Category Archives: Articles

Smokey Bear to bring fire prevention message to Oregon license plates this summer

Smokey Bear is an iconic symbol of wildfire prevention. Oregon's new Keep Oregon Green special license plate joins 1950's artist Rudy Wendelin’s Smokey Bear with a backdrop of Oregon's lush forests. The plate's $40 surcharge will help fund wildfire prevention education activities around Oregon, which share Smokey and KOG's shared message regarding the shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Keep Oregon Green, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, the Ad Council, and Oregon Department of Forestry, have partnered to bring Smokey Bear and his important message to Oregon drivers: Only YOU can prevent wildland fires.

The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles sold 3,000 vouchers for a new, Smokey Bear -emblazoned license plate in December.

The vouchers serve as pre-payment for the special plate surcharge fee for drivers hoping to adopt the new plate; the sale of 3,000 vouchers is required for the state to begin placing orders for plates with a new design.

With 3,000 vouchers sold in just a few days, the plate is will go into production soon, and will become available to vehicle owners registering their passenger vehicles, or replacing their existing license plates, later this year.

Once the plates are released, any Oregon vehicle owner can apply by paying a $40 “special plates” surcharge when registering for new or replacement license plates, in addition to the usual registration and plate fees.

The surcharge will help fund wildfire prevention activities conducted by Keep Oregon Green, an organization that educates the public about the shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfire in communities throughout Oregon.

For more information, visit:
https://keeporegongreen.org/smokey-bear-license-plate/


Source information:
The Keep Oregon Green Association was established in 1941 to promote healthy landscapes and safe communities by educating the public of everyone’s shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Smokey Bear was created in 1944, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional bear would be the symbol for their joint effort to promote forest fire prevention. Smokey’s image is protected by U.S. federal law and is administered by the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.

Noble Pacific NW Christmas Tree Illumines Capitol Hill

The public gathers around U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree after being officially lit during Lighting Ceremony on the west lawn of the Capitol Building in Washington DC, December 6, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo

A daytime view of the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, outside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC. The tree was harvested from the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, on the Sweet Home Ranger District, and is decorated with some of more than 10,000 ornaments hand-crafted by Oregonians as a gift to the country. More than 70 smaller trees, adorned with more of these ornaments, decorate the inside of the building and other locations on the Capitol grounds. USDA Forest Service photo.

A daytime view of the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, outside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC. The tree was harvested from the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, on the Sweet Home Ranger District, and is decorated with some of more than 10,000 ornaments hand-crafted by Oregonians as a gift to the country. More than 70 smaller trees, adorned with more of these ornaments, decorate the inside of the building and other locations on the Capitol grounds. USDA Forest Service photo.

With a brief countdown and the flick of a switch, the towering U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, on the West Lawn of Capitol Hill, lit up the dark.

Visitors from all across America, who stood in near freezing temperatures beneath the majestic pine, cheered as the tree’s thousands of lights glistened the ornaments made especially for it.

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Paul Ryan assists as 4th grader, Brigette Harrington shares her poem during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Capitol Building in Washington DC, December 6, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Paul Ryan assists as 4th grader, Brigette Harrington shares her poem during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Capitol Building in Washington DC, December 6, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo

Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, handed over the honor of lighting the tree to Brigette Harrington, a fourth grader from Hillsboro, OR, who won an essay contest about Oregon’s outdoors sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, and the non-profit organization Choose Outdoors.

 

Following a tradition of nearly fifty years, set by the Architect of the Capitol, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree comes from Forest Service -managed lands.

This year the Willamette National Forest in Oregon had the honors.

The massive tree is the first noble fir ever to be displayed on the West lawn of Capitol Hill as a national Christmas Tree.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen gives a speech during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Capitol Building in Washington DC, December 6, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen gives a speech during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Capitol Building in Washington DC, December 6, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo

Additionally, tree growers from Northwest Oregon donated 75 smaller companion trees to adorn government office buildings in the Nation’s Capital.

For well over a year, a team from the Willamette Forest planned the 3,000 mile journey from Oregon to Washington, D.C.— an adventure dubbed by much of the national media as the “reverse Oregon Trail.”

And the folks on the Willamette Forest are the first to point out that didn’t do it alone.

Thousands of volunteers from the Sweet Home District of the Willamette Forest, where the tree was harvested, plus more than 80 sponsors and partnering organizations, helped in a logistical effort that, no doubt, Santa Claus will present next year to his elves and reindeer as a best practice example of proper gift delivery.

And what a gift.

At 75 feet tall, with over 10,000 handmade ornaments from all over the state of Oregon, few gifts can match the outpouring of love this tree, fondly called “The People’s Tree” inspires.

Until New Year’s Eve, anyone visiting Washington, D.C. can come and admire the truly noble Christmas tree.

A nighttime view of the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, outside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC. The tree was harvested from the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, on the Sweet Home Ranger District, and is decorated with some of more than 10,000 ornaments hand-crafted by Oregonians as a gift to the country. More than 70 smaller trees, adorned with more of these ornaments, decorate the inside of the building and other locations on the Capitol grounds. USDA Forest Service photo.

A nighttime view of the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, outside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC. The tree was harvested from the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, on the Sweet Home Ranger District, and is decorated with some of more than 10,000 ornaments hand-crafted by Oregonians as a gift to the country. More than 70 smaller trees, adorned with more of these ornaments, decorate the inside of the building and other locations on the Capitol grounds. USDA Forest Service photo.



Source information: Robert Hudson Westover works for the USDA Forest Service, Office of Communication. This story was originally posted on the USDA website, at: https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2018/12/07/noble-christmas-tree-illumines-capitol-hill

Teachers, mentors: Apply to celebrate International Day of Forests with United Nations in Rome

The 2019 theme for the International Day of Forests is “Forests and Education” and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations wants the world to know how you educate children and youth about the importance of trees and forests.

From the UN FAO website:

Today, more than half the world’s population lives in cities, and are increasingly disconnected from nature.

it is more essential than ever to bring an understanding and awareness of forests and their benefits into children’s lives at an early age.

We’re inviting teachers and non-teachers alike to send us a short video that shows how you provide children with a foundation to better understand the importance of forests and trees for our planet’s future.

The press release suggests taking video of “a traditional class, a field trip into the forest, an art or music lesson, or even a yoga class.”

Videos should 60 seconds or less, uploaded to YouTube, then submit the link via the entry form at http://www.fao.org/international-day-of-forests/teachers-contest/submission-form/en/.

Videos will be posted on FAO’s website, and the winner will join the staff at FAO headquarters in Rome to help celebrate the International Day of Forests on March 21, 2019.

Deadline for entries is Dec. 15, 2018.

For more information about eligibility, answers to frequently asked questions, and the submission form, visit:

http://www.fao.org/international-day-of-forests/teachers-contest



Source information: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger, achieve food security for all, and to make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. With over 194 member states, FAO works in over 130 countries worldwide.

‘Open Forest’ Christmas tree harvest e-permit pilot includes Mt. Hood NF

A screenshot from the welcome page on the Open Forest website: https://openforest.fs.usda.gov/christmas-trees/forests. The website will allow users on four National Forests, including the Mt. Hood National Forest, to purchase 2018 season Christmas Tree permits online. Image by USDA Forest Service.

SANDY, Ore. – The Mt. Hood National Forest is offering online Christmas tree permits through the Open Forest pilot program this holiday season!

The Mt. Hood National Forest is one of four National Forests participating in an online pilot program for holiday tree e-permits.

This pilot allows you to purchase your 2018 Christmas tree permit from the comfort of your own home, or by using your mobile device, instead of traveling to a Forest Service office or a local vendor.

These e-permits are good only for use on Mt. Hood National Forest, this holiday season.

Although purchased online, the permits must be printed to be valid.

You can learn more about purchasing your Mt. Hood holiday tree-harvest permit and gathering your Christmas tree online at: https://openforest.fs.usda.gov.

Holiday tree permits for all National Forests in the Pacific Northwest are also available at Ranger District visitor centers during regular business hours, and through many local vendors.

Permits cost $5 each; limit 3-5 permits per household (allowed quantities vary by forest, contact a local ranger district office for details specific to your area).

Safety advisory:

As the holiday season approaches, so does winter weather.  Weather changes rapidly at higher elevations and Forest Service roads are not maintained for winter travel. Carry traction devices, and be advised of winter road closures and any sno-park permit requirements (see Wash. Sno-Park and Oregon Sno-Park for info).

The Forest Service recommends you starting early in the day, and heading home well before dark. Here are some additional winter safety and holiday tree-harvesting tips:

  • Keep your family and your own safety in mind as you head out to look for a holiday tree; dress warmly and carry a forest map, snacks, and water.
  • Do not rely solely on your GPS, as electronic devices can stop working, or some information may not be accurate or up-to-date.
  • Bring items you’ll need to stay warm and dry, even if stranded outdoors without a working vehicle.
  • Have a trip plan; Make sure friends or family know where you are going, when you plan to return, and have a plan to contact law enforcement if you don’t arrive.
  • Remember to bring along a tool to cut your tree and rope or cord to secure it to your vehicle.
  • Don’t forget your first aid kit!
  • Our holiday tree webpage features a video with helpful hints for a successful holiday tree outing.

As a part of the “Every Kid” program, all fourth-graders can receive a holiday tree permit for free this season! They must have their Every Kid pass or voucher with them in order to receive their free holiday tree permit, and they must be accompanied by their parent or guardian. These special holiday tree permits can only be obtained at our official ranger district offices. For more information on the “Every Kid” program, please visit: www.everykidinapark.gov.

Mad River Trail gets BAER repairs; scheduled to re-open Spring 2019

Comparison - burned out and repaired sections of wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail

Until July 28, wooden walls provided a barrier to keep the neighboring hillside from eroding onto the the Mad River Trail.

But those walls burned, like so much else, when the Cougar Creek Fire burned through the area this summer.

Iron supports are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail following the Cougar Creek fire.

Iron supports are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail, and rocks and dirt had already begun to fall onto the trail before work performed to restore the wall in October, 2018. The work was part of the BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, work performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

 

On a cloudy, slightly drizzly, day in late October, Forest Service trail and fire crews came together to rebuild 80 feet of soil retention walls on the Mad River Trail system.

“We knew from past experience the potential for a lot of erosion damage to occur to the trail in the areas where the walls had been,” Jon Meir, a recreation natural resources specialist for the Entiat Ranger District, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said. “Luckily, through funding and crews made available by BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response), we were able to quickly replace burned segments of the erosion protection walls.”

The BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response program, provides funds and resources to perform emergency stabilization work after a serious fire. The work starts even before the fire is out, and may continue for up to a year after a large wildfire occurs.

The goal of BAER efforts is to prevent further damage to life, property or natural resources on national forest system lands.

Iron supports and a few boards are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail following the Cougar Creek fire.

Iron supports and a few boards are all that remain of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail, and rocks and dirt had already begun to fall onto the trail before work performed to restore the wall in October, 2018. The work was part of the BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, work performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

“We needed to get this work done prior to autumn rains, winter blizzards, and spring downpours which would likely have caused erosion and significant trail damage. This would have led to additional work to repair the trail, additional cost, and longer repair time next summer,” Meier said. “Effects were decreased because we were able to accomplish this work immediately after the fire.”

Replacement of soil retention walls is just one part of the repair work needed on the Mad River Trail, which remains closed until more repairs are completed, which is scheduled to happen in the spring, 2019.

A repaired wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail

A repaired wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in October, 2018. The repair work was part of BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, efforts performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

“We recognize this is a very popular trail system, and trail repairs will be made as soon as possible in spring 2019, in April if the weather allows. Other infrastructure repair work, such as bridge repairs, won’t occur until additional funding is available,” Meier said.

But the work done in October will ensure the public is able to use the trail sooner than if erosion had been allowed to continue damaging the trail throughout the winter months.

Meier he will welcome help from anyone who wants to donate time to helping get the trail re-opened as soon as possible in the spring.

“Our trail crew will be starting repairs this spring, and volunteers are always welcome to participate. Just give me a call if you are interested in helping out,” Meier said.


Source information: Robin DeMario is a public affairs specialist for Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

Forest Service releases new outfitter-guide finder

A hunter looks out over a lake from a cliff

Adventure-seekers in search of an expert guide for their next National Forest adventure in Washington and Oregon need look no further than the Pacific Northwest region’s new outfitter-guide locator.

The new, web-based tool allows visitors to quickly and easily search a directory of outfitters and guides with current operating permits by activity, or forest.

Outfitters and guides are great resources for National Forest visitors who want to try a new activity, improve their proficiency, or explore the back-country with the benefit of a guide who has first-hand knowledge of the area.

(Wondering what the difference is? Guides typically provide expert experience and knowledge, while outfitter-guides also provide some or all of the gear and equipment needed to enhance the outdoor experience. Both require a permit from the National Forest the activity will take place on, to help forest managers track commercial usage and to ensure favorite locations or resources aren’t being over-used).

Outfitter-guide permit holders on Pacific Northwest forests in Washington and Oregon include almost every outdoor activity you can think of, including hunting, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, cycling, dog-sledding, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, and even heli-skiing!

Looking for a guide to your next adventure on Your Northwest Forests?

Check out the Pacific Northwest region’s National Forest outfitter-guide finder at:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r6/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fseprd588624



Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region staff report

A walk on the wild side: Exploring the forest with your dog

A German Shepard poses against the view after a hike to a mountain ridge.

It’s a bright cool morning when a hiker arrives at the trailhead with great anticipation. The trail ahead is lined with huge trees towering over the cerulean sky. The only thing that could possibly make the experience better, for many recreation users, is to have their canine best friend along for the adventure.

Dogs are welcome in most areas throughout our National Forests, but there are some simple guidelines we ask dog owners to follow to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all who use these great public resources, including their furry friends.

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The underlying rule for people bringing their dogs into “developed recreation” sites — that means areas designated as trail heads, campgrounds, parking lots, interpretive trails, visitor centers, and so on — is that dogs need to be a leash six feet in length or shorter, or restrained in some other way, such as a crate or carrying case.

In most other forest areas— including areas of trails beyond the trailhead or outside a developed recreation area — there are typically no leash requirements.

That doesn’t mean owners are relieved of responsibility for their animal, or that an off-leash walk is recommended, or even safe for your dog.

“Know your dog, but also recognize that the changed environment can impact your dog in different ways. You can’t control the environment or the possible sensory stimulation your dog may experience on the trail,” Tanya Roberts, Manager of Training and Behavior at Oregon Humane Society, said. “It’s always best to keep your dog on a leash when you’re on an unfamiliar trail.”

Some campers aren’t dog lovers; they may have phobias or allergies that prevent them from being happy to meet an unrestrained pet.

“Learn as much about trails and campgrounds as you can before you bring your dog. Steep terrain, narrow trails, steel mesh bridges, and log climbs can make the hike very difficult for your dog,” Roberts said.

When hiking, uncontrolled dogs may wander off a path and encounter wildlife, with disastrous results for the animal or themselves.

Some dogs have little fear of heights; in areas with cliffs, gulches, canyons, caves, or big rocks, they may slip under railings or over a steep drop and get hurt — or worse.

Another way to protect your pet: Before heading outdoors, ensure all vaccinations are up-to-date and make sure you’re using flea and tick control. Make sure dogs are both wearing identification tags on their collar and are microchipped, in case they get lost. Bringing a recent photo is also good idea, so you can show it to others campers or a rangers if your dog does go missing.

In some forests, you may encounter areas that restrict access to domesticated animals outside of developed recreation sites. These restrictions may be in place to protect watershed health, municipal water systems, sensitive plant species, or other natural resources that could be damaged. For example, restrictions are in place on some parts of the Deschutes National Forest to protect the City of Bend’s municipal water supply.

“Bottom line, it comes down to being respectful to others, wildlife, and keeping your dog safe,” Logan Free, the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s developed recreation program manager, said.

Free is an avid hiker and dog owner, and enjoys helping others enjoy the outdoors successfully with their dogs.

Yielding on trails is a common friction point among recreation users, he said.

“A basic etiquette rule I’ve heard is ‘Wheels yield to heels,’ where bikers and OHVers yield to all other users, while hikers yield to horseback riders,” Free said. “Restrain your dog when others try passing and yield to others, as you don’t know if other hikers would enjoy Fluffy jumping up to greet them.”

Keeping your leashed on trails is recommended, even if it’s not required, Roberts said.

Maintaining a safe distance between your dog and other trail users, including those on bikes or horseback, protects not only other users but also your pet.

“It’s just not worth the risk of having your dog off leash. It could become a life or death situation if your dog runs around a corner on a trail and startles a horse. This can be very dangerous both for your dog and for the horseback rider,” she said.

While some dog owners are confident allowing their dog to roam off-leash because their pet is trained to follow voice commands, even well-trained dogs can behave unpredictably — especially in an unfamiliar area, Roberts said.

“Some people are concerned that their dogs won’t get as much exercise if they stay on a leash, but usually with all the new sensory input, dogs will come home very tired anyway,” she said.

Another source of human-dog conflicts are areas around developed recreation sites. Even leashed, a dog’s presence can interfere with activities like bird watching. Barking is also a common source of friction between dog owners and other visitors.

“The National Forests are for everyone to enjoy. If people encounter dogs that are interfering with their ability to enjoy public lands, a polite conversation with the dog owner is a good first step, if the issue isn’t serious or threatening; followed by a call to your local ranger district office if the problems persist, and a call to law enforcement if the dog is aggressive,” Free said.

If you encounter other dog owners, remember that they also may prefer your dog be leashed around their pet, Roberts said.

“There may be lots of possible reasons. Maybe a dog is recovering from surgery, and having other dogs jump on them could do real damage,” Roberts said.

And sometimes, the best way to ensure your dog enjoys your time outdoors is to leave them at home.

Before taking your dog on a hike, take the weather, and the distance and terrain into account, Roberts said.

“Watch out for heat,” she said. “Put your hand down on the terrain: if it’s uncomfortable for you to put down pressure on the ground because of heat or sharp terrain, it will probably also be for your dog.”

If your dog is younger, older, or hasn’t hiked before, start with shorter hikes so dogs can get familiar with the environment, strengthen supporting muscles, and toughen up the pads on their feet.

“Get your dogs’ heart checked by a veterinarian before attempting any hiking. Carry a first aid kit, especially if you have a big dog who you won’t be able to carry back to your car. With elderly dogs, it’s especially important that you know what the dog will encounter along the trail and how difficult it will be,” Roberts said.

For pet safety tips, first-aid, and more information about responsible recreation with dogs on National Forests, check out the FAQ at https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5351574.pdf.

Before your visit, contact the local Ranger district office for specific local considerations or recommendations.

And don’t forget to scoop your dog’s poop! “Leave no trace” should be your goal for pets (and people, too). Dog feces can take months to decompose, and may carry diseases and parasites that are dangerous to wildlife and contaminate water that humans rely on, as well.

“It’s lovely to see people being respectful and being aware of how their dogs may be impacting others around them,” Roberts said. “We need to encourage people to do things right.”


Source Information: Chris Bentley is the Website and Social Media Manager for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement. He doesn’t have a dog… yet.

An icon, gone: Saying goodbye to the South Selkirk caribou herd

A mountain woodland caribou bull, in a snowy forest

An iconic Pacific Northwest species’ declining numbers has resulted in its quiet withdrawal from its last remaining historical habitat in the United States.

According to researchers, the Selkirk herd of woodland caribou, which lingered as one of the most threatened species in the U.S. for decades, has all but disbanded. After a harsh winter that disrupted a last-ditch recovery effort, just three female caribou remain.

The last-remaining herd of woodland caribou in the U.S. ranged from north-eastern portions of Colville National Forest in Washington State and lower British Columbia. The herd struggled for years, challenged by everything from habitat loss and freeway development to predators and even snowmobiles in its south.

A taxidermy caribou head and antlers

The antlers from one of the last South Selkirk mountain caribou were recovered after the animal was injured by a vehicle strike on Canada’s Highway 3, and subsequently killed by an unknown predator (bear or wolf). They are displayed in the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Dept. of Natural Resources office, The herd was stabilized at around 50 individuals for more than a decade, but declined sharply from 47 in 2008 to just 11 by 2017. As of spring 2018, only three caribou from the herd remain, all female.

In recent years, state, and federal agencies and their Canadian counterparts began working with the Kalispell Tribe of Indians and Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and private organizations launched an ambitious plan they hoped would help the herd restore its rapidly diminishing numbers; building an enclosure to house pregnant female caribou each winter to protect them and their offspring from human harassment and predators, during the winter months.

Volunteers spent months collecting and drying hundreds of pounds of lichen, the caribou’s preferred winter food.

As winter approached in late 2017, they were ready.

And then, record-breaking snowfall buried the fence. The caribou left the pen, and rejoined their herd. Before the season, there were just nine caribou were counted in the preceding census. The following spring, surveyors found only three – all females. A bit later, they confirmed that none of the tree were pregnant.

The caribou herd’s ability to replace itself naturally was gone; and with it, the Selkirk herd’s future is in doubt.

“We mourned, we all had a period of grieving. We were distraught,” Ray Entz, Director of Wildlife and Terrestrial Resources for the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, said. But all is not lost, he said. “We see this as an opportunity to redouble our efforts, to get it right.”

The mountain-dwelling woodland caribou is not extinct. But the numbers don’t look good. A few dozen more herds exist, all in Canada. They too are in rapid decline; their total number is estimated at fewer than 1,400, down from 1,900 just ten years earlier.

Why did the caribou’s begin to disappear? Over-hunting in the early 20th century is believed to have caused steep losses. But habitat fragmentation from other human-influenced activities may have further complicated the species’ ability to recover.

As development, logging or fire broke up larger swaths of forest, deer populations may have grown – attracting predators and increasing their numbers, who found the caribou to be easy prey.

Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist, at his office on the Colville National Forest,

Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist for the Colville National Forest, has worked on caribou protection and monitoring for years. The South Selkirk herd, the last remaining woodland mountain caribou in the U.S. which ranged in British Columbia and the forest’s Salmo Priest Wilderness, is now considered “functionally extinct” in the U.S. with just three female caribou remaining in the herd as of mid-2018. The caribou remain endangered in Canada, where about 1400 caribou are thought to remain.

On the Colville National Forest, forest rangers distributed pamphlets, advising snowmobilers to look out for caribou tracks when riding off-road to avoid stressing caribou and prompting them to run, or even to abandon a ridge entirely after repeated encounters.

The forest, especially the Salmo Priest Wilderness, was actually a sanctuary for the herd, Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist for the Colville National Forest, said.

“Most of the habitat on the U.S. side is … at elevations above 4,000 feet, on wilderness or National Park land,” Borysewicz said. “Essentially, what that’s meant is that the timber stands that were suitable for caribou haven’t been disturbed.”

In Canada, British Columbia wildlife managers launched an aggressive lethal removal program to protect the South Selkirk, and other caribou herds, from wolves.

But the South Selkirk herd was especially vulnerable to losses. It’s range is separated from other herds; by roads, by development and logging. It’s own range is also divided, by Highway 3 – one of Canada’s busiest cross-continental highways.

In early 2009, when the herd’s numbers hovered around 45 animals, three caribou died in traffic collisions on the busy east-west route. Several more were killed in a single collision with a semi-truck.

When the herd’s numbers dwindled to less than two dozen, wildlife managers began discussing the possibility of augmenting the herd with caribou from other parts of Canada.

An earlier effort to relocate caribou from healthier herds to augment the South Selkirk population, shortly after the species was listed for U.S. Endangered Species Act protection in the 1980s, was not successful.

“We’ve learned a lot since then,” Borysewicz said.

Those earlier transplants were introduced to the Selkirk mountains via a “cold release” released into the herd’s traditional range. Without members of the herd on hand to lead them to forage, the newcomers wandered away from the protection of the herd – taking their potential contributions in numbers and reproductive potential with them.

Today, wildlife managers would conduct a “warm release” that introduces newcomers to the herd in a more controlled manner, giving them the opportunity to be fully integrated into the group before being released from, he said.

But first, the coalition of organizations working to save the herd had focused their attention the other side of the equation – stabilizing the number of pregnant females and calves.

In 2008, the Nature Conservancy of Canada acquired the Darkwoods Conservation Area, a wilderness reserve deep in the heart of the herd’s winter range.

The organization began working with natural resources managers for the Kalispel Tribe in Washington State and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho to build a maternal pen for the herd.

IMG_1091“That’s kind of why we (the tribal agencies), are in the middle of this. It’s easier working across the international boundary,” Entz said. “It’s going to take all of us.

He and Bart George, the Kalispel Tribe’s lead wildlife biologist, helped supervise construction of a “maternal pen,” 19 acres of walled-off wilderness on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s land.

The tactic has been used elsewhere to support declining caribou populations by protecting reproductively-active females and their young. Pregnant caribou and their newborns were especially likely to fall prey to predators, because the cows leave their herd until they’ve calved.

A USDA Forest Service regional cost-share grant helped pay for the pen’s construction.

Hundreds of volunteers worked with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance to collect and dry nearly 300 pounds of “Old Man’s Beard,” a soft, airy lichen resembling Spanish moss that makes up the caribou’s preferred winter diet.

In 2017, the first caribou were netted by helicopter and released into the pen for what was to be the first of a three-year trial.

Then, it snowed.

“We had double the average snowfall in that part of the Colville. You just can’t plan for that,” Borysewicz said.

First, the shelter provided to house guards who would watch over the penned cows, collapsed under the weight of the snow. The guards were forced to abandon their post for the season.

The snow kept falling.

It piled in drifts so tall the caribou, with their snowshoe-like hoofs, eventually would have needed only to step over the 15-foot tall fence to slip back into the forest.

No one knows what happened, after that.

Maybe animal predators, stressed by the deep snowfall, exacted taken an unusually high toll on the herd that year.

Accidents or poaching could have taken some members from the herd.

Or perhaps, the deep snows that typically offered the caribou their best protection from danger were what betrayed them, burying them in an avalanche, somewhere where their bones may never be found.

For the communities and agencies, organizations and individuals who had banded together to save the South Selkirk Herd was as devastating, if not entirely unexpected.

“They were an accessible and readily available food source when times were tough, and caribou sustained plenty of people in valley because they were readily available. Part of the problem we have now is they are so readily hunted, by predators and people,” Entz said.

Now, the herd’s future is uncertain.

It seems likely some caribou will eventually be relocated – either new animals will be brought to the Selkirk mountains and introduced to the remaining three members in hopes of reviving the herd, or the remaining Selkirk caribou will be joined with another struggling herd in hopes of bolstering its numbers.

A mountain woodland caribou bull, in a snowy forest

A mountain woodland caribou bull. US Fish and Wildlife photo.

Biologists have fitted them with radio collars this spring to track their movements, and are hopeful the remaining caribou’s movements could lead them to an answer about what happened to the rest.

While the future for the South Selkirk herd is grim, those involved in the recovery attempt said their efforts were not wasted.

“The lichen will keep for a while, that effort is not a lost cause. Once it’s dried and stored, it has a long shelf life,” Mike Lithgow, Director of  Information and Outreach for Kalispel Tribe’s Dept. of Natural Resources, said.

With recovery, there’s hope that one day, caribou will once again venture south to the Colville National Forest and the Salmo Priest Wilderness as long as the habitat remains in place to receive them.

“This is not the end, it’s the beginning of a new fight,” he said.

Entz said he’s more than more than hopeful there’s still a future for the mountain caribou, whether in the South Selkirk mountains or beyond them.

“We aren’t going quietly into the night. We’re going down fighting,” he said “They took care of the tribe when it needed them. Now it’s our turn to take care of them.”


Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso is the strategic communication lead for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement, and edits the “Your Northwest Forests” blog. You can reach her at ccaruso@fs.fed.us.

Fighting fires with fire: Prescribed fires restore healthy balance in forests

A firefighter with a radio monitors walks through brush in an area being treated by prescribed fire

As another hot, dry summer of fighting wildland fires winds down, National Forests and other Pacific Northwest land managers have begun to turn their attention to prescribed fires, or fires intentionally set to perform ecological work on the landscape.

Fire is an essential, natural process, having shaped the landscape for thousands of years, releasing, and recycling nutrients from vegetation, duff, and soil layers, improving the overall health of plants and animals.

In the Pacific Northwest, forests evolved to experience periodic fires that can thin overgrowth on the forest floor and make space for larger, healthier trees. On forests and grasslands, some invasive species may prove vulnerable to fires, while some native species actually require fire to release or germinate seeds.

“Prescribed fire is the right fire, in the right place, for the right reasons,” Rob Allen, fire staff officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest said. “It’s a proactive step- a choice to put fire to work for our communities and forests rather than just fight against it year after year.”

A stand of trees previously treated with prescribed fire.

After a prescribed fire on the Ochoco National Forest, Oregon, mature trees enjoy healthier spacing, while charred wood from dead trees provides wildlife habitat and fast-growing grasses and low-growing vegetation removed by quickly return to the area. USDA Forest Service photo.

Land managers have increasingly embraced prescribed fire as a management tool in recent years, as research began to point to an increasing number of larger, hotter “mega-fires” in the region that are believed to be fueled, in part, by a century of fire management decisions encouraging suppression of all fires — including the smaller, lower intensity fires, such as those set naturally by lightning during the cooler, wetter months.

Paul Hessburg, a scientist for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station estimates prescribed fires (and management of suitable natural fires) need to occur at six times recent rates to restore the “historical fire regime” to forests in Washington and Oregon.

In Central Washington, firefighters from seven agencies across the state will manage prescribed fires across central Washington, including the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, as part of a formal training exchange (TREX). Sponsored by the Fire Learning Network, TREX provides a unique opportunity for fire personnel from across the region to learn about prescribed fire and forest health across agency boundaries. Land managers from multiple agencies plan to burn up to 950 acres during the two-week TREX, and up to 5300 acres across the eastern Cascades this summer.

A low-intensity prescribed fire burns grass and brush while leaving larger trees intact.

A prescribed fire burns “low and slow” across an area on the Colville National Forest, Washington. Large, healthy trees with thicker bark may lose lower branches, but typically survive low-intensity fire, while smaller trees, brush, and diseased trees are typically burned away. Some native Pacific Northwest tress, grasses and wildflowers trees depend on fire to propagate, or have fire-resistant seeds that thrive in spaces where fires have cleared competing non-native species and seeds. USDA Forest Service photo.

On the Malheur National Forest in northeast Oregon, land managers have announced plans to burn parcels ranging from 150 to 4,000 acres, as weather permits, this fall.

On the Siuslaw National Forest, located on the central Oregon Coast, firefighters will burn “slash,” piles of debris and limbs that have accumulated throughout the year from timber sales and large scale restoration projects, to reduce the risk of these debris becoming fuel for wildland fires. All burning will be administered and overseen by trained firefighting personnel.

“This is the ideal time,” Dan Eddy, Siuslaw National Forest deputy fire staff officer, said. “The ground is damp from recent rains making it an effective way to remove non-merchantable wood debris before it can become a hazardous fuel in the dry summer months.”

Firefighters will also conduct prescribed burns in the Drift Creek area, (6 miles east of Waldport), and off Forest Service Road 52 in the Tidewater area (12 miles east of Waldport), on the Siuslaw National Forest.

Safety and smoke are the two concerns most people raise when they hear about plans for prescribed fires in their community.

That’s understandable, Allen said. “Clean air matters to all of us.”

A firefighter uses a drip torch to set fire to brush

A firefighter uses a drip torch to set fire to brush during a prescribed burn on the Klamath Ranger District on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Oregon April 26, 2013. USDA Forest Service photo

Each prescribed fire represents many weeks of planning and preparation. Prescribed fires are managed using techniques that reduce fire intensity and smoke, such as careful site selection and attention to air and ground moisture,  atmospheric pressure, and wind.

Because firefighters choose the place, time, and conditions under which prescribed fires occur, they typically have much less impact on the surrounding community than wildland fires that aren’t planned.

Over time, land managers believe having more prescribed fires will reduce the amount of smoke experienced by communities, by preventing or limiting the size and intensity of wildland fires that occur on previously burned acreage.

More information:

Learn more about why fire on is needed on Pacific Northwest landscapes – and how prescribed fires can help in –  at https://www.north40productions.com/eom-home/.

Preparedness, helicopter crew rescue family from wildland fire

A Forest Service helitack crew prepares to evacuate a family trapped by the Crescent Mountain fire at Louis Lake on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Wash., Aug. 1, 2018. Courtesy photo by Justin Gerard.

Disaster can strike out of the blue in the backcountry. And when it does, preparation can make the difference between life or death.

Justin Gerard experienced that first hand during the Crescent Mountain fire on the Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest last month.

Gerard said he and his family they won’t soon forget the experience – or their dramatic rescue by a Forest Service helitack (helicopter, fire attack) team.

The Crescent Mountain fire was one of several fires set by a lightning storm on July 29, 2018. The fire was small – less than 10 acres – when the Gerard family set out for Louis Lake on July 31st.

But overnight, conditions changed, producing extreme fire behavior; the fires grew 18 times their size in less than 24 hours.

On Aug. 1, the Gerards were hiking back from their overnight trip to the lake when they realized a smoke column that had been visible over the distant hills was suddenly much closer, and blocking the trail ahead. The family found themselves five miles from safety, surrounded by steep terrain, and with no easy path to escape.

After the fire, the fire’s Incident Command team determined the fire had moved down the mountain and across the trail they were hiking on in less than 40 minutes; too fast for anyone to outrun, especially a family with children and pets. In the days following their rescue, the fire continued to expand, sometimes by more than 4000 acres per day.

Fortunately, the Gerards were well-prepared for a trip to the backcountry. That advance preparation helped the family of six – and their three dogs – escape, without injuries.

But Gerard said he also has some “lessons learned” from the experience that will better prepare him for the possibility of wildland fires and other emergencies during his next wilderness trip.

Question: When you planned your trip, were you aware that there was fire activity in the area?

Answer: “I wasn’t aware in the beginning. Typically we don’t hike in August because of the fires, but we had been trying to hike to Louis Lake for a while. I called the Ranger District before leaving. They informed me about fire activity in the area, but there were no closures for the Lake Louise trail. At that time I think the fires were about 10 acres and had firefighters on them. When we arrived to start our trip there was no smoke that would indicate a fire was close by.”

Q: How do you prepare for outdoor trips?  When did you start using a satellite messenger device and do you utilize it regularly?

A: “I have four kids, ranging from age 8 to 18. We decided about three years ago to purchase the device. We thought it was a good thing to have in case of emergencies when out in the woods. Typically, I tell my parents where we are going, what our timelines are, and where we plan to camp. We give an “OK” signal when we start and send out an “OK” when we stop for the night. Sometimes I’ll use the tracking feature. My family and friends can go on the share page and track our movement. I have it programmed to send an alert signal if we haven’t moved in over four hours.”

“Hiking gear can be expensive. When you look at the cost involved of having an emergency beacon, it is relatively inexpensive compared to the peace of mind it brings and safety it provides for your family. It is a good thing to have especially if you are out by yourself.”

“All the kids know how to operate the device, and we always keep it in the same location on my pack. We talk about emergency scenarios with our family so everyone knows their role in case something goes wrong. The more you can prepare yourself for situations in the backcountry, the better you will be. In this case, I learned it is good to have a signal mirror.”  

Q: Tell me about what was going through your mind when you realized you and your family were in a dangerous situation?

“We had a great day at the lake fishing and swimming. We got up the next day and had breakfast. I spent the morning tapping up my children’s feet because they were breaking in new boots. We were planning to head out that day. Once we were heading down the trail I looked up and spotted the smoke column. I couldn’t tell how far away the fire was, but knew the wind was blowing in our direction. At that point we decided to turn around. I tried to keep everyone calm. We came up with a plan to return to the scree field.”

“Because we had moved locations and were unsure if the SOS signal was sending our new location, we decided to hit the button again — not realizing that our current location was already being sent. Hitting the button a second time canceled our emergency alert. Fortunately, my emergency contact went to the incident and alerted Forest Service officials that something was wrong.”

“I’ve spoken to numerous people that have SPOT devices (a brand name of emergency locator and messaging devices) and not many of them knew if you press the SOS a second time it cancels your emergency alert. This is very important to know.”

Q: What was it like to interact with firefighters from the helitack crew?

“They were wonderful. Top-notch professionals. They were calm and communicated very clearly with a great attitude. They did their job very well. They offered us food and water. They kept the kids calm while providing good instructions on what we needed to do.”

“There were some conversations about if we would be able to bring the dogs on the helicopter. The crew went above and beyond to allow us to bring our dogs. We were very grateful and appreciative that they trusted us enough to control the dogs on the flight. I would have understood if we had to leave the dogs. We left it up to them to decide. They did a great job being straight-forward during this difficult time.” 

Q: What is your advice to others that plan to recreate in remote locations?

“Even if you have a SPOT device, if there is any way to leave additional information for your emergency contacts it will help you out. Leave specific information about your party, medical information, where you are going, and when you will be out. This will help search and rescue find you faster. Just because you hit the SOS button doesn’t mean a helicopter rescue will come right away. You still need to be prepared mentally and have contingency plans to keep yourself safe.”

“Make sure you know where you are going. Call ahead to the Ranger District. Understand if you hike in dry months you need to have situational awareness. There can be lightning storms that quickly ignite fires. Hike at another time when fire danger is lower. We broke our rule of not hiking in August and we got caught.”

While Type 3 firefighting helicopters and crew aren’t normally utilized for rescue operations on incidents, federal employees have flexibility to deviate from SOPs when human lives are at stake.

 “We’re grateful that the decision was made to utilize the helicopter to get us out,” Gerard said. “People that have the ability to think on their feet and the experience to make sound decisions were vital to helping us. They took a risk for us and we think they should be recognized for their efforts.”

What went right?

  • The Gerards were aware that it is fire season. They checked fire weather and with a Ranger station, to help them make a decision about whether it was OK to hike. They knew the area and were able to quickly make a new plan and escape to safer terrain.
  • The 10 essentials. The family was well prepared for a backcountry trip, including warm, dry clothing, food, and camping gear, in case they’d had to shelter in place overnight. They also carried an emergency locator, which all family members were trained to operate.
  • The family had trip plan and a designated emergency contact who followed their progress, and was prepared to seek help.

What went wrong?

  • Conditions can change quickly – in this case, overnight. While you can’t plan for everything, consider the worst-case scenario before deciding how much risk you are prepared to tolerate.

Lessons learned?

  • Know your gear. Although the Gerards were careful to ensure all family members were trained to send a distress signal using their emergency beacon, they inadvertently cancelled their first distress call when they tried to send a second request after changing their location. Justin Gerard said he is reaching out to friends who rely on similar devices to share his lessons learned in case they ever find themselves in a similar situation.


Source information: Evan Burks, White Mountain National Forest (on fire assignment in support of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region Fire & Aviation office). Photos provided by Justin Gerard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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