Category Archives: Diseases

Boulder Cave reopens for summer; bat protection protocol in place

Townsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii), in a July 20, 2011 file photo by Ann Froschauer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

NACHES, Wash. (June 3, 2019)Boulder Cave, a popular highlight for visitors to the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, will opened for the 2019 summer season May 24. Boulder Cave, Boulder Cave Day Use Site, and the Boulder Barrier Free Trail will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 20, 2019.

The cave is home to Townsend’s big-eared bat, which is listed as a sensitive species in Washington and Oregon.

Bats are susceptible to White Nose Syndrome, a deadly disease triggered by a fungal infection that can kill entire bat colonies by disrupting their winter hibernation.

A USDA Forest Service interpreter will be on site at Boulder Cave to provide information about the cave and explain the White Nose Syndrome prevention protocol visitors must follow as they enter the cave., which include brushing and scraping off the soles of their shoes when entering and leaving the cave.

We’re all about providing great recreation on public lands while minimizing harmful impacts to wildlife,” Joan St. Hilaire, a USDA Forest Service wildlife biologist, said. “To help prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome, visitors are asked to brush off and scrape their shoes on an astro turf carpet prior to entering and leaving the cave.”

Cave visitors are also encouraged to wash clothing, outerwear, and gear between visits to different caves or other places bats congregate.

When visiting Boulder Cave, all visitors are required to carry a flashlight. A good pair of walking shoes and layered clothing are also recommended. Pets are not allowed.

“We can all do our part by limiting all noise, staying on the trail, not touching cave walls, and keeping lights off the ceiling (to avoid disturbing the bats),” St. Hilaire said.

The cave is closed annually from September through May to provide a secure refuge during the bats’ hibernation period.

A footbridge leads into Boulder Cave west of the community of Naches, Washington on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service file photo.

Source information: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (press release)

Puddles gets jump on invasive mussels in WA waterways

WDFW Sergeant Pam Taylor and Puddles, a rescued 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix who will use her keen sense of smell to help detect quagga and zebra mussel larvae on boats traveling through mandatory watercraft-inspection stations run by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). WDFW courtesy photo.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (May 16, 2019) – The newest member of the team that protects Washington’s waterways from invasive species has quite the ruff routine: Sniff, sit, play!

Starting this spring, Puddles, a 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix, will use her keen sense of smell to help detect quagga and zebra mussel larvae on boats traveling through mandatory watercraft-inspection stations run by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Starting this spring, Puddles, a 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix, will use her keen sense of smell to help detect quagga and zebra mussel larvae on boats traveling through mandatory watercraft-inspection stations run by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Courtesy photo provided by WDFW.
Starting this spring, Puddles, a 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix, will use her keen sense of smell to help detect quagga and zebra mussel larvae on boats traveling through mandatory watercraft-inspection stations run by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Courtesy photo provided by WDFW.

“Invasive mussels can impact our state’s water quality, power and irrigation systems, wildlife and recreation,” Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council, said. “We all need to work together to prevent invasive mussels from changing our way of life and harming resources we value. In many ways, invasive mussels would change what it means to be a Washingtonian.”

Quagga and zebra mussels can clog piping and mechanical systems of industrial plants, utilities, locks and dams. Researchers estimate that invasive species cost industries, businesses and communities more than $5 billion nationwide over 6 years, and the power industry more than $3 billion.

“We believe Puddles will be a great addition to the Washington invasive species program,” Heidi McMaster, regional invasive species coordinator for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said. The bureau paid for Puddles’ training as part of the Bureau’s fight to keep the Columbia River basin and Washington State free of invasive mussels. “Reclamation is proud to be part of this effort to prevent the introduction of quagga mussels to the Columbia River basin.”

Puddles was initially surrendered to a shelter in Fresno, California where she caught the attention of the Green Dog Project’s “Rescued for a Reason” program. Staff at the Green Dog Project contacted Mussel Dogs, a training program for dogs, and Puddles was trained there.

WDFW Sergeant Pam Taylor spent 2 weeks in California and at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona and Utah training with Puddles for her new assignment.

Puddles is just one of the ways Washington State is working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other partners – including the USDA Forest Service – to control and stop the spread of invasive species.

National Forest lands in the Pacific Northwest protect a number of watersheds that provide clean water for drinking and irrigation, as well as hydroelectric power generation and wildlife habitat – all uses that are threatened by invasive species, including quagga and zebra mussels.

WDFW Sergeant Pam Taylor and Puddles, a rescued 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix who will use her keen sense of smell to help detect quagga and zebra mussel larvae on boats traveling through mandatory watercraft-inspection stations run by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). WDFW courtesy photo.
WDFW Sergeant Pam Taylor and Puddles, a rescued 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix who will use her keen sense of smell to help detect quagga and zebra mussel larvae on boats traveling through mandatory watercraft-inspection stations run by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. WDFW courtesy photo.

How you can help: Clean, Drain, Dry!

The Washington Invasive Species Council asks the public to Clean–Drain–Dry their boats, personal watercraft, and other gear each time they remove their craft or equipment from a body of water.

Some invesive species can hitch a ride on clothes, shoes and boots, boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and even fishing poles, pails, and shovels!

Clean: When leaving the water, clean all equipment that touched the water by removing all visible plants, algae, animals and mud. This includes watercraft hulls, trailers, shoes, waders, life vests, engines and other gear.

Drain: Drain any accumulated water from watercraft or gear, including live and transom wells, before leaving the access point to the water. If transporting watercraft, clean and dry everything before transport.

Dry: Once home, let all gear fully dry before using your boat or watercraft it in a different water body. Just draining and letting your watercraft and gear dry may not sufficiently remove some invasive species.

Transporting boats across state lines: Clean, Drain, Dry may not protect local waterways against all potential invasives. If you are bringing a watercraft into Washington for the first time, contact the Washington State aquatic invasive species hotline (1-888-WDFW-AIS) before placing it in the water. Be prepared to provide the state and water body where your watercraft was used, and whether you decontaminated your watercraft before you left that state. In some cases, WDFW will require an intensive decontamination upon entry into Washington, provided at no cost to the owner. Remember that it’s illegal to transport or spread aquatic invasive species and violators can face heavy fines, and even jail time!


Source information: The Washington Invasives Species Council and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (joint press release).

Forest Service scientist helps defend amphibians against exotic health threat

The eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), rests on a rock in its natural environment.

Avian influenza, rabies, mad cow disease, and even chronic wasting disease are animal diseases that make the headlines because of their threat to human health, and the ease in which they spread among animals, regions – even countries. But nongame wildlife diseases are less known.

Although an alert for global amphibian declines began almost 30 years ago, it took another decade for ecologists to realize that diseases were a top threat to amphibians.

Today, the groundwork laid by studying earlier threats may make a difference for hundreds of North American amphibians that could be in danger from an exotic pathogen that is hitchhiking along global trade routes, and may soon appear on this continent.

Learn more about Bd [Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis], the emergence of Bsal [B. salamandrivorans], and the international task force that’s researching this new fungal pathogen – tied to amphibian die-offs in multiple places around the world, and a multispecies disease threat to amphibian biodiversity, including more than 200 likely vulnerable species in North America – and Deanna “Dede” Olson, the Forest Service research ecologist who helped launch a task force dedicated to protecting these amphibians from the Bsal and related threats, in Science Findings #214 (a publication of the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station): https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi214.pdf.

Did you know: Bsal and other exotic infections or diseases are most likely to be introduced to a new ecosystem via an infected amphibian or carrier imported as a pet. You can help prevent exotic diseases from spreading by ensuring you purchase pets only from reputable breeders or suppliers, and that they raise only certified disease-free, legally-imported animals. For more information, visit www.salamanderfungus.org/.

A roughskin newt (Taricha granulosa) on moss. Photo courtesy of Elke Wind (all rights reserved)
A roughskin newt, Taricha granulosa, on moss. Photo courtesy of Elke Wind (all rights reserved)

Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station

Forest Feature: Elk

Bull elk grow antlers for the fall mating season

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’re dedicating the November Forest Feature to showing our appreciation for an animal that has historically given much to people in the Pacific Northwest – the mighty elk!

Elk (Cervus canadensis) are among the largest species of the deer family in the world. They are also among the largest wild animals in North America – only moose and bison are larger among the non-domesticated species. (Fun fact: “Wild” horses on this continent are actually untamed domesticated horses, sometimes called “feral” horses – they cannot be truly ).

Elk from the Dosewallips elk herd along Highway 101

Elk from the Dosewallips elk herd along Highway 101 in Brinnon, Wash. on the Olympic Peninsula, Aug. 1, 2018. Elk herds are known to cross Highway 101, including the Dosewallips & Dungeness herds. As temperatures get colder, more animals start to live at lower elevations, near roads and some elk herds stay at lower elevations year-round. Courtesy photo by Karen Guzman (used with permission)

Elk first arrived in North America from Asia about 23 million years ago.

Historically, elk have been revered in many cultures. The meat from a single elk can feed many people. Their large hides can be used to create tents to house people, or clothing and shoes to protect them from the elements.

In North America, archaeologists have found images of elk that are thousands of years old, carved by the Anasazi people.

A Roosevelt elk bugles,

A Roosevelt elk bugles, June 9, 2011. USDA Forest Service photo.

Male elk are known for bugling – they make lots of noise to assert their dominance and attract mates.

They also have large antlers, which they use to fight for those same reasons.

Elk shed their antlers every year, and regrow them every spring.

A herd of elk approach a snowy river bank

A herd of elk approach a snowy river bank on the Olympic National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Elk travel in herds, and are quick to defend against predators

They can run up to 35 miles per hour, though they rarely run from a fight.

If their vocal warnings are ignored, both male and female elk might attack by rearing up and delivering powerful kicks from their strong forelegs.

However, elk are susceptible to many diseases. These including parasites, chronic wasting disease, and a disease called Elk hoof disease.

Releasing elk at Sparks Lake on the Deschutes National Forest

Releasing elk at Sparks Lake on the Deschutes National Forest in 1934. USDA Forest Service file photo.

Elk cows leave their herd to give birth, which helps them protect their calves by avoiding attention from predators. They return only once their calves can keep up with the herd.

An elk mother will take care of one another elk’s calf, if the other mother is feeding.

Elk need a lot of food to survive.

Elk eat all kinds of grasses, shrubs, bark and leaves.

Some favorite foods for elk living in the Pacific Northwest include Aspen, red alder, and willow tree barks; shrubs, vines and bushes – including salal, wild rose, and Oregon grape, blackberry, huckleberry and currant; and other plants, including dandelion, clover, bear grass and fireweed.

Elk are valued by hunters as a game animal; their meat is lean, low in cholesterol and high in protein.

A herd of elk climb a bluff

A herd of elk climb a bluff on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Super strength, super speed, super brave… in many ways, elk aren’t just mighty creatures of the forest, they are superheroes!

What do you like most about elk? Check out these fun facts and links to learn even more about our November “Forest Feature”!

Did you know?

  • An elk’s antlers can grow as fast as 2.5 cm per day, and reach a total length of almost 4 feet long, and weigh up to 40 lbs.!
  • Elk look a bit like deer, but they are much bigger. Adult elk stand 4.5 to 5 feet at the shoulder. With their antlers, a male elk might stand up to 9 feet tall!
  • Elk shed their coats seasonally. Their winter coat is five times warmer than their summer coat, and lighter in color – which helps camouflage them against bare ground or snow.
  • A bull (male) elk can weigh 600-800 lbs. A cow (female) elk can weigh up to 500 lbs. 

Learn more about elk:

Videos:



Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month, as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.

If you’d like more information about this topic, or other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate Pacific Northwest environmental education and forest science in your classroom, email us at YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.

Forest Feature: Bats

Close up of Big Brown Bats

Here in Your Northwest Forests, we’re batty for bats! These creatures of the night may have a spooky reputation – but bats are actually incredibly interesting animals who play an important role in maintaining the health of our forests, farms, and even help save human lives!

Close up photo of the face of a pallid bat

This pallid bat is being examined by a researcher. Pallid bats are found in dry areas across the western United States, including Oregon and central and eastern parts of Washington State. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Photo by Ann Froschauer.

Check out these bat facts –

Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight (other airborne mammals, like flying squirrels, can glide but can’t flap their wings to rise higher or increase their speed).

People sometimes use the expression “blind as a bat.” But, bats aren’t blind! However, some can also sense objects using echolocation, using high-frequency sound and then listening to the echos to create a “map” of the area their mind to navigate even when it’s too dark for them to see with their eyes.

Forest Service researchers discovered that bat’s wings can be used to identify individual bats—much like human fingerprints.

Most bats eat fruit or insects – but there are three species of vampire bat that bite and then drink the blood from larger animals, like cows and horses. That might sound creepy, but scientists have found powerful anticoagulant in their saliva that is now used to save human lives! The drug Draculin, named after Count Dracula (a fictional vampire often depicted as able to transform into a bat), is used to break up blood clots in people that have suffered strokes or heart attacks.

Bats also help humans in other ways:

A young Mariana fruit bat hangs upside-down

This young Mariana fruit bat looks at the world upside down. These endangered bats are among the largest bat species, called “mega bats,” or “flying foxes,” and are native to Guam and other Pacific Islands. US Fish & Wildlife Service photo by Anne Brooke.

They eat insect pests that cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars annually. In the U.S., researchers estimate bats save farmers $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.

They’re also important pollinators for many fresh fruits and vegetables. Avocados, coconut palm trees, vanilla beans, papaya and agave are just some of the crops that rely on bats to help them produce things humans like to eat!

In the tropics, bats help spread seeds for many fruit trees, including figs, mangos, and bananas.

And bat droppings, or guano, are a powerful fertilizer used to grow crops around the world.

Bats need our help, too!

There are 47 species of bat in the United States, and more than half are either rapidly declining in number, or are listed as threatened or endangered species.

In the Pacific Northwest, a species called the Little Brown Bat is under threat from a disease called “white nose syndrome.”

This fungal infection, caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans, interrupts their winter hibernation, leaving them weak and sick by spring – if they survive, at all.

If you visit caves or other places that bats like to roost, you can help by cleaning your clothing (including your shoes) before you enter, and after you leave, to prevent spreading the fungus that causes the disease to another location.

A little brown bat roosts in a cave.

A healthy little brown bat roosts in a cave in a Feb. 9, 2011 photo. White nose syndrome is a fungal infection that is threatening this species. The disease causes irritation (including a tell-tale white crust around the mouth and nose) that disrupts the bat’s winter hibernation, causing it to lose fat stores too quickly. This often kills the bat, starving them by the end of the winter, or leaving them weak and vulnerable to secondary infections when they emerge from hibernation. U.S. Fish & Wildlife photo by Ann Froschauer.

During the week leading up to Halloween, the USDA Forest Service joins conservationists, biologists, and educators around the world in celebrating “Bat Week.”

This year, Bat Week is Oct. 24-31, 2018.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, USDA Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees will be at the Oregon Zoo Oct. 27 & 28 to educate visitors and provide bat-week activities for guests of all ages. Find more info on the Your Northwest Forests event calendar.

Image of a bat, and text: Na-na Na-na Na-na Na-na BAT WEEK! #BatAppreciationWeek @ForestService

Bat Appreciation Week is Oct. 24-31, 2018! Visit the Oregon Zoo Oct. 28-29 to join the USDA Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for a bat week celebration and educational activities.

Here are more ways you can celebrate Bat Week!

  • Turn out the lights! Light pollution affects insect populations, which disrupts the bats who feed on them at night.
  • Get familiar with all the different foods made possible by bats! Use the Bat Week Cookbook to make a delicious meal to share with your friends and family.
  • Check out this TedEd presentation by bat researcher Amy Wray: “I’m Batman” – https://ed.ted.com/lessons/i-m-batman-amy-wray
  • Build a bat house! Buy kits online from hardware and building supply stores (pro tip: look for designs certified by Bat Conservation International), or use these instructions from the National Wildlife Foundation: https://www.nwf.org/en/Garden-for-Wildlife/Cover/Build-a-Bat-House.
  • Plant a bat garden! Flowers can provide nectar or pollen that draws moths or insects North American bats like to eat. Bergamot, Smooth Pentesemon, and Choke Cherry are just some of the plants recommended in this sample plan, created by the Forest Service.
  • Host your own Bat Week party or event! You can find instructions for fun activities like making origami bats, bat party favors, bat-themed finger puppets and masks, coloring pages, and more at http://batweek.org/bat-week-tool-kit/.

Find more Bat Week ideas at http://batweek.org/can-make-difference/.



Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month, as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.

If you’d like more information about this topic, or other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate Pacific Northwest environmental education and forest science in your classroom, email us at YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.

Caging cones: Investing in a future for whitebark pine

A cross-section of an immature pine cone reveals the seeds developing inside.

A small vault, filled with neatly-ordered rows of seeds, with the potential to repopulate a forest — that could be a description for a pine cone, but it also describes the Dorena Genetic Research Center on the Umpqua National Forest.

“People have no idea,” Haley Smith, seed program coordinator for the research center, said. “We have a really valuable resource on the Umpqua, our seed bank, that’s been here for 50 years.”

For Smith, the Dorena Genetic Research Center is a place where suiting up to saving a tree species could mean donning a snowsuit rated to resist the freezer’s subzero chill, or strapping into a harness to scale trees in search of the cones that have given rise to a catalog that’s now 250 million seeds strong, and counting.

An employee wears a snowsuit and gloves to retrieve a drawer from a large storage freezer

Haley Smith retrieves seeds stored in a specialized seed-storage freezer at the Dorena Genetic Research Center on the Umpqua National Forest, Oregon, in an undated photo. This freezer stores 250 million seeds, collected from 35 species. The center also stores seeds for dozens of additional species in a separate cooler. USDA Forest Service photo (provided by Haley Smith).

In July, Smith was among a small team of Forest Service employees collecting seed for the bank from a stand of whitebark pines, Pinus albicaulus, perched high on the Umpqua National Forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26.

Several of the trees had proved resistant in previous testing against White pine blister rust, an invasive fungus that has blighted stands of five-needle pines for more than a century.

The fungus, Cronartium ribicola, originated in China and arrived in the continental U.S. at the turn of the last century, where it quickly established itself on both coasts and began to spread. It reached in southern Oregon by the 1950s, and arrived in Colorado a decade ago.

“It’s still on the move,” Joshua Bronson, a plant pathologist for the Southwest Oregon Forest Insect & Disease Service Center, stationed on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, said.

Bronson helped organize the Tipsoo Peak cone-caging expedition.

“All of the high-altitude species are a concern to scientists, as we monitor the effects of the warming climate,” he said. “But with the disease, this one is especially urgent.”

A view of a climber in a tree, placing hardware cloth cages on developing pine cones.

An unidentified USDA Forest Service employee places cone cages on a whitebark pine tree on the Fremont-Winema National Forest July 18, 2015. The cages are used to protect cones from wildlife until harvesters return to collect their seeds later in the season. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

A half-century ago, initial investments into research into white pine blister rust resistance often focused on Western white pine and sugar pine, species important to the region’s timber industry, Robin Darbyshire, a silviculturist for the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest regional office, said.

In contrast, whitebark pine is found in alpine environments that are often too steep or environmentally-sensitive to log. Yet it brings extraordinary value to the forest in other ways.

The tree is considered a “nursery species” because it creates shade and shelter for other plants at those high elevations, Darbyshire said.

Its seeds are high in fat and protein, a prize for any creature trying to survive in the wild.

“It’s really the iconic tree at higher elevations, like around Timberline Lodge. There’s also a bird, Clark’s nutcracker, that’s dependent on the seeds,” she said.

In fact, the tree is also dependent on the birds. To reduce competition, the pine has evolved a tough cone that keeps most critters away – but also prevents its seeds from sprouting, without an assist from the outside.

“(The nutcrackers) have these long bills that can get in there to get at the seeds,” Darbyshire said. “They’re the only species that can get in there. Maybe a bear could crack them open, but, that’s about it.”

And if the cones aren’t opened, the seeds inside won’t germinate, she said

This symbiotic relationship is just one of the intricate ecological dependencies threatened by white pine blister rust.

A pine tree, with a single branch blighted by White pine blister rust, is visible in the foreground against a panoramic view of mountain peaks and a lake.

Mount Thielsen and Diamond Lake are visible in this view from Tipsoo Peak on the Umpqua National Forest, taken during a cone-caging expedition, July 26, 2018, in preparation for harvesting seed later this year. A single branch of whitebark pine tree in the foreground has been damaged by white pine blister rust, a fungus that has blighted stands of several five-needle pine species since it was introduced to North America about a century ago. Researchers are working to identify and collect seed from trees with disease-resistant characteristics in an effort to help repopulate lost stands and prevent the species’ extinction. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

The fungus bores into the tree’s twigs and needles, developing spores that erupt from blisters on its bark and spreading to low-growing carrier plants, which carry it between stands and make the disease difficult to contain or eradicate when it enters a new area.

The infections leave scars, or “cankers,” that cut-off the flow of water and nutrients in a branch. Eventually, enough branches die to kill the tree, or the tree is weakened enough that it falls victim to insects, drought, or other stresses that finish the job.

In 1966, Forest Service researchers at the Dorena Genetic Research Center began collecting seeds and genetic material from five-leafed of pines, in an effort to test individual trees for disease-resistance, and clone or breed the most disease-resistant trees.

Today, the lab’s staff continues that work. They also breed Port Orford cedar for resistance to a root disease, and manage the USDA Forest Service’s National Tree Climbing program.

The systematic cultivation, testing, and breeding for disease-resistance is painstaking work.

A hand holds an individually potted, labeled seedling, lifted from a larger batch of seedlings on a tree nursery table

Whitebark pine seedlings, in a July 25, 2018 photo taken at the Dorena Seed Research Center nursery. Seeds are pre-treated to convince they’re going through winter, a process called “stratification,” then germinated under controlled conditions. White bark pine’s stratification process takes 120-140 days. “That has the tag for a tree that I climbed on, it’s a tree on Mt. Bailey,” Haley Smith, Seed Program Coordinator for the center, said. The seeds underwent stratification in November, 2017, and planted in April, 2018. If grown for testing, they will be exposed to clouds of white pine blister rust spores and monitored for disease-resistance to assign the parent tree a “letter grade” to determine whether the tree should be tracked for future harvests, which may occur every seven to ten years. If the seed is from a previously-tested tree, they could also be used to replant when tree stands lost to disease or fire. “Clones” grown from clippings taken from disease resistant trees can also be grafted to mature root stock and used to establish an “orchard” for future seed harvests. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

“We have (seeds) that have been collected since the sixties. And for each of those trees, we know exactly which one it is, where it’s located, where the ‘mom’ tree is – or was, it may not even be there anymore,” Smith said. “If it’s one we bred in our nursery, we might even know which ‘dad’ the pollen came from.”

But before any of that can happen, someone has to collect those seeds.

A woman in a hard hat smiles in a

Haley Smith shoots a selfie while caging pine cones for later seed harvest in a stand of White bark pine being monitored for White pine blister rust-resistance on Tipsoo Peak, Umpqua National Forest, Oregon July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

At Tipsoo Peak, Bronson and Smith were joined by Kayla Herriman, manager of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region seed extractory on Deschutes National Forest; Russell Oakes, silviculturalist for the Umpqua National Forest; Zachary Dimare, a Forestry Technician on the Umpqua; and Skylar Hamilton, an intern at Dorena.

The team hiked to the peak, a climb of approximately 1,500 feet, each carrying up to 80 pounds of outdoor essentials, climbing gear, and wire cages to protect selected cones from hungry nutcrackers until they return for the harvest.

“Whitebark pine is one of my favorite trees to climb. It’s got wide open branches, and it grows in places that tend to have incredible views,” Smith said.

Dimare said the long hike, heavy pack, and climb into the treetops at Tipsoo Peak was almost worth it, just for that view.

“It’s really dramatic up there. You can imagine you’re at the top of the world,” he said.

It’s hard to put a price tag on those drawers of seeds in storage at Dorena, but one measure is the labor cost that goes into collecting the seeds — seeds which are perishable, and must be constantly replenished.

It takes at least three trips to a stand of trees to harvest their seeds. Bronson’s first hike to scout the site is an annual requirement, to ensure if the stand’s cone and seed production is on track to produce enough seeds for a harvest.

It’s a trip that is repeated many times each year, often without results. For the whitebark pine, an individual stand of trees produce a crop sufficient to be harvested for seed only about once in every seven-to-ten years. If successful, a cone-caging trip follows, and then a third trip to collect the harvest — hopefully, before the snow falls.

Once collected, the supply of stored seed must constantly replenished. Conifer seeds keep five to fifteen years in storage, but it takes ten to fifteen years for seeds, once germinated, to grow into a tree capable of producing seeds of its own; even if they are grafted to mature root stock to accelerate the process.

Hardware cloth bags cover pine cones in a tree on a mountainside.

Hardware cloth bags protect White bark pine cones identified for later seed harvesting on Umpqua National Forest, Oregon July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

Participants in the Tipsoo Peak expedition caged cones on five whitebark pines; four that had been previously tested for white pine blister rust disease-resistance. The fifth tree’s seeds, when gathered, will be tested — a process that entails germinating trays of seedlings, isolating them, and then inoculating them in a cloud of white pine blister rust spores, and watching to see how quickly they succumb to the disease

“The major limiting factor, besides access to the trees, is how many of the cages we can carry,” Bronson said. “We can’t cage everything… I’m hoping we can get at least 30 cones from each of these, and by the looks of it we may have up to 50 from some of them.”

With similar expeditions taking place on forests across the Pacific Northwest, the region’s seed program  is on track to harvest 700 bushels of cones from various species, or approximately 550 pounds of seeds, this year, Darbyshire said.

A yellow sign nailed to a blazed tree reads:

Durable signage marks a tree being monitored for disease-resistant characteristics on the Fremont-Winema National Forest July 18, 2018. Some forests have “orchards” of trees, grown from seeds or clones of trees that have previously proved to be disease-resistant, to increase the supply of seed stock available for re-planting and future survivability of at-risk species. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

While the work is arduous, the need for seeds is critical. Forest seed program managers try to keep a 10-year supply of seed in stock at any time. Many are used to restore areas impacted by severe wildfire, and a bad season can easily reduce those stores to just a 1-2 year supply.

The loss of trees to fungus and the race to establish more disease-resistant stands only adds to that urgency when it comes to replacing White bark pines. While it was one of the first trees studied, it took researchers years just to figure out how to germinate its seeds.

“These trees grow in such a harsh environment. You really have to convince them that conditions are just right for them to grow,” Smith said.

Once a tree’s seeds are collected and it’s seeds germinated and tested for disease-resistance in a lab, scientists must to wait years until the parent tree again produces enough seeds to collect, plant, and raise into trees that are again ready to harvest seeds from.

The entire process can take decades, if it can be completed at all.

Darbyshire said she has helped harvest seeds from trees she planted at the beginning of her career. “I never thought that would happen, it’s an incredible feeling,” she said.

On the other hand, she’s also seen trees planted in hope of future harvests consumed by wildfires.

“If we lose orchard, that’s a really hard loss. We’ve invested so many years in those trees,” she said.

While the research investment represented by any single tree enrolled in the genetics program is enormous, the work required to collect even a single seed is probably more than most people would imagine, Smith said.

“When you think about how long it takes for us to climb those trees… that was days of preparation, that was several people in the field all day, and then we come back, and clean the seed,” she said. Seed is stored in an envelopes, each organized by tree and by year.

“There are 20 little envelopes in each one of the drawers. It’s a ton of work, in each one of those little envelopes. And I’ll produce about eight of those drawers in one year,” she said.

A person in a climbing harness places a metal mesh bag in a White bark pine tree.

Zachary Dimare, a forestry technician on the Umpqua National Forests, places a hardware cloth cage over a whitebark pine cone to protect it for later collection during a seed-caging expedition on the forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26, 2018. The seed is the primary food source for Clark’s nutcracker, one of the few species that can penetrate its cones’ tough exterior. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

A climber, sitting on a tree limb, places a metal mesh bag on a pine cone

Russell Oakes, a silviculturist for the Umpqua National Forest, places a hardware cloth cage over a whitebark pine cone to protect it for later collection during a seed-caging expedition on the forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

After more than fifty years, these efforts – and many more like them – add up to an  investment that could decide the future of the species.

Whitebark pine is not currently listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, though it remains a candidate for future listing.

Scientists have said without intervention, it could become extinct in its native range within the next 100 years.

Dimare said that knowing he is helping make a difference in the species’ chances for survival is one reason he volunteered to become certified as a climber.

“I’m a forestry tech. I spend most of my time cruising timber and marking trees (for cutting). But these trees need our help to survive,” he said.

Cover photo: Seed collectors perform a “cut-face test” cones to determine if a tree is producing cones with sufficient, healthy seeds to harvest. For white bark pine, the standard is least eight viable seeds on the cut face, which means the cone contains an estimated 40 to 75 healthy seeds. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

For more photos from the Dorena Genetic Resource Center, visit the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Forest Health Flickr album:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/151887236@N05/albums/72157670761346628


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.

‘Wild Spotter’ pilot seeks citizen scientists to track invasive species

Two forest service employees speak with women at the corner of a viewing platform

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Aug. 14, 2018 – Calling all citizen scientists! Download the free Wild Spotter mobile app and help the USDA Forest Service identify, map, and report invasive species found in your favorite wild places, including the Pacific Northwest’s Siuslaw National Forest and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest!

Through a collaboration with more than 20 partners, the University of Georgia – Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, and the organization Wildlife Forever, are working with 12 National Forests and Grasslands across the United States as part of a pilot program to gather important data on invasive species and how they are impacting wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and other natural areas.

red-pink wildflowers dot foliage at the end of a lake, with evergreens along the far shore.

Wildflowers dot the edge of Red Mountain Lake on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest July 2, 2007. USDA Forest Service photo by C. Christensen.

The Wild Spotter citizen science program provides tools to help locate, quantify, map, and report invasive species infestations in a simple and effective manner, while raising public awareness about invasive species and promoting collaborations across the landscape.

“We are happy to be part of the Wild Spotter program and to offer the public a way to enjoy their national forest while helping us gather information on the locations of invasive species,” Angela Elam, Siuslaw National Forest forest supervisor, said.

There are 15 invasive species identified on the Siuslaw National forest in the Wild Spotter app, and 54 identified invasive species for the Wallowa-Whitman forest.

A coastal ridge slopes down to meet the ocean

Cape Perpetua tidal pools and trail, Siuslaw National Forest; June 15, 2011. USDA Forest Service photo.

Once a Wild Spotter volunteer identifies and reports a species, the data is verified by experts and then made publicly available through a networked invasive species inventory database hosted by the University of Georgia.

The database will be the first nationwide inventory of invasive species in America’s natural areas.

“Invasive plants, pathogens, and animals can threaten recreational activities, productivity, and ecosystem health. This tool will help the forest to implement better strategies for prevention, control, and eradication,” Elam said.

The Wild Spotter app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices, and can be used even from locations where a cell phone signal is not available.

For more information, visit www.wildspotter.org.


Source information: Siuslaw National Forest staff