Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Success! HCPC's Wildlife Watchers Program Captures Marten on Film

Only a month after HCPC staff and our volunteer "wildlife watchers" placed remote-sensor cameras around the Anthony Lakes ski area in the Blue Mountains, was our target species--the American Marten--captured on film.

While confirming the presence of this rather elusive critter only took a month, kick-starting our volunteer-driven wildlife monitoring campaign was not without some trial and error. A couple weeks after the initial camera placement in late February, we returned to the monitoring sites only to find that we had over 2,000 pictures of falling snow and burned-up batteries because the camera setting was too sensitive for those high mountain low temperatures. So we fixed the settings, hoisted up some fresh bait (raw chicken and some old steelhead, yumm) and lathered on more marten lure (a potent bottle of various animal musks) and gave it another go. And voila, two weeks later we have one of the most adorable forest animals on film.

By confirming the presence of rare or rarely seen regional focal species like marten we can inform land management decisions that affect our public lands and threaten to disrupt wildlife habitat connectivity.

This is a collaborative endeavor--not only are we out to mobilize volunteers, but we've partnered with wildlife experts from the U.S. Forest Service and ODFW to follow the agency's monitoring protocols and select monitoring locations. All monitoring locations are established in areas identified through recent, cutting-edge habitat mapping and modeling as core habitat and key connectivity corridors (travel pathways) for regional focal species like marten.

Check out these great maps produced by the Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group (WWHCWG) identifying regional marten core habitat and connectivity corridors (pages 118-123) on-line here.

Now that we know marten do indeed occupy this section of the Blue Mountains identified as their core habitat, we can move on to other parts of the forest. This is an on-going project, so if you're a student looking for field experience, or just a wildlife lover that wants another reason to get out in the forest and learn more about our native species while contributing to an important project, please contact HCPC's Volunteer Coordinator, Brian Kelly, 541-963-3950x24 or

Special thanks to the Burning and Charlotte Martin Foundations, Patagonia and the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative for the funding to launch this program, our agency partners in the Forest Service, ODFW, and the WWHCWG, and of course our stellar volunteers!

Jennifer Schwartz, HCPC Staff Attorney & Connectivity Campaign Coordinator

Monday, March 14, 2011

Of Wolves, a Billboard, and the Constitution

HCPC was recently part of an effort to erect a billboard on Highway 82, outside Island City, advertising the reward for information leading to conviction of the person who shot the Wenaha wolf last fall. That effort was spearheaded by local activist Wally Sykes, and other groups participating were Oregon Wild & Defenders of Wildlife. Here’s the image of the billboard:

The billboard was up for less than 24 hours when the billboard company took it down due to complaints from the property owner. Now, I respect the rights of a property owner to disapprove of a message on their own property, but what exactly is so offensive about a billboard advertising a reward to help catch the perpetrator of an illegal act? I’ve heard all types of comments about the billboard since then, most of which can be summarized as: “that money should go to ranchers.” But we’ve tried that approach without success: Defenders of Wildlife (a conservation group!) has been the sole provider of compensation for livestock killed by wolves in Oregon, and conservation groups—including HCPC—were the first supporters of a compensation bill in the Oregon legislature … way back in 2005!! The only reason a compensation program wasn’t approved was due to the obstinate actions of the cattlemen’s association.

After our billboard location was rejected, we tried to work with the billboard company to find another site with a willing property owner. But, the billboard company received lots of negative calls about the billboard and decided to saddle us with a hefty replacement addendum to our billboard contract because they were fearful of vandalism to the billboard (and rightfully so, too). At this point, we decided we could no longer pursue the billboard plan, at least not in NE Oregon.

So, what’s the real issue here? It’s that some folks don’t like wolves, apparently to the point of being willing to aid & abet the killer of the Wenaha wolf. And those folks who don’t like wolves don’t want anyone in this area advocating for wolves, either. Now, part of working at HCPC involves going to lots of public hearings, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people ranting about their constitutional rights to drive their ATV anywhere they damn well please, or mine in a fish-bearing creek, or graze their livestock on public land at give-away prices.

We all know, of course, that those so-called “rights” appear nowhere in the constitution. What does appear, however, is the right to free speech. That’s a right that some in this area would revoke for people who don’t think like them.

Why, just last Thursday a group of people gathered for an anti-wolf protest in La Grande. I considered organizing a counter-protest of pro-wolf supporters, and I also got as far as picking up the phone to call Bi-Mart, to ask them why they’re letting this protest start on their property. But I didn’t make that call or organize a counter-protest, because I recognize the right of the people who hate wolves to have their protest. I don’t like what they have to say, and I don’t like that they care not one iota about actual facts, but I still respect their right to protest.

I bet some of those protesters made the negative calls about our billboard. The intolerance for other people’s views is incredible. Heck, we had one official from the livestock industry recently compare HCPC to Al Qaeda—can you imagine the backwards thinking that went into that comment?!? And the funny thing is (if there is any “funny” side to such an incendiary comment), is that by using those words, that person was acting just like the group he claimed we were, because he was trying to stifle our advocacy on wolf and fish issues rather than face us in an open, democratic forum.

I expect more than this from our local community. Laws that are broken must be punished—after all, how many criminals would we be willing to let go if they committed their crimes because they didn’t think the law was worth following, or they stole that car because they needed to drive their sick mother to the hospital, or they embezzled to get money to buy groceries for their hungry kids?

If you don’t like a law, work to get it changed. But in the meantime, it does not reflect well upon our NE Oregon communities for folks to try to stifle the opposition. One thing that makes our communities so livable is that we are generally all law-abiding. We don’t get to pick and chose which laws we follow, we must follow them all unless and until they’re changed.

And as for the people out there who want to change the laws so there are no longer any wolves in Oregon … be sure you will have stiff opposition! The vast majority of Oregonians want wolves to return here, and the politicians know it. Be sure that HCPC is working diligently to ensure the Oregon Wolf Plan—which is a compromise plan drafted by a diverse group of stakeholders—remains in full force and effect.

Greg Dyson,
Executive Director

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wildlife Watcher Program Begins: Volunteers Look for American Martens

Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator

Jennifer Schwartz of HCPC applies marten lure to attract American martens to a monitoring site high in the Blue Mountains. Photo by Greg Dyson.

On a recent Saturday, I found myself snowshoeing and skiing in a high-elevation forest in search of the elusive American marten. Over a foot of new snow had fallen during the previous few days, and tracks were scarce. But our main mission for the day was to install motion-activated cameras in habitat where martens were likely to be found.

The American marten (Martes americana) is related to the European pine marten (Martes martes) but they are two distinct species. Nonetheless, you will sometimes hear the American marten referred to as the pine marten as well.

American martens are small forest carnivores and members of the weasel family. They are found in mature and old-growth forests and are considered a management indicator species for our region. Confirming the presence of species like marten can inform land management decisions that affect our public lands. Martens and other wildlife depend upon quality habitat for their food and shelter and ultimately for their survival. Fragmentation of wildlife habitat is a serious problem. The data that we collect will be helpful toward insuring that marten habitat will be preserved throughout the region.

In February, we established three marten monitoring sites in the Elkhorn Range of the Blue Mountains. We scouted out areas in suitable habitat and selected sites that are dispersed across the landscape. We marked the GPS coordinates for each spot to help re-locate them. Last Saturday, volunteers and HCPC staff returned to the sites and installed a motion-activated camera at each location. We left some bait and applied attractant known as “marten lure” to increase the odds of catching a marten in a photo.

Volunteers will return to the marten monitoring sites to look for tracks, maintain the cameras, bait and lure, and take notes to document everything. Would you like to join us in the search for martens? If so, contact me at or call 541-963-3950 extension 24. We will be re-visiting these sites regularly for several months.

Special thanks to the Burning and Charlotte Martin Foundations, Patagonia and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative for helping fund this project!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revisions recommends ZERO acres of new Wilderness for Washington

What is a Forest Plan?

A Forest Plan is a document that guides the overall land management direction of a National Forest for a period of about 15 to 20 years. A Forest Plan can be likened to a zoning plan that establishes the various approaches to land use on private lands. Just as the zoning of private land is critical to protecting farmland and private forests from unchecked development, the zoning of our national forests is equally important for protecting the precious natural resources they provide, and biodiversity they support. The Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revisions (BMFPR) combines three National Forests; the Wallowa-Whitman, the Umatilla, and the Malheur, into one planning process. One of the issues the BMFPR addresses is potential Wilderness. Areas that meet the inventory criteria for potential Wilderness can be recommended for Wilderness designation. They cannot, however, be designated Wilderness. Only Congress can do that. But the Forest Service can make recommendations based on their expertise and knowledge of the areas they administer.

What about Washington?

The northern Blue Mountains extend into Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin Counties of southeastern Washington State. This portion of the Umatilla National Forest includes numerous large inventoried roadless areas that meet the inventory criteria for potential Wilderness.

Some of these roadless areas, such as Upper Tucannon and Meadow Creek, are contiguous with the existing Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, and Forest Service reviews indicate these areas are excellent candidates for recommended Wilderness. Other areas such as Asotin Creek, Wenatchee Creek, Mill Creek, and Willow Springs are large enough to manage as stand-alone Wilderness areas and offer challenging recreational opportunities and solitude. All of these areas were evaluated for Wilderness recommendation and the proposed action was released in March of 2010. The proposed action does not recommend a single acre for Wilderness protection in Washington State.

How was this determined?

The Forest Service released a “Wilderness Need Evaluation” in order to evaluate the need for additional Wilderness on the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests ( Some of the factors considered in this analysis and listed on page 2 of the Wilderness Need Evaluation are:

1. The location, size, and type of other wilderness areas in the general vicinity and their distance from the proposed area. Considering accessibility of areas to population centers and user groups. Public demand for wilderness may increase with proximity to growing population centers.

2. Present visitor pressure on other wilderness areas, the trends in use, changing patterns of use, population expansion factors, and trends and changes in transportation.

While only a small portion of the BMFPR analysis area is within the State of Washington, the document shows that Walla Walla County alone has 20% of the entire analysis areas total population. When Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin Counties are added in, Washington is home to 29% of the entire population within the analysis area. It would follow that national forests close to large populations would receive more visitors. The Wilderness Need Evaluation supports this assumption on page 10:

“Within the Blue Mountains, the Umatilla National Forest is the most visited for all purposes and also contributes the highest wilderness use followed by the Wallowa-Whitman and the Malheur National Forests.”

Concerning population growth, the Wilderness Need Evaluation states that Washington State has the highest projected growth rate of any State in the project area (see page 15, Figure 8). Walla Walla and Tri-cities are growing at 3 times the national average (pg 15).

With regards to recreation demand the Wilderness Need Evaluation states on page 16 that backpacking, primitive camping, fishing, and horseback riding will increase. “Increases in wilderness visitation may be expected for relaxing, nature study, picnicking, viewing natural features, wildlife viewing, and visiting historic sites. Hiking and walking is projected to increase the most.”

In summary, not recommending any new Wilderness in Washington State runs counter to the analysis which suggests that this area should be at the top of the list for agency recommended Wilderness. Failure to recognize the clear need for recommended Wilderness in Washington could result in decades of lost time and increasing negative impacts to existing Wilderness as pressures continue to mount.

post by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator, HCPC