provide sufficient habitat features that are important to wildlife (e.g., snags, downed logs, hiding cover). Similarly, wildfire reforestation efforts should be carefully planned to create stands with tree diversity, understory vegetation, and natural forest openings.

Increasing residential and resort development in forested habitats makes prescribed fire difficult in some areas and increases risk of high-cost wildfires. Although many urban-interface “fire proofing” measures can be implemented with minimal effects to wildlife habitat, some poorly-planned efforts have unintentionally and unnecessarily harmed habitat.

Recommended Approach

Use an integrated approach to forest health issues that considers historical conditions, wildlife conservation, natural fire intervals, and silvicultural techniques. Evaluate individual stands to determine site-appropriate actions, such as monitoring in healthy stands or thinning, mowing, and prescribed fire in at-risk stands. Where appropriate, thin smaller trees in the understory and develop markets for small-diameter trees.

Implement fuel reduction projects to reduce the risk of forest-destroying wildfires, considering site-specific conditions and goals. Fuel reduction strategies need to consider the habitat structures that are required by wildlife, such as snags and downed logs, and make an effort to maintain them at a level to sustain wood-dependent species. Design frequency and scale of prescribed fire to meet the habitat needs of desired focal species.

Monitor forest health initiatives and use adaptive management techniques to ensure efforts are meeting habitat restoration and forest-destroying fire prevention objectives with minimal impacts on wildlife.

Work with homeowners and resort operators to reduce vulnerability of properties to wildfires while maintaining habitat quality. Highlight successful, environmentally sensitive fuel management programs.

In the case of wildfires, maintain high snag densities and replant with native tree, shrub, grass, and forb species. Manage reforestation after wildfire to create species and structural diversity, based on local management goals.

Limiting Factor:

Land Use Conversion and Urbanization

The East Cascades ecoregion includes some of the fastest growing areas of the state (e.g., Bend, Klamath Falls, Hood River). Rapid urban and rural residential development contributes to habitat loss, and can threaten traditional land uses, such as agriculture and forestry. Urban and rural residential development can also fragment habitat into small patches, isolating wildlife populations. Increasing traffic volumes and road density associated with development creates barriers to animal movements, especially along Highway 97. Residential development is increasing in sensitive habitats, such as wetlands, riparian areas, and close to cliffs and rims where raptors nest.

Recommended Approach

Cooperative approaches with both large and small private landowners are critical. Work with community leaders and agency partners to encourage planned, efficient growth. Support existing land use regulations to preserve forestland, farmland, rangeland, open spaces, recreation areas, wildlife refuges, and natural habitats. Work with community leaders and agency partners to identify wildlife movement corridors and to fund and implement site-appropriate mitigation measures such as drift fences to overpasses or underpasses. In forested habitats, maintain vegetation to provide screening along open roads, prioritize roads for closure based on transportation needs and wildlife goals, and/or manage road use during critical periods.

Limiting Factor:

Habitat Fragmentation

In non-forested areas, habitats for at-risk native plants and some animal species are largely confined to small and often isolated fragments, such as roadsides and sloughs. Opportunities for large-scale protection or restoration of native landscapes are limited, particularly in the Klamath Basin. Existing land use and land ownership patterns present challenges to large-scale ecosystem restoration.

Recommended Approach

Broad-scale conservation strategies will need to focus on restoring and maintaining natural ecosystem processes and functions within a landscape that is increasingly managed for other values. This may include an emphasis on more “conservation-friendly” management techniques for existing land uses and restoration of some key ecosystem components such as riparian function.

Limiting Factor:

Invasive Species

Non-native plant and animal invasions disrupt native communities, diminish populations of at-risk native species, and threaten the economic productivity of resource lands.

Recommended Approach

Emphasize prevention, risk assessment, early detection, and quick control to prevent new invasive species from becoming fully established. Use multiple site-appropriate tools (e.g., mechanical, chemical and biological) to control the most damaging invasive species. Prioritize efforts to focus on key invasive species in high priority areas, particularly where Strategy Habitats and Strategy Species occur. Promote the use of native species for restoration and revegetation.

Limiting Factor:

Recreational Activity

Increasing demands for year-round recreational activity, including new mountain bike trails, ski lifts, and skill parks, can disturb wildlife. Ski seasons are becoming shorter, contributing to the demand for year-round recreational activity. New winter tire and headlamp technologies are allowing mountain bicyclists access to important wildlife areas that were previously undisturbed due to snow. Trail riding can now occur day or night, which can disturb wildlife during critical life stages. Rock climbing too close to cliff-nesting birds such as Golden Eagles can result in nest abandonment.

Recommended Approach

Plan new recreational trail systems carefully and with consideration for native wildlife and their habitats. For example, limit night riding to certain areas to minimize disturbance to wildlife, avoiding areas more sensitive to damage such as wetlands. Take advantage of abandoned or closed roads, rail lines, or previously-impacted areas for conversion into trails. Work with the land management agencies such as the USFS to designate areas as high value recreation and low habitat impact areas.

Limiting Factor:

Water Distribution in Arid Areas and Wildlife Entrapment in Water Developments

In arid areas, water availability can limit animal distribution. Water developments established for cattle, deer, and elk can significantly benefit birds, bats, and small mammals. However, some types of these facilities, particularly water developments for livestock, can have unintentional hazards. These hazards include over-hanging wires that act as trip lines for bats, steep side walls that act as entrapments under low water conditions, or unstable perches that cause animals to fall into the water. If an escape ramp is not provided, small animals cannot escape and will drown.

Recommended Approach

Continue current efforts to provide water for wildlife in arid areas. Continue current design of big game “guzzlers” that accommodate a variety species, and retrofit older models where appropriate to make them compatible with newer design standards. Use and maintain escape devices on water developments where animals can become trapped. Remove obstacles that could be hazardous to wildlife from existing developments.

Strategy Species

Conservation Opportunity Areas