Category Archives: Wildlife

Marbled murrelet mysteries revealed by radio telemetry data

A researcher holds a marbled murrelet. The birds were tagged with radio transmitters to record location data as part of a study of their movement patterns. USDA Forest Service photo

In the latest edition of Science Findings, the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station explores the “hidden world” of the marbled murrelet.

The marbled murrelet, Brachyramphus marmoratus, is a Pacific coast -dwelling shore bird that is federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Ace, in part due to habitat loss.

A marbled murrelet egg rests in a natural shelf. The birds do not build nests for their eggs. USDA Forest Service photo by Nick Hatch.
A marbled murrelet egg rests in a natural shelf. The birds do not build nests for their eggs. USDA Forest Service photo by Nick Hatch.

Their eggs, which are laid on naturally occurring platforms, or shelves, are especially vulnerable to damage as a result of exposure to human-driven activities or development. Their lack of traditional nests also makes it difficult for scientists to study their breeding patterns, even as their total population continues to decline.

A five-year PNW Research Station study used radio transmitters to tag and track a cohort of nearly 150 birds in northwest Washington, producing valuable data about their feeding, breeding and flight habits.

The research illuminated how the birds interact with both marine and coastal forest habitats, and may offer some insight into why this population of birds continues to struggle, despite protections afforded to it by the ESA and in the Northwest Forest Plan amendments.

To learn more, check out Science Findings #213 at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/57633.

Researchers gathered radio telemetry data from a group of around 150 tagged marbled murrelet birds in northwest Washington. USDA Forest Service photo.
Researchers gathered radio telemetry data from a group of around 150 tagged marbled murrelet birds in northwest Washington. USDA Forest Service photo.

Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station staff report.

Field Notes: Taking a closer look at nature

Ron Kikel is a bird man. And an ant man. And a wasp guy. Those aren’t his superhero aliases – they’re descriptions of just some of his work as a conservation education specialist for the Mt. Hood National Forest.

But, Kikel is probably best known as the “owl guy.”

Meet Jack.

Jack, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl, is blind in one eye. He was rescued and rehabilitated by staff at the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which trains disabled raptors for use providing wildlife education. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
Jack, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl, is blind in one eye. He was rescued and rehabilitated by staff at the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which trains disabled raptors for use providing wildlife education. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack is a 12-year old Great Horned Owl. He’s also blind in one eye. Jack was rescued after tangling with some barbed wire, and rehabilitated several years ago by the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to care for disabled raptors and trains them for use in educational settings.

Kikel met Jack in 2010, at a Wild for Wildlife event. Jack was working with his caretaker, Dr. Jean Cypher, at the time to provide conservation education to students. Kikel was doing similar work for the Forest Service, using a taxidermied owl as a prop.

Their encounter inspired Kikel to pursue training to become a raptor handler, himself.

 
Jack, a disabled Great Horned Owl, assists Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler, with providing conservation education talks around the region. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack, a disabled Great Horned Owl, assists Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler, with providing conservation education talks around the region. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

“With taxidermy, you are mostly talking about anatomy. Kids ask a lot of questions about where the bird came from, sometimes it gets a little off-track,” he said. “Show them the live owl, and you have their attention for at 30 minutes, at least.”

These days, Jack and Kikel work as a team to provide conservation education at schools and public events located near Kikel’s “home base” at the Hood River Ranger District in Parkdale, Oregon.

 
Jack the Great Horned Owl poses with Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler. For the past few years, the pair have worked as a team to provide conservation education for classrooms and community groups around their area.  Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack the Great Horned Owl poses with Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler. For the past few years, the pair have worked as a team to provide conservation education for classrooms and community groups around their area. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Sometimes, Jack even joins him at the ranger station’s front desk, where Kikel provides visitor information and the owl has his own perch.

“He’s a star. Everyone likes him a lot,” Kikel said. “He’s probably the best coworker I’ve ever had.”

"This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. "If you look at their eyes, they're more fly-like.. and there's no stinger. (But) when you're camouflaged like that, you're less likely to become someone's dinner." Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. “If you look at their eyes, they’re more fly-like.. and there’s no stinger. (But) when you’re camouflaged like that, you’re less likely to become someone’s dinner.” Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Kikel isn’t just a bird man, he’s also a bug guy. He’s known in the Forest Service’s regional conservation education community for his nature photos, many of which feature dramatic close-ups of the nature he finds around him.

In his prior career, photography was Kikel’s job. He served 20 years in the Air Force, 12 of them as a photographer working in medical research and forensics.

“I worked at Wilford Hall, a big research hospital. So we had an infectious disease lab, dermatology, poison control. They’d want (close-up) photos for teaching, so I took some courses in it,” he said.

"This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. "If you look at their eyes, they're more fly-like.. and there's no stinger. (But) when you're camouflaged like that, you're less likely to become someone's dinner." Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“(This dragonfly) was at a pond near the (Columbia River Gorge) Discovery Center in The Dalles. I think that was last summer,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. The photo was taken from about 12″ away, using a Nikon D50 camera and 105mm macro lens. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Today, skills he once used to photograph scorpions and fire ants for environmental health brochures given to deploying service members are the same ones he now uses to capture breathtaking images of Pacific Northwest beetles, birds and butterflies.

To avoid disturbing his subjects, Kikel often works with minimal gear, often taking photos with just an old Nikon D-50 camera, a manual macro lens, and sometimes a flash.

A ladybug makes a meal of an aphid.  "She's so busy munching down, she didn't even notice me," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. Kikel makes a hobby of his love for nature through photography, with a special focus on landscapes and macro (close-up) photography. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
A ladybug makes a meal of an aphid. “She’s so busy munching down, she didn’t even notice me,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. Kikel makes a hobby of his love for nature through photography, with a special focus on landscapes and macro (close-up) photography. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Despite the seeming spontaneity of this approach, he said macro photography is actually a very slow-going endeavor.

“It takes a lot of patience, because your subjects aren’t going to sit still,” he said.

This Marsh Hawk was in the rehabilitation enclosure at the Rowna Wildlife Clinic, Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He said he spends a lot of time studying his subject's features, and it's hard not to imagine his subjects' have an inner emotional life, much like humans. “You go into an enclosure with big birds, and they can be pretty foreboding-looking when they are not happy,” he said.  
Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
This Marsh Hawk was in the rehabilitation enclosure at the Rowna Wildlife Clinic, Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He said he spends a lot of time studying his subject’s features, and it’s hard not to imagine his subjects’ have an inner emotional life, much like humans. “You go into an enclosure with big birds, and they can be pretty foreboding-looking when they are not happy,” he said.
Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

These days, Kikel said, he considers his photography to be not his job, but his passion.

But he still finds lots of inspiration at the office.

“Mt. Hood is right outside my window… I can watch it change with the seasons,” he said.

An autumn photo of Opal Creek, Ore. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
An autumn photo of Opal Creek, Ore. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

While Kikel credits patience for his most successful shots, he said sometimes a little luck is also required.

He was experimenting with a new camera when he caught a striking image of a Cooper Hawk perched just outside his bedroom.

This Cooper Hawk made a late-February, 2019 appearance at the bird feeder outside Ron Kikel's home. "He takes the word 'bird feeder' to a whole new level," Kikel said, saying the hawk left hungry that day, but has since killed at least one bird who came to feed there. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
This Cooper Hawk made a late-February, 2019 appearance at the bird feeder outside Ron Kikel’s home. “He takes the word ‘bird feeder’ to a whole new level,” Kikel said, saying the hawk left hungry that day, but has since killed at least one bird who came to feed there. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

“I was shooting (pictures of) the birds at my feeder, through the window, and suddenly they all bolted,” he said. “Then I looked up, and said ‘well, that’s why… I’d better get this dude’s picture before he takes off!’”

Whether he’s providing customer service at the ranger station, giving wildlife education talks, or providing tours of Cloud Cap Inn, it’s the interpretive element that drew him to his job.

Ron Kikel took this photo of a heron while visiting Seaside, Ore. in early March, 2019. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
Ron Kikel took this photo of a heron while visiting Seaside, Ore. in early March, 2019. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Seeing the world through a different lens, and being able to share it, is what draws him to photography, as well.

“It’s really an incredible world, when you see it close up,” he said.

"Rufus," a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), photographed by  
Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest. "I tend to anthropomorphize my subjects," he said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“Rufus,” a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), photographed by
Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest. “I tend to anthropomorphize my subjects,” he said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

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.

A field filled with wildlflowers at Dalles Mountain State Ranch in Washington, spring 2017. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
A field filled with wildlflowers at Dalles Mountain State Ranch in Washington, spring 2017. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Forest Feature: Bobcats

A bobcat in a tree.

Our Forest Feature for March is the elusive Lynx rufus, also known as the bobcat.

The bobcat is the smallest wild cat in Oregon. It’s much smaller than the mountain lion, or even the Canada lynx.

Bobcats are about twice the size of domestic cats, but with longer legs and a muscular, compact body.

Bobcats are active year-round, even during the cold, winter months, but is not well adapted to deep snow.

They live almost everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, except at very high elevations. Yet you may have never seen one; they are notoriously reclusive!

A bobcat’s penetrating gaze. Undated USDA Forest Service photo by Terry Spivey.

The bobcat’s coat is yellowish and spotted with gray overtones in winter, and turns more reddish in summer. Their large, black ears that feature a large white spot and short black tufts. Their feet tend to be mostly white but can have stripes or spots.

These markings can be very striking, but they also serve to camouflage among the shadows when hunting smaller animals in the forest.

The bobcat’s most distinctive feature is the big “ruff” of fur that extends out from either side of its face.

USDA Forest Service photo (undated).

Bobcats get their name from their short, black-tipped tail.

These cats tend to be active during warm weather in cold months, and cooler temperatures in warmer ones. They like to rest in den sites located in natural cavities and caves, hollow logs, and protected areas under logs and downed trees.

While they prefer a very solitary life, bobcats are fierce fighters and have few natural predators.

Life in the wild can be hard, but the average bobcat lives about four years, and a healthy bobcat can live up to 12 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live up to 25 years.

Bobcats are extremely effective hunters. They stalk, rush, and pounce on their prey. Bobcats eat mice, rabbits, reptiles, birds, and even insects, and save what they don’t eat for later.

One of our USDA Forest Service resource assistants was so inspired by the lynx, he wrote this haiku:

Silent, steady eyes

Then, the blurry dance begins

The lynx and the Hare

For more information:


Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes, a 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 fact sheets, activities, or links to other educational resources about this topic – and for information about other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate environmental education and forest science in your Pacific Northwest classroom – email YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.

In the News: Forest biologist discusses bighorn sheep on podcast

A bighorn sheep stands in a field

The Forest Service’s Mark Penninger, forest biologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, discusses natural history and conservation of the bighorn sheep on Episode 6 of the
Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society’s Northwest Nature Matters podcast.

Called the “koepa” by the Northern Paiute people, the bighorn sheep is an icon of the mountain West; yet complex disease issues have stalled its complete recovery. Mark discusses the history of bighorn conservation, its life history, management, and how sheep conservationists are trying to solve pressing challenges to sheep recovery.  – from the Northwest Nature Matters episode page

Listen to the full episode here: http://nwnaturematters.libsyn.com/the-bighorn

The Northwest Nature Matters podcast is produced by the Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society, in partnership with the Oregon Wildlife Foundation.

Recent episodes have featured subject matter experts from state and federal agencies, academia, journalism, and environmental advocacy sectors for long-format conversations about conservation, natural history, and wildlife protection issues across the Pacific Northwest.

  • Episode 4, released last month, discussed the marbled murrelet – an Endangered Species Act -listed species, like the spotted owl, requires old growth forest for nesting habitat.
Northwest Nature Matters logo
The Northwest Nature Matters podcast was launched in 2018 to share long-format conversations with subject matter experts about wildlife and conservation issues affecting the Pacific Northwest region.

Related story: The Wildlife Society’s Oregon Chapter launches “Northwest Nature Matters” podcast


Source: The Wildlife Society seeks to inspire, empower and enable conservation, environmental and wildlife professionals to sustain wildlife populations and habitats through science-based management and conservation. The Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society is comprised of approximately 350 members from state, government, tribal, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations statewide.

Forest Feature: Beavers

A beaver swims across a stream

The busy, busy beaver is our February Forest Feature.

Beavers, or Castor canadensis, are sometimes called the “engineers of the wild.” They are probably best known for the elaborate dams they construct across streams, flooding surrounding wetlands.

A beaver sits upright, clutching something in its paws.
A beaver, photographed July 4 2007 by
Flickr user @sherseydc (Steve Hersey), downloaded Feb. 4, 2019. This image is shared with the owner’s provision under the provisions of a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A beaver dam creates a pond that provides habitat for the beavers, and for many other aquatic creatures. Deer and other animals may forage for grass and shrubs that grow in small meadows beavers have created by harvesting wood to build with.

The dams are built from wood, mud, and rocks. Beavers cut down small trees by chewing through them. They may even dig canals to float those trees back to their pond!

A large beaver dam on the Fremont National Forest is photographed in this file photo from the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region archive.

The beaver is the largest rodent that is native to North America. A typical adult beaver is more than 3 feet in length, if you include their broad, paddle-like tail, and weighs more than 40 pounds!

You might be surprised to learn beavers don’t live inside beaver dams. A beaver’s home is called a “lodge” and is typically a large mound, also made from branches and mud, located upstream from a dam.

Lodges can have multiple entrances, which lead to an above-water den inside. They even have “skylights” – small holes near the top that lets in fresh air.

The Olympic National Forest’s Brown Creek Nature Loop circles a beaver pond, seen here in an April, 2017 USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region photo.

Beavers live in colonies of up to a dozen beavers, and a colony may have several lodges!

During the winter, beavers take a break from all their busy building. In places where it gets very cold, beavers will store food for winter at bottom of their pond, or swim out under the ice to harvest underwater plants.

After a few years, when beavers have eaten most of the food and felled the closest trees around their dam, the colony will begin looking for a new home. Once abandoned, the beaver’s dam quickly deteriorates and the pond recedes, revealing a new wetland or meadow covered with rich, newly-fertilized soil where plants will quickly grow.

Did you know?

  • A beaver’s front teeth are very strong, and are sharpened by their chewing.
  • Beavers have bad eyesight, but a strong sense of smell and very good hearing. They do most of their construction work at night.
A beaver chews on saplings at the Mendenhall Glacier Viewing Center in Alaska. USDA Forest Service photo.
  • A beaver has furry paws on their front legs that are good at grabbing and holding building materials, and webbed toes on their back feet that are excellent for swimming.
  • Beavers warn each other of danger by slapping their wide tails against the water.
  • A beaver’s tail also helps them balance when carrying building materials, and steer themselves while swimming.
  • A beaver can hold its breath while underwater for up to 15 minutes.
  • Beavers’ building benefits the environment in many ways, including protecting endangered salmon and their habitat. Young salmon and trout find protection from predators in the complex currents and mazes of logs and branches surrounding beaver lodges and dams. Debris piles leftover from former beaver dams and lodges also protects the streams and creeks running through them from erosion.

Education resources:

Video, info and fact sheets:

Activities:


Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes, a 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 fact sheets, activities, or links to other educational resources about this topic – and for information about other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate environmental education and forest science in your Pacific Northwest classroom – email YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.

Open letter to Blue Mountains communities: First round of objection-resolution meetings a positive step

Leadership Corner - Glenn Casamassa

On Dec. 14, 2018, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Glenn Casamassa released the following “open letter” to the communities affected by the proposed Blue Mountains revised forest plan (Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests), including those who submitted formal objections or participated in objections resolutions meetings as part of the ongoing plan revision process.

See also:

https://yournorthwestforests.org/2018/11/21/forest-service-looking-to-listen-and-work-towards-resolution-in-blues-meetings/ 

***

chris_french_baker_city

Chris French, Acting Deputy Chief, National Forest System, USDA Forest Service, listens to a participant in Blue Mountains Forest Plan revision objections resolution meeting at High School in Baker City, Ore. USDA Forest Service photo by Travis Mason-Bushman.

Dear Objectors, Interested Persons, and Blue Mountains Community Members,

I recently had the privilege of meeting many of you during the first round of objection-resolution meetings for the Blue Mountains Revised Forest Plans.  I want to sincerely thank everyone who participated.

Over 300 Objectors, Interested Persons, and public observers attended meetings in John Day, Pendleton, Wallowa, Baker City, and La Grande, Oregon.

I am grateful for the time and effort invested by each of you. I hope you will agree that this first round of resolution meetings was a positive step.

The meetings were led by objection reviewing officers based in Washington, D.C., with support and coordination from the Pacific Northwest Regional Office as well as the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

The goal for these initial meetings was to bring clarity and mutual understanding to the Blue Mountain Forest Plan objection issues.

The dialogue helped Forest Service leadership and staff to better understand your values, concerns, and views.

Spending time in Eastern Oregon improved much more than our understanding of the issues identified in the objections, though.

Through our initial discussions we also gained a deeper appreciation of local residents’ special relationships with the land.

We had it affirmed that, for many of those who live in and around the Blue Mountains, these national forests are not just places to visit and recreate – the forests are a vital part of your community life, identity, heritage, and livelihoods.

The Forest Service is striving to honor these special relationships in the Blue Mountain Forest Plan’s resolution process.

In doing so, we will better respect the views of many different community members – including our Tribal neighbors, the States of Oregon and Washington, County and other local government representatives, user groups, environmental groups, industry, and business – all of whom seek assurances that the Forest Service will protect their priority resources.

During the initial meetings the Forest Service heard a lot about a wide range of topics, including access; aquatic and riparian conservation; elk security and bighorn sheep; fire and fuels; fish, wildlife, and plants; livestock grazing; local government cooperation and coordination; public participation; social and economic issues; timber and vegetation; and wilderness, backcountry, and other special areas.

Digging into these topics in person gave the Forest Service the opportunity to explore issues that were not as prominent in the written objection letters.  From the dialogue, some issues appear to be close to resolution while others will require further discussion, so there will be more steps to take in this process.

The Forest Service knows that many topics are interrelated, and we will work to pull together the related topics for discussion in future meetings, so all of us can better see the connections and consider the trade-offs of potential resolutions.

The Forest Service also understands that not all Objectors and Interested Persons were able to attend the first round of meetings or have their voices represented by others.

So, as we navigate these next steps, the Forest Service will work ensure we are as inclusive as possible in future objections-resolutions meetings.

Over the coming weeks the reviewing officers will be studying the notes and reflecting on what we heard in the first round of resolution meetings and we will be helping the Washington Office in scheduling the next round of objections-resolutions meetings. We will be in touch again to announce the next steps.

Thank you for your contributions, and I look forward to making more progress together in the near future.

Kind regards,
Glenn Casamassa,
Pacific Northwest Regional Forester 



Source Information: Glenn Casamassa is the Regional Forest for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region, supervising operations and staff on all national forests and grassland in Oregon and Washington State. For more information about the Blue Mountains Forest Plan planning process and scheduled objections resolution meetings, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/r6/landmanagement/planning/?cid=fseprd584707&width=full

The Wildlife Society’s Oregon chapter launches ‘Northwest Nature Matters’ podcast

Northwest Nature Matters logo

Northwest Nature Matters is a new podcast produced by the Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society (in partnership with Oregon Wildlife Foundation).

The people of the Pacific Northwest value beautiful natural scenery, clean air and water, and abundant fish and wildlife resources, John Goodell, podcast host and producer, said.

“Conservation is important to us, yet sourcing accurate scientific information can be difficult in this age of polarized content. The goal of the podcast is to serve as an antidote,” he said.

The podcast brings experts together for conversations around scientific information about natural history, conservation, and other natural resource issues here in the Pacific Northwest.

Three episodes at a time will be available online.

  • In episode 1, Dr. Tom Cade, a conservation biologist and founder of the Peregrine Fund, and Kent Carnie, a retired military intelligence officer and a leader in the North American falconry community, discuss the return of the Peregrine Falcon, which was de-listed from the Endangered Species Act in 1999
  • In episode 2, Jay Bowerman, a leading Oregon herpetologist and expert on the Oregon Spotted Frog expert, discusses the natural history and conservation of this currently threatened species, whose historical range extends from central Oregon to southern parts of western Washington.
  • In episode 3, Davia Palmeri, conservation policy coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, discusses the history of conservation, new challenges, and potential future of legislation regarding wildlife conservation policy in the U.S.

For more information, visit: https://www.myowf.org/nwnaturematters

To download episodes or subscribe:

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.

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

A mountain woodland caribou bull, in a snowy forest

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

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

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

A taxidermy caribou head and antlers

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

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

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

As winter approached in late 2017, they were ready.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, it snowed.

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

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

The snow kept falling.

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

No one knows what happened, after that.

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

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

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

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

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

Now, the herd’s future is uncertain.

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

A mountain woodland caribou bull, in a snowy forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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