Klamath Mountains

Klamath Mountains Ecoregion
Photo Credit: USFS


The Klamath Mountains ecoregion covers much of southwestern Oregon, including the Umpqua Mountains, Siskiyou Mountains, and interior valleys and foothills between these and the Cascade Range. The Rogue watershed has the largest population of any coastal watershed in Oregon (Jackson County, Josephine County, and a portion of Curry County). Several popular and scenic rivers run through the ecoregion, including the Umpqua, Rogue, Illinois, and Applegate rivers. Many salmon and steelhead make their homes in these rivers. Even though many streams in the Rogue sub-basin dry up naturally in summer, the streams are still used for spawning by salmon and steelhead at other times of the year.

Within the ecoregion, there are wide ranges in elevation, topography, geology, and climate. The elevation ranges from about 600 to more than 7,400 feet, from steep mountains and canyons to gentle foothills and flat valley bottoms. This variation, along with the varied marine influence, supports a climate that ranges from the lush, rainy western portion of the ecoregion to the dry, warmer interior valleys and cold, snowy mountains.

Unlike other parts of Oregon, the landscape of the Klamath Mountains ecoregion has not been significantly shaped by volcanism. The geology of the Klamath Mountains can be better described as a mosaic rather than the layer-cake geology of most of the rest of the state. In the Klamath Mountains, serpentine mineral bedrock has weathered to a soil rich in heavy metals, including chromium, nickel, and gold, and in other parts, mineral deposits have crystallized in fractures. In fact, mining was the first major resource use of the ecoregion, and Jacksonville was Oregon’s most classic “gold rush” town.

Partly because of this unique geology, the Klamath Mountains ecoregion boasts a high rate of species diversity, including many species found only locally. In fact, the Klamath-Siskiyou region was included in the World Wildlife Fund’s assessment of the 200 locations most important for species diversity world-wide. The area is also proposed as a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The region is particularly rich in plant species, including many pockets of endemic communities and some of the most diverse plant communities in the world. For example, there are more kinds of cone-bearing trees found in the Klamath Mountains ecoregion than anywhere else in North America. In all, there are about 4,000 native plants in Oregon, and about half of these are found in the Klamath Mountains ecoregion. The ecoregion is noted as an Area of Global Botanical Significance (one of only seven in North America) and World Center of Plant Diversity by the World Conservation Union. The ecoregion also boasts many unique invertebrates, although many of these are not as well studied as their plant counterparts.

In June 2000, President Clinton established the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which encompasses 86,774 acres of forest and grassland. This National Monument is the first U.S. National Monument set aside solely for the preservation of biodiversity. The United States Congress designated the Soda Mountain Wilderness in 2009, which now has over 24,700 acres. All of this wilderness is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

While panning for gold first drew European settlers to the Klamath Mountains ecoregion, today’s communities have a wide range of industries and economies, including agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism. Many retirement communities are rapidly growing in the Medford and Roseburg areas.


Important Industries

Lumber and wood manufacturing, service, tourism, trade, new electronics and transportation equipment manufacturers

Major Crops

Fruit, vegetables, livestock, dairy farms, nursery products, forest products

Important Nature-based Recreational Areas

Siskiyou Mountains/Siskiyou National Forest, Applegate Lake, Rogue River National Forest, Emigrant Lake, Howard Prairie Lake, Umpqua National Forest


600 feet to 7,500 feet (Mt. Ashland)

Important Rivers

Applegate, Rogue, Chetco, Coquille, Umpqua, Illinois

Conservation Issues and Priorities

While the Klamath Mountains ecoregion is unique, it embodies many of the conservation issues facing other parts of Oregon. For example, increasing population growth and development in rural residential and urban communities strain resources, particularly in the southern and eastern portions of the ecoregion. The Klamath Mountains is the second fastest-growing ecoregion in Oregon (the Willamette Valley ecoregion is experiencing the fastest rate of expansion). Much of the population growth is concentrated in valleys along the Interstate 5 corridor. Demands for choice building sites often coincide with good quality habitat.

The Northwest Forest Plan covers many of the forests found in the western part of the ecoregion. However, the adaptive management component of the Northwest Forest Plan has not been fully implemented. Overall, these habitats are challenged by decades of fire suppression, a need to reduce excessive fuel loadings that have accumulated in the dry interior, and by checkerboard ownership patterns that can make resource planning particularly challenging. Grasslands in the Klamath Mountains ecoregion are home to many endemic and at-risk plant communities but are potentially impacted by invasive grasses and by conversion to development. Recent indicators suggest that water quality and riparian condition in the ecoregion may be increasing. Much of this change could be attributed to local collaborative conservation efforts via watershed councils and other groups.

Key Conservation Issues of particular concern in the Klamath Mountains ecoregion include Land Use Changes, Disruption of Disturbance Regimes, and Invasive Species. In addition to the statewide issues, loss of habitat connectivity and mineral extraction are of concern in this ecoregion. Many unique plant and soil features are found in this ecoregion, including granitic sediments in many streambeds. These features are highly sensitive to local disturbances.

Limiting Factors and Recommended Approaches

Limiting Factor:

Land Use Conversion and Urbanization

Rapidly expanding communities in the Klamath Mountains ecoregion include Medford and Roseburg, for example. Rapid urbanization can strain the ability of sensitive habitat, such as valleys, wetlands, and aquatic habitats, to continue to provide valued ecological functions and services. Rapid development increases the potential for conflict between people and wildlife. For example, increasing road traffic increases the potential for collisions with migrating species, creating a hazard to both motorists and wildlife.

Recommended Approach

Cooperative approaches with private landowners are the key to long-term conservation. Essential tools include financial incentives, conservation easements, and informational resources. Work with community leaders and agency partners to ensure planned, efficient growth. Support and implement existing land use regulations to preserve farm and range land, open spaces, recreation areas, and natural habitats for wildlife. Ensure that local wildlife services are sufficiently maintained to help residents manage wildlife damage issues.

Limiting Factor:

Altered Fire Regimes

Historically, the ecoregion was dominated by fire-adapted vegetation and experienced widely variable fire regimes, ranging from areas with relatively short fire return intervals to areas with greater than 50-year return intervals. Fire suppression has damaged forest health, resulting in undesirable changes in vegetation and increased intensity of wildfires as a result of increased fuel loads. Efforts to reduce fire danger can help to restore fish and wildlife habitat, but they require careful planning. Reintroducing fire can be challenging in the Klamath Mountains because of high volatility of fuels, “checkerboard” land ownership patterns, and scattered rural residential developments.

Recommended Approach

Use an integrated approach to fuels management and forest health issues that considers historical conditions, wildlife conservation, natural fire intervals, and silvicultural techniques. Encourage forest management at a broad scale to address limiting factors. Reintroduce fire where feasible. Prioritize sites and applications. Maintain important wildlife habitat features, such as snags and logs, to sustain wood-dependent species. In areas where prescribed fire is undesirable or difficult to implement, use mechanical treatment methods (e.g., chipping, cutting for firewood) that minimize soil disturbance. Support fish habitat restoration by reducing stream sedimentation. Monitor these efforts and use adaptive management techniques to ensure efforts are meeting habitat restoration and wildfire prevention objectives with minimal impacts on wildlife. Identify sub-basins with unique granitic sediment features that are especially at risk.

Limiting Factor:

Loss of Habitat Connectivity

The Klamath Mountains ecoregion is naturally diverse and heterogeneous. Some habitat types have been particularly disrupted by fragmentation and loss of connectivity, including late-successional forests and valley bottom habitats. Opportunities for large-scale protection or restoration of native landscapes are limited. Existing development, growth pressures, high land costs, and the fragmented nature of ownerships and remaining native habitats all present barriers to large-scale ecosystem restoration.

Recommended Approach

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

Limiting Factor:

Invasive Species

Invasive plants are of particular concern in the Klamath Mountains ecoregion. Invasive plants disrupt native communities, diminish populations of at-risk native species, and threaten the economic productivity of resource lands. Invasive plants have been on the increase for the last 20 years. While not nearly as extensive as invasive plants, non-native animals have also impacted native fish and wildlife populations.

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. Cooperate with partners through habitat programs and county weed boards to address invasive species problems. Promote the use of native species for restoration and revegetation.

Limiting Factor:

Mineral Extraction

Long-term effects of historical mining include damage to stream beds and toxic runoff. Currently, mining for nickel and chromium associated with the region’s serpentine soils has the potential to impact fish and wildlife by disturbing habitat. Mineral extraction is a particular concern in the Siskiyou Mountains. Gold mining also potentially impacts habitat for fish, wildlife, and at-risk plants along many streams. In-stream placer mining and recreational placer mining are prevalent in this ecoregion.

Recommended Approach

Plan mineral extraction activities to minimize potential impact on Strategy Species and Habitats. Minimize disturbance by focusing extraction efforts in areas with existing roads, rather than creating new roads and increasing the potential for habitat disturbance. Follow existing recommendations to avoid impacting water quality and riparian function.

Strategy Species

Conservation Opportunity Areas