Category Archives: Forest Features

Forest Feature: Conifers

Frost on a Ponderosa Pine located on the Deschutes National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

This year, the Willamette National Forest continued the Forest Service’s 50-year tradition of providing the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree for display on the Capitol lawn, along the National Mall, in Washington D.C.

This year’s Capitol Christmas Tree is a noble fir, just one of many species of native Pacific Northwest conifer that are grown or harvested for use as Christmas trees each year.

Conifers are cone-bearing trees that feature needles, rather than leaves.

Dew condenses on the needles of a Douglas fir tree on the Ochoco National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Dew condenses on the needles of a Douglas fir tree on the Ochoco National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

These trees are often very aromatic: pine, spruce, fir, and other conifers produce chemicals called “terpenes” that many people associate with our forests, fresh air, and time spent enjoying the great outdoors.

Many people think of conifers are “evergreens,” plants that keep their color and foliage all year. But that’s not always true! Some conifers, such as Douglas fir, are evergreens.  But others, like the Larch, are not – they shed their needles every fall.

Ponderosa pines hold a dusting of snow at Mt. Bachelor on the Deschutes National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Ponderosa pines hold a dusting of snow at Mt. Bachelor on the Deschutes National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Many Pacific Northwest conifers grow straight and tall, which makes our forests an excellent source of timber for lumber. Conifers are categorized as softwood trees. Timber from conifers is often used products like paper, cardboard, and the kind of board lumber used in many types of construction.

The noble fir’s symmetrical shape, silvery green needles, and stiff branches make it an excellent tree for hanging ornaments from. Douglas Firs and Grand Firs are other Pacific Northwest conifers that are also used as Christmas trees.

A child poses with a noble fir, harvested for use as a Christmas Tree, in this archival photo. USDA Forest Service photo.

A child poses with a noble fir, harvested for use as a Christmas Tree, in this archival photo. USDA Forest Service photo.

Did you know you can harvest your own Christmas tree on National Forest -managed lands? Permits can be purchased from your local forest or a local vendor – contact a district ranger’s office for the forest you want to visit for more information, or visit the forest’s website. Find a forest at www.fs.fed.us.

Fourth graders can receive a free holiday tree permit when they present their complimentary “Every Kid in a Park” program access pass at a Forest Service district office.

Women select a Christmas tree to harvest on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Women select a Christmas tree to harvest on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Conifers also bring us many other benefits. Like other trees, they absorb odors, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants. Their shade cools the mountain streams where salmon swim and spawn. On hillsides and river banks, their roots slow water runoff and hold soil in place, slowing erosion.

Living conifers feed birds with their seeds, and provide habitat and shelter for many wildlife species. Downed trees also provide food and habitat for wildlife and plants as the trees decay.

Pine trees dot the Chewaucan River valley on Fremont-Winema National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Pine trees dot the Chewaucan River valley on Fremont-Winema National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

While conifers are a traditional source of lumber and firewood, researchers are developing new ways to use their wood for construction materials, fuel, and heating homes.

Cross-laminated beams and timber panels can build not just houses, but office towers. Wood pellets burn more efficiently and produce less smoke than logs. Processes like torrefaction and biochar can help wood burn even more efficiently, harnessing it’s energey as fuel to produce heat or even electricity!

If you look, you can probably find something in the room you are reading this in that’s made from a conifer. And if you go outside… you may not need to go far to find a conifer there, too!

More information:

An expanse of conifers rolls across distant mountain ridges, viewed from Bald Knob Lookout on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

An expanse of conifers rolls across distant mountain ridges, viewed from Bald Knob Lookout on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.



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: 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.

Forest Feature: Fungi

Mushrooms bloom from a downed log

Our Forest Feature for September is this “fun guy” – the fungi! Fungi are incredibly diverse, making up an entire kingdom of organisms. We have fungus among us, everywhere we go.

But our favorite fungi live in the Pacific Northwest’s national forests.

Fungus grows from the side of a mossy log

Fungi and moss help with the decay of a log on Brice Creek Trail in Umpqua National Forest, Oregon, on the Cottage Grove Ranger District May‎ ‎28‎, ‎2017. USDA Forest Service photo.

If you shopping at a grocery store, you might buy mushrooms that were grown on a farm. But you can also buy wild mushrooms, and some of these are collected from National Forests!

Have you heard of the humongous fungus? How big do you think it might be? As big as a basketball? As big as a car? It’s even bigger!

A genet is a genetically distinct organism. Some genets of the Armillaria ostoyae, also called the “shoe-string fungus,” grow very, very large. Several of these fungi genets are living in the northeastern part of the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon, and one of them has been named the “humongous fungus” because it’s the largest known single fungus organism in the world.

It’s as large as 1,665 football fields combined — that’s 3.4 square miles in size! It’s believed to be 2400 years old.

This “humongous fungus” is not good for the trees it colonizes. It kills and decays the root systems of certain conifer trees, resulting in Armillaria root disease.

Armillaria ostoyae mushrooms

Armillaria ostoyae mushrooms, sometimes called “honey mushrooms,” October 7, 2010. USDA Forest Service photo by Kristen Chadwick (USDA Forest Service, Region 6, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection, Westside Service Center).

If a tree is infected, you might see a scalloped ring of mushrooms emerge from its base after the first fall rainfall. Or, you might see clusters of smaller, round mushroom caps. At other times, you may see a thin layer of white fungus, like paint, on the tree when mushrooms aren’t present. If you look at the roots of a fallen tree that has hosted the fungus, you might see black “shoe strings,” or rhizomorphs, which the fungus uses to spread from tree to tree below ground.

If you see signs of Armillaria root infection, be careful – some trees around might be dead or dying, and could fall at any time.

A stand of dead standing and fallen trees affected by a root fungus

A grove of Douglas Fir trees affected by the Armillaria ostoyae fungus, which causes root disease. As the infected conifers die, other species – such as western larch and Ponderosa pine – may grow to take their place, while the dead trees provide important wildlife habitat. USDA Forest Service photo by Kristin Chadwick (USDA Forest Service, Region 6, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection, Central Oregon Service Center).

 

Has anyone ever warned you not to eat mushrooms that you find outside? Mushrooms are produced by some fungi to help them reproduce by opening up to spread spores. And one reason fungi sometimes have a bad reputation is some mushrooms are toxic – it takes a lot of training to know which are poisonous and which are safe to eat.

Lots of people enjoy collecting wild edible mushrooms and other fungi as a hobby.

In Pacific Northwest forests, morels, matsutakes, chanterells, are some mushrooms people like to collect to use as food.

Another type of fungi, the truffle, grows in the ground, but is also popular with foragers.

If you want to try collecting mushrooms or truffles, contact a local mycological society to find out what mushrooms grow in your area, and how to get started. Some species are endangered and should not be disturbed. You may also need a permit to collect mushrooms at certain times of year on National Forest land – contact your local Ranger District office for more information.

Chicken of the woods mushrooms grow from a standing tree

Chicken of the woods mushrooms grow from a tree trunk on the Olympic National Forest ‎September‎ ‎16‎, ‎2011. USDA Forest Service photo.

While some can cause problems, fungi actually play a very important role in forest ecosystems. By decaying vegetable materials like wood and leaves, they help make nutrients more accessible to insect larvae, worms and plants. This decay is also neccessary for removing debris from the forest floor, and creating healthy soil that new plants and trees will need to grow. And, like people, many animals enjoy foraging for and eating wild mushrooms and truffles that grow in our forests!

If you’re an educator who would like to explore Pacific Northwest fungi with your students, you can find more information, activities and lesson plans at the below links.

More information:

A thready orange fungus resembling ocean coral grows from a bed of moss and shamrocks on the forest floor

Orange coral fungus grows on the Olympic National Forest, Washington, December‎ ‎4‎, ‎2015. USDA Forest Service photo.



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’re an educator who would like more information about this topic, or other ways the Forest Service can incorporate Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

Forest Feature: Bears

A black bear, stands in a meadow, looking to the left of the photographer.

Perhaps no species is as associated National Forests as Smokey Bear, who’s served as the USDA Forest Service’s fire prevention “spokesbear” since 1944.

Smokey celebrates his birthday August 9th, and we’ve selected the bear as our August Forest Feature in his honor!

Bears are smart, curious, and almost always searching for food.  They have an excellent memory, their eyes are as good as a human’s (and better at night), and their sense of smell is seven times better than that of a bloodhound.

Visitors to northwest forests must take precautions to make sure these wild animals stay wild!

A Black Bear cub sits atop a tree branc

A Black Bear cub sits atop a tree branch in an undated photo. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo by Courtney Celley.

There are three species of bear that are native to the United States – black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears. Black bears are found in Washington and Oregon. Grizzly bears are also native to northern Washington, though currently they are not found here in large numbers. There are no polar bears in the Pacific Northwest.

Be “Bear Aware” – store food, garbage, and scented items indoors, or use bear-resistant canisters or storage lockers when you are the outdoors, at least 50 feet from your campsite. Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee -certified bear canisters and campground-provided storage lockers meet the requirements for bear-resistant food and attractant item storage on National Forests.

Store food and any scented items that can attract bears, including toothpaste, soaps and lotions, insect repellent, sunscreen, anything that’s been used to store, cook or eat food (including dishes, utensils, bottles, cans and wrappers), bathroom trash, and petroleum products (including fuels). If your travels will take you into a National Park, check ahead to make sure your bear-resistant canister is approved for park use. (Remember how we said bears are smart, and remember what they learn? Some bears living in heavily-visited areas, such as National Parks, have figured out how to open many bear canisters).

A black bear and cub take shelter in a tree.

A black bear and cub take shelter in a tree in an undated photo. USDA photo by Clint Turnage.

If you encounter a bear:

  • Do not run. Remain calm. If you are with a group of people, gather together and pick up small children.
  • Face the bear so you can watch it’s behavior and back away slowly while talking calmly (this will help you identify yourself to the bear as a human)
  • If the bear continues to approach, make yourself as large and imposing as possible – stretch your arms overhead and make as much noise as you can.
  • If a black bear charges you, stand your ground and use bear spray to deter the attack.
A grizzly bear

Grizzlies are a threatened species. Their habitat includes northern Washington State, although it is very rare to see one there. Undated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

Did you know?

  • Black bears have been in North America for over 2.5 million years.
  • Grizzly bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Today, there are approximately 1,200 to 1,400 grizzlies in four of the lower 48 states; Washington State, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
  • Lewis and Clark were the first known Americans of European descent to report the sighting of grizzlies in modern times. Clark recorded in his journal that he saw a “white bear.” After talking to Native Americans about the animal, he learned the the grizzly bear is distinct from the American black bear.
  • Both black bears and grizzly bears climb trees. Black bears, especially, are excellent climbers – some even make their dens in trees.
  • A grizzly bear’s “hump” is all muscle, to help power their digging. They get their name from the whitish or gray “grizzled” hairs interspersed with their brown fur.
  • Black bears aren’t always black! They can also be brown, blond, cinnamon, or rust colored.
A bear hibernates inside a hollowed-out log.

A male bear is seen hibernating in a den on Mount Hood Jan 27, 2014. USDA Forest Service photo.

Links:


Forest Features highlight a new Pacific northwest species (or sometimes family, order or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

Forest Feature: Butterflies

A blue butterfly is perched on a purple thistle flower.

In July, our Pacific Northwest “Forest Feature” is the butterfly. Butterflies, like moths, are species of insects in the order Lepidoptra.

A gray-green butterfly with red-orange spots blends in against green woodland ground foliage.

A Clodius Parnassian butterfly is camouflaged against green foliage in the South Fork Skokomish watershed, located on the Olympic National Forest, June 7, 2016. USDA Forest Service photo.

Nearly 200 species, representing seven families of butterfly, are found in the Pacific Northwest – Hesperiidae, Lycaenidae, Nymphalidae, Papilionidae, Pieridae, Riodinidae, and Satyridae.

Moths are also members of the Lepidoptra order, but, there are some differences between them and their butterfly cousins: Butterflies have thready antennae with a knobbed or hooked tip, while a moth’s antenna may be thready or feathered, but will tapers to a point at the end. Both moths and butterflies hatch as caterpillars, but moths will cover their cocoon in fiber, soil, or leaves; a butterfly transforms to its adult form inside a smooth-coated chrysalis. Butterflies fly during the day, while moths are usually active at night.

Three butterflies native to the Pacific Northwest are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Oregon Silverspot (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) is federally listed as threatened, while the Taylor’s Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) and Fender’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi) butterfiles are listed as endangered species.

A fuzzy black caterpillar, observed from above, creeps up a stalk of grass.

A Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly caterpillar (post-diapause larvae), observed Feb. 26, 2016 on the Olympic National Forest . USDA Forest Service Photo by Karen Holtrop.

There are several reasons for this, but, a major one is that catepillars may be hungry, but some of them are picky eaters. Adult butterflies feed on pollen from many different sources. But as caterpillars, their eggs may need to be laid on on a specific species of plant to survive. This selectivity makes their species very vulnerable to invasive plants and noxious weeds, if those plants that crowd out the plants those caterpillars rely on, and to any environmental or other habitat changes that affect their preferred species for feeding or shelter.

You may think of butterflies as sun-loving creatures – and they are! Butterflies are cold-blooded, and must stay warm to fly. But forest meadows are a very important habitat to to Oregon Silverspot: The Siuslaw National Forest is one of the few remaining places you might spot it this butterfly; which thrives on foggy, breezy conditions.

Two of the six known remaining populations of Oregon Silverspot are on the forest, at Mt. Hebo and Cascade Head.

The butterfly’s survival is dependent on the early blue violet, Viola adunca, the only species on which the butterfly can successfully feed and develop as larvae.

A black, orange and white butterfly rests on a yellow wildflower.

The Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly, Euphydryas editha taylori, seen here in an undated photo, is a federally-listed endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. US Fish and Wildlife Service photo by A. Barna

Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly has lost 99% of its native habitat to development and suppressed wildland fires; paved roads, new buildings, and even trees have overtaken the prairie meadows that once hosted the native plants the butterfly relies on to lay eggs and for its caterpillars to feed upon after hatching.

One of the last remaining breeding areas for Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly is a military base, where explosives used in training set fires that have preserved the open prairie. Eggs are collected from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State each spring, raised under the supervision of scientists at the Oregon Zoo, and released back into the wild as caterpillars the following year.

The Fender’s Blue butterfly faces similar challenges in its native habitat, the upland prairies of the Willamette Valley. Establishing federally-designated protected habitat, using prescribed fire to expand prairies and reduce invasive grasses, and re-planting the prairie with native wildflowers – including Kincaid’s lupine, on which the butterflies lay most of their eggs – has helped increase the endangered butterfly’s numbers since it was federally listed in 2000.

The black-and-orange Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, might be one of the most recognizable butterfly species in our region. This regally-named butterfly found throughout North America, including the Pacific Northwest. Its larvae grow on several species of milkweed.

A monarch butterfly rests in the cup of a person's hand

A monarch butterfly rests in the cup of a person’s hand in an Aug. 1, 2016 USDA Forest Service photo.

Entymologists (researchers who study insects) warn that while the Monarch butterfly isn’t endangered yet, its numbers have been declining rapidly for a decade.

One theory is the butterflies are running into problems finding flowers, or flowers free of pesticides, when they migrate south for the winter. Another is that deforestation has reduced their winter habitat, and stressed the butterflies who crowding in to overwinter. But no one is quite sure.

Do you want to help butterflies survive and thrive here at home in the Pacific Northwest? One way to help is to plant species of flowering plants and shrubs that feed caterpillars for butterflies that are native to your area around homes or public spaces.

Have you heard of a “butterfly garden?” According to the Washington Dept. of Wildlife, you can plant a garden that feeds butterflies in a space as small as a container outside your home!

Butterflies like to feed on brightly-colored flowers planted in sunny places, especially those that are protected from the wind. You can find a list of suggested plants in this brochure. Not only will the flowers help butterflies (and moths), they may also attract other pollen and nectar-loving creatures – including hummingbirds, and bees!

Try to avoid using insecticides – even organic ones, like Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) – when you can. If you do use them, follow the instructions and follow your state agriculture service’s recommendations to minimize the risk of exposure to beneficial worms, caterpillars, or insects in your area.

One plant that should not be part of your butterfly garden is the “butterfly bush” (Buddleia davidii). This bush is native to Chile, and is considered a noxious weed and a highly invasive plant in the Pacific Northwest – which means it could become a threat to native plants that our local butterflies depend on.

Did you know?

  • Butterflies “taste” with their feet.
  • Butterflies can “see” ultraviolet light.
  • A butterfly’s skeleton is on the outside of its body. The exoskeleton protects it and keeps it from drying out.
  • A butterflies tongue is like a long straw, which curls back up under their body when not in use.
  • Some butterflies don’t poop! They burn everything they consume to generate the energy to fly.
  • The largest butterfly in the world is Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, Ornithoptera alexandrae. It has an average wingspan of almost 10”! No one is sure what the fastest butterfly is
  • Butterflies live in nearly every habitat, on every continent in the world – except Antarctica. This might be because butterflies are cold-blooded, and can’t fly if their body temperature drops below 86 degrees F.

More information:

General information:

Butterflies and Moths of North America (Butterfly and Moth Information Service):
https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

Butterflies and Moths of Pacific Northwest Forests and Woodlands (USDA Forest Service):
https://www.fs.fed.us/foresthealth/technology/pdfs/MILLER_LEPIDOPTERA_WEB.pdf

Endangered & threatened species:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: ESA listed species information
https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489459
https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489449
https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489429

Oregon Zoo: Endangered and Threatened species conservation programs
https://www.oregonzoo.org/conserve/fighting-extinction-pacific-northwest/oregon-silverspot-butterfly
https://www.oregonzoo.org/conserve/fighting-extinction-pacific-northwest/taylors-checkerspot-butterfly

Siuslaw National Forest: Oregon Silverspot butterfly info
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/siuslaw/learning/nature-science/?cid=fseprd522077

Xerxes Society:
https://xerces.org/oregon-silverspot/
https://xerces.org/taylors-checkerspot/
https://xerces.org/fenders-blue/

Butterfly gardens:

North American Butterfly Association project (Butterflies and Moths of North America)
http://www.naba.org/

Butterflies and How to Attract Them (Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife):
https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/butterflies/
https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/butterflies/butterflies.pdf

Monarch butterfly lesson plans, activities, and projects:

Journey North
http://www.learner.org/jnorth/

Monarch Watch
www.monarchwatch.org

Monarch Lab (University of Minnesota)
https://monarchlab.org/

Forest Features highlight a new Pacific northwest species (or sometimes family, order or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

Two brown-winged butterflies with white spots rest on a set of spiky green and red leaves.

A pair of Two-Banded Checkered Skipper butterflies, Pyrgus ruralis, found during a survey May 18, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.


USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region

Forest Feature: Wildflowers

A purple coneflower, surrounded by lupine and Indian paintbrush blossoms

We’re wild for wildflowers! Pacific Northwest wildflowers, our “Forest Feature” for April, add more than just their beauty to our landscape. Flowers also play an important role in sustaining a healthy ecosystem in national forests!

A bumble bee collects pollen from a large yellow flower

A bumble bee collects pollen from a flower on the Ochoco National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service photo.

Wildflowers produce pollen that feeds bees, hummingbirds and butterflies, provide seeds that are eaten by birds and small mammals, and offer cover from predators for many kinds of wildlife. Native butterfly species often rely on specific species of plant to nurture and nourish their caterpillars.

Some native Pacific Northwest flowers and the wildlife that depend on them have become threatened or endangered as the plants have lost ground to development, habitat changes, and crowding from noxious weeds and invasive exotic plants.

Flowers are fun, and functional!

Many Pacific Northwest wildflowers have been used by native cultures, western pioneers, and even modern scientists to help produce food, fibers, dyes, perfume, and medicine.

A basket, woven from plant-based material using traditional methods.

The details on this basket-weave tray, created by a member of the Tohono O’odham people of Arizona, is made from beargrass leaves, coiled with dried yellow and fresh green yucca leaves and seed pods from the Devil’s claw (Proboscidea parviflora ssp. parviflora) plant. USDA Forest Service photo by Teresa Prendusi.

According to The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, the roots, stems, leaves and seeds of the arrowleaved balsamroot are all edible. Beargrass has thick roots that can be roasted or boiled, like potatoes, and the bulbs of some lilies can be eaten raw. Oils extracted from species of violets and lavender are used to produce scents for perfumes and soaps and to flavor foods like herbal tea and ice cream.

The chemical found in foxglove was the original source for digitoxin, a compound used in medication to treat atrial fibrillation and heart failure. Yarrow has been used for centuries to produce cough medicine, relieve pain, stop bleeding, and its leaves can be rubbed on skin as a type of insect repellent.

For more information about “Medicinal Plants of the North Cascades,” visit: https://ncascades.org/discover/north-cascades-ecosystem/files/Medicinal%20Plants%20of%20the%20North%20Cascades.pdf.

Learn more about ethnobotany – the study of plants sustaining people – at: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethnobotany/index.shtml

Don’t pick the flowers!

Indian paintbrush, cow parsnip and lupine flowers bloom in an open field.

Indian paintbrush, cow parsnip and lupine are native wildflowers found throughout the Pacific Northwest, as seen in this undated USDA Forest Service photo.

Bringing home a bouquet of flowers seems like the most natural thing in the world – but the Forest Service asks that visitors leave flowers as they find them in national forests. Picking flowers interrupts the flower’s natural life cycle. If too many are picked, it hurts plants’ ability to perform its ecological role sheltering and feeding wildlife, and reproduce.

Remember: Take only photos, leave only footsteps!

For more information about wildflower ethics, visit https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/index.shtml

Free-use and forest products permits for collectors

There are some ways to legally collect plants on national forests. Permits allow the Forest Service approve removal of plants that aren’t at-risk, while monitoring what is being removed, how much, and providing information to collectors about any seasonal restrictions or information they need to prevent gathering of rare plants by mistake.

Apply for a permit to gather plants for either personal or commercial use at the district ranger’s office for your forest you want to visit: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/permit.shtml

Helping forest flowers from home

Planting native flowers at home is a great way to help local wildlife and wild plant species!

Native flowers that are already adapted to your environment, which can reduce the need to use pesticides, which can harm bees, butterflies, and other pollinators in addition to insect pests.

Native flowers planted around your home and garden also provide shelter and food for wildlife that rely on those plants, expanding their habitat, while also producing seeds for new wildflower colonies.

Importing exotic plants is also a common source of invasive, non-native insect pests. And some non-native plants, like the butterfly bush, can become noxious weeds if they escape to wild areas!

Your county cooperative extension or master gardener program is a good source for information about choosing and caring for native plants and flowers in your garden or landscaping.

Find more information about landscaping with Pacific Northwest native plants, at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/yamhill/landscaping-with-pacific-northwest-native-plants-fact-sheets

Did you know? Many Pacific Northwest wildflowers are also fire-resistant, which helps create defensible space in the event of sparks fall near your home during wildfire season if used for landscaping. Wild strawberries, day lillies, flax flowers and lupine are just a few of the native flowers that are also fire-resistant and suitable for landscaping. The right landscaping can also keep water in the soil and reduce erosion in dry or drought-prone areas.

Learn more about gardening with fire-resistant native plants, at: https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9103

Fun projects for flower fans:

Now that you’ve learned about wildflowers, you can put your knowledge to use!

Black and white illustration of MacFarlane's Four-o'clock, Mirabilis macfarlanei. The flower is a narrow endemic found along the Snake River in eastern Oregon and western Idaho. It is listed as a threatened specieis. The deep-rooted perennial has brilliant magenta flowers with purplish stems. The flowers open in late afternoon and remain open throughout the night. The heliodinid moth is dependent upon this rare plant species.

Julie Kierstead Nelson, forest botanist for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, created a coloring book depicting “Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest,” which is available for download from the USDA Forest Service website at: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/kids/coloring/index.shtml.

 

Learn more:

Links:

Washington Native Plant Society: https://www.wnps.org/

Native Plant Society of Oregon: http://www.npsoregon.org/

Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order or genus) each month as part of our regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

Hikers make their way up a trail through a field of wildflowers

Hikers make their way up a trail through a field of wildflowers on the Willamette National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service photo.

Forest Feature: Salmon

A school of Chinook salmon.

If you were asked to name one animal that’s almost synonymous with the Pacific Northwest, which one would you choose? Our Forest Feature for March, the mighty salmon, would be a great choice!

Salmon is the common name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae. It’s scientific name is based on the Latin word for “leaper,” or “to leap.”

a salmon leaps above river rapids

A salmon leaps above the rapids on the Duckabush River, Olympic National Forest.

Some kinds of salmon can jump up to 12 feet in the air!

But as strong as the salmon is, many species of this fish are struggling.

Salmon have been an important food in the Pacific Northwest since early Native American tribes first settled in the area.

But overfishing, triggered by European settlers bringing modern capture and preservation methods to the region, greatly reduced the salmon population. It has never fully recovered.

While many salmon species are still fished and enjoyed as food, other species are federally listed as threatened or endangered species.

Scientists are still studying what helps and hurts those salmon. But they’ve made some discoveries that we hope will help us help the salmon recover.

Biologists and other researchers believe that over time, human activities such as roads, dams and other construction, have blocked paths into the habitat where salmon lay their eggs, cleared debris where bugs and larvae that they feed on breed, and removed vegetation and gravel from streams that young fish need to hide from other wildlife.

A bear carries a captured salmon across a stream

Bears fish for salmon, too!

We’ve learned that pollution and warm water temperatures can also hurt salmon health. Warm water stresses the fish, and – combined with pollutants, such as fertilizer runoff – encourages algae growth. In extreme cases, algae can remove so much oxygen from the water that fish can’t survive. This condition is called hypoxia.

Approximately 70% of the remaining high quality habitat for wild salmon and trout are on national forest lands. The Forest Service is working with many other agencies and partners to help restore more salmon habitat.

Our agency has helped research what causes of hypoxia, and how to keep river and stream water temperatures cooler, such trees that provide shade and stream flows with deep pools during the summer, which also keeps the water away from the sun.

Watch Willamette National Forest restore part of the McKenzie River in Oregon to a more natural condition by placing large trees in the water in this video:

Water Life: Episode 2 – Water & Wood from Freshwaters Illustrated on Vimeo.

Learn more:

Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order or genus) each month as part of our regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

A Kokanee salmon swims above a rocky stream bed

A Kokanee salmon returns to spawn in this undated photo from the Siuslaw National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Forest Feature: Wolverines

A wolverine roams among rocks.

What is a wolverine? It’s not surprising if you don’t know, you’ve probably never seen one in the wild! Our February Forest Feature, the wolverine (scientific name: gulo gulo), is only very rarely seen in Oregon and has only recently returned to Washington State.

If you are looking for a wolverine, the first thing you need to know is that a wolverine is not a wolf – but they can be fierce fighters, especially if you’re an animal the wolverine thinks might make a good snack! Wolverines usually eat leftovers from what other animals have killed, or catch small mammals to eat. But they can hunt much bigger animals, such as deer and even elk.

Despite their similar names, wolves and wolverines don’t get along very well. Wolverines will usually move out of an area if a pack of wolves moves in.

Wolverines are a member of the mustelidae – or weasel – family. They’re related to badgers, ferrets, and otters. They lived in the North Cascades and Wallowa Mountains, but many were killed by trappers who didn’t want to compete with them for the smaller animals that trappers caught to sell. The wolverine’s fur wasn’t very valuable – in fact, one of the animal’s nicknames is “skunk bear” because of its rough fur and musky smell.

In the 1950s, the wolverines had nearly disappeared from the Pacific Northwest. But in the 1990s, wolverines from Canada began to move south, into the north Cascade mountains in Washington State. The species remains listed as threatened in Oregon, where it once lived in the Wallowa mountains

Today, scientists are using remote cameras, radio collars and satellites to track individual wolverines, and learn about where they live, roam, and hunt. Biologists have learned that wolverines really like cold weather, like that found in the mountains. Female wolverines raise baby wolverines, or kits, in dens they create by tunneling through snow.

Citizen scientists in Utah are helping professional researchers by volunteering to check the cameras while they walk or run on trails. In Idaho, high school students helped a Microsoft engineer and state biologists build electronic pumps that spray a scent that attracts wolverines to the cameras. And here in the Pacific Northwest, grizzly bears at Woodland Park Zoo in Portland, Ore. helped test the boxes that house those lures and cameras to make sure they are bear-proof!

Did you know?

  • Wolverines are just returning the the Pacific Northwest, but they are also found in many other parts of the world. The largest numbers of wolverines are found in Canada, northern Europe, western Russia, and Siberia.
  • Wolverines sense of smell is so strong, they can sniff out carrion, their typical winter food, through up to 6 feet of snow!
  • A single wolverine’s range (the territory they roam) can extend up to 600 square miles.
  • During a 10-year study, researchers from the Forest Service and Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife tracked 14 wolverines using radio telemetry collars. They named the wolverines: Melanie, Mattie, Mallory, Chewbacca, Chance, Dasher, Hobbes, Xena, Sasha, Rocky, Eowyn, Kendyl, Special K, and… can you guess the last one? It’s Logan, of course!

Lesson plans:

This American Land (PBS science series, produced in partnership with the National Science Foundation)

http://www.thisamericanland.org/lesson-plans/the-wolverine

Ring of Darhad: Mongolian Wolverine Expedition (National Geographic)

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/ring-darhad/ 

Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes, an order or genus) each month as part of our regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

Forest Feature: Owls

Great horned owl

Owls, members of the order Strigiformus, are amazing creatures – and Pacific Northwest “Forest Feature” for the month of January! Their piercing gaze, sharp hearing, sharper talons, strong beaks, and powerful night vision, and ability to rotate their head to take in a near- 360 degree views place the order’s approximately 200 species among nature’s greatest hunters, and contribute to their perch as one of the world’s most fascinating birds.

In the Pacific Northwest, owls you might encounter include the Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Western Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Spotted Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Western Burrowing Owl, Great Gray Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Boreal Owl, and the Flammulated Owl, and Northern Hawk Owl.

Western screech owl

Some of these owls are commonly found in our region. If you live or have visited Washington and Oregon, you may have heard the Great Horned Owl’s “hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo.” If you are up just before dawn, you could hear a Barn Owl’s scream, or the Western Screech Owl – whose signature call sounds like a cross between a cat’s purr and a whistle!

But there are other native northwest owls that you are less likely to hear, because they are in need of conservation help. Most notably, the Northern Spotted Owl is listed as a threatened under both the Oregon and federal Endangered Species Acts.

Northern Spotted Owl Olympic NF

The spotted owl faces habitat loss and increased competition for the range that remains from the Barred Owl, originally an eastern U.S. species, which has expanded its range west in recent decades.

The Great Gray, Short-eared, Flammulated and Western Burrowing Owls are also listed as species of conservation concern in the Oregon Conservation Strategy.

 

Project: Build a Barn Owl nest box!

The Barn Owl is a stealthy hunter, who silently stalks mice, gophers, and ground squirrels at night. Farmers sometimes encourage owls to nest in barns and other areas on their property, because they eat the rodents that damage crops!

Barn owls don’t build nests, but they lay eggs in small holes inside rotted trees, along rocky cliffs, or on bluffs in late summer and early fall. If natural sites are not available, they seek out barns, silos, and abandoned buildings… or, you can encourage them to nest by offering a suitable nesting box!

Instructions: How to build a Barn Owl nest box

Fun facts about OWLS:

  • Have you ever heard someone called a “night owl?” Actually, most – but not all – owls are most active at night!
  • The smallest northwest owl is the Northern Pygmy Owl. It’s only 7 inches tall! (It’s also one of the only owls that’s active during the day).
  • The Western Burrowing Owl got its name because it’s the only North American owl that nests underground, usually in dens abandoned by other animals.
  • Snowy owls are uncommon in Washington and Oregon, they usually prefer the arctic circle. (They also are daylight hunters! And the Barred Owl also hunts during the daytime, and lives in the northwest).
  • A Great Horned Owl can stand one-and-a-half to nearly two feet tall, and has a wingspan of three to four feet!
  • The “wise owl” is a symbol that may date back to ancient Greece. The owl was the symbol of the goddess Athena, who represented wisdom. (The northwest’s Boreal Owl gets its name from another ancient Greek deity, Boreas – god of the wind. In other cultures, including Roman civilization and many Native American cultures in the Pacific Northwest, owls’ haunting calls and typically evening hunting habits may have inspired their symbolic association with death and as messengers for the spirit world or from the afterlife).

 

Did you know…?

Woodsy Owl has helped the Forest Service keep America informed about how to help the environment since 1970: “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” “Lend a hand, care for the land!” Woodsy first appeared on TV in 1971 in a public service announcement that aired during an episode of “Lassie.” (At the time, the long-running series featured the famous collie’s adventures with a Forest Service Ranger and his family).

Woodsy Owl Lady Bird Johnson

Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes order or genus) each month as part of our regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.