Friday, May 28, 2010

Wild Connections: HCPC’s Wildlife Connectivity Campaign Update

This spring HCPC hosted a Wildlife Connectivity workshop aimed at developing a Blue Mountains Ecoregional Connectivity Plan through a collaborative, science-based effort. (See 2/4/2010 Blog Post for additional details on our goal to initiate mapping of regional wildlife connectivity corridors).

We hosted this workshop in conjunction with the Washington Habitat Connectivity Working Group‘s Transboundary Connectivity Summit in Richland, WA.

The Transboundary Summit and Blue Mountains connectivity workshop brought together a diverse group of state and federal agency wildlife experts, GIS and habitat modeling specialists, federal land managers, academic scientists, Native American Tribes and conservation NGOs to address wildlife connectivity efforts underway in WA, OR, ID and British Columbia.

HCPC’s Ecosystem Coordinator, David Mildrexler, gave a presentation on our vision for a Blue Mountains ecoregional connectivity plan aimed at protecting and enhancing the ability of native species to move within and through our vast ecoregion. Participants expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for HCPC’s efforts to protect the Hells Canyon-Wallowa and greater Blue Mountains ecoregion as a lynchpin ecosystem—an inherently valuable area for wildlife movement between the Rockies and Cascades.

The workshop was a half-day intensive review of our focal species selection—a list of species intended to represent the habitat and movement needs of a broad array of local wildlife, from wide ranging carnivores like wolves, wolverine and marten to critters that help address movement at smaller scales like the Sage grouse and Western Toad. Several regional wildlife experts provided critical feedback on each focal species, enabling us to move forward with a scientifically sound connectivity planning process.

The Transboundary Summit and Blue Mountains workshop were great ways to learn from other wildlife connectivity efforts, share data, garner scientific support, and build enthusiasm for mapping wildlife movement corridors throughout the Blue Mountains. We are also very hopeful that the partnerships that emerge and grow from this event will strengthen our ability to successfully use this cutting-edge conservation approach to influence local land management decisions in a way that better protects our wildlife populations well into the future. We thank TransWild Alliance ( for sponsoring our connectivity workshop!

Connectivity Campaign Director, Jennifer Schwartz
photo: David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator giving Blue Mountains presentation.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mac Farlane’s Four-O’Clock: Helping a Native of the Canyons

Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator

Earlier this month, I travelled down the lower Imnaha River canyon to help a threatened plant species. Our mission was to dig up invasive weeds near the unique plant known as Mac Farlane’s four-o’clock.

Mac Farlane’s four-o’clock is an unusual plant. It only grows in Hells Canyon country—the lower canyons of the Salmon, Snake and Imnaha Rivers. You will only find Mac Farlane’s four-o’clock at an elevation near one to two thousand feet above sea level. There are only thirteen known sites. Most of the known plants are within the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

When you visit the canyons in May, you are greeted with the special shade of green that you only see in the canyons in springtime. As we hiked down to the site where the Mac Farlane’s four-o’clocks grow, the slopes were covered with the new growth of another year’s foliage. The flowers of the Mac Farlane’s four-o’clocks were in bloom, and their rosy-purple blossoms appeared between clumps of bluebunch wheatgrass. Phlox and penstemon flowers were also in bloom, and a few prickly pear cactus poked out between the bunchgrasses.

We soon found some non-native thistles, bur chervil and bindweed in the area. Pushing our shovels into the rocky soil, we carefully dug up the roots of the invasive plants and piled them up for removal from the site. Before too long we had dug enough weeds to fill a thirteen gallon garbage bag.

The US Forest Service lists the following threats to Mac Farlane’s four-o’clock:

· Grazing by domestic livestock

· Competition from invasive non-native plants

· Human trampling

· Off-road vehicle use

· Construction and maintenance of roads and trails

· Herbicide spraying

Mac Farlane’s four-o’clock is listed as a threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We used the utmost caution near these threatened plants and were very careful not to disturb them in any way. If you should encounter this plant, please be very careful as well. Appreciate them from a distance!

By removing the invasive, non-native plants we expect to reduce their rate of spread and reduce the potential for the weeds to compete with the Mac Farlane’s four-o’clocks. We also reduced the likelihood of herbicide use in the area. The Forest Service has built a fence around the plants to protect them from humans and livestock. With these protections, the Mac Farlane’s four-o’clock population seems to be stable and we even spotted a few small clumps that looked to be new sprouts. Let’s hope that this special native of the canyons keeps on growing!

Special thanks to volunteer Sandy Coulson for excellent weeding services and to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area for collaborating on this partnership project.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wind Energy Developments: Location, Location, Location

The real estate saying, "location, location, location" applies to industrial scale wind energy developments in more ways than one. While these developments obviously need to be located in windy areas to be useful, this criteria alone doesn't include the social or ecological impacts. Regarding the ecological impacts, the pattern of development from industrial wind energy is very similar to that from oil and gas developments.

Tight sands natural gas development in the Jonah field of Wyoming's Upper Green River Basin. Photograph courtesy Peter Aengst, The Wilderness Society, and Lighthawk.

The rampant development of prime antelope and mule deer winter range in Wyoming during the Bush Administration triggered a close look at the impact from natural gas developments. The claim that the impact is limited to the area of the ground disturbance from the road construction and wells, or towers in the case of wind energy, is erroneous. The actual ecological footprint is much larger and impacts to wildlife reveal that these developments can be likened to a spider web. While the area of each strand from the web is relatively small, the entire area within the web is affected. For migrating elk, antelope, and mule deer, these wind developments can be impassable, severing access to critical habitat. For bats and birds they can be a death trap. Consider the location of the Craig Mountain proposed wind energy development near Union, Oregon. Elk migrate from the Wallowas and Oregon’s largest Wilderness Area across Craig Mountain and down into the largest wetland left in northeast Oregon, Ladd Marsh. I am consistently in awe at the amount and diversity of wildlife thriving in and near Ladd Marsh. This vital wildlife corridor is threatened by a proposal that would spread wind towers all across Craig Mountain and beyond. Pre and post-monitoring of the Elkhorn wind development near Telocaset indicates that elk and mule deer have been displaced. I have heard reports that several Golden Eagles have been killed in the Elkhorn turbines.

Nearly everyone agrees that wind energy development has a place in Oregon’s future energy portfolio. However, some parts of Oregon are just too beautiful, too important for wildlife, too precious to be fragmented and marred by massive energy developments. Generations of Oregonians have worked to develop a meaningful conservation legacy here in Oregon. Sacrificing this hard-earned legacy in the name of "renewable energy" is a false tradeoff.

David Mildrexler

Ecosystem Conservation Cooordinator

Friday, May 7, 2010

From the Breaks ...

I live on the breaks between the Grande Ronde river and Minam-Wallowa river.

I had planned on writing about the seasonal birds that have returned to this place I love: mourning dove, house wren, white-crowned sparrow. I wanted to write about the wildflowers blooming – balsamroot, larkspur – and those getting ready to bloom – camas, Wyethia.

And then it snowed. About 5 – 7 inches. I was going to write about the snow, about the seed-eaters mobbing my one sunflower seed bird feeder (including the redwings that come up from the pond when there are no insects), about the icy petals of flowers and my worries about the bluebirds, meadowlarks, and other birds that rely on insects and can’t switch, like the blackbirds do, to seeds.

But today there is the news from the Zumwalt – a calf killed by wolves. My thoughts are on wolves – not wildflowers, not white-crowned sparrows. The photo on my

screensaver is the wolf B-300. The wolf in the photo is staring at the photographer. I stare back. Wolves to me are the essence of wild, and a reminder to me of my own wildness, my mammalian heritage. This photo is also a warning to me of how much myth, mythology, fantasy, projection and rumor surround wolves.

If there is a place for wildness, if there is a place for me, on this planet, how do I make room for both, and live consciously and conscientiously as a citizen of this “zoopolis”? How do we make room for all of us at the table?

Danae Yurgel