Monday, July 25, 2011

Don't "Smoke"

I had wanted to write about the young ospreys trying out their wings on the nest box on Woodell Road. I had wanted to write about the incredible wildflower displays after this spring's heavy rains. Instead I am writing once again about wolves.

Last week I saw a bumpersticker I hadn't seen before - "Canadian wolves - smoke a pack a day".

Kind of hard to keep my mind on the bountiful display of mock orange scenting the river's edge. Actually it was kind of hard to keep breathing when faced with that kind of hatred and violence.

In this same week the journal Science came out with another article on the vital importance of top predators in ecological health. The article, by an international team of 24 scientists, points out that the destruction of large "apex consumers" has kicked off a series of consequences that rank as one of the most devastating impacts we have had on this planet. It's not the animals themselves, as terrible as their loss has been. It's the effect of tearing the web of connections which we are barely starting to understand. It's not the individuals, it's the relationships. It's not the death of an animal, it's the "trophic downgrades"from the absence of that animal - those linked consequences that rip apart the fabric of a place.

I think about what it means to "smoke a pack" - the loss not just of the individuals, but the relationships between them, and between the wolves and the land.

Research on wolves shows that increased hunting of wolves does not reduce livestock predation, as hunting has a dramatic effect on the cohesiveness of the pack. The worst predation that's happened in Oregon came from two loner "teen" wolves in 2010, on their own without a pack structure.

Aldo Leopold wrote that even as the deer fears the wolf, so the mountain fears the deer. Without the fear of the wolf, the deer becomes a force for destruction of the land. In his essay "Thinking Like A Mountain" he makes a case for the need for wolves and other "apex consumers" for the land itself to be whole and healthy. It's not about loving wolves, it's about loving the land.

It's all about relationships. We can choose to keep smashing the connections, or we can stop, think, and maybe, just maybe, preserve a chance for this place we love to thrive.

- Danae Yurgel
Monday July 25th, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wildlife Watchers Detect Marten and More

Since starting my internship with HCPC this June, I’ve spent most of my days in the field less than an hour from the office here in downtown La Grande. Wednesday’s Wildlife Watchers camera check on Mt. Emily revealed the vitality of my new backyard.

The Wildlife Watchers program uses motion- and heat-activated cameras to photograph wildlife drawn to our lures. The program specifically targets the American marten, an elusive member of the weasel family that lives in closed-canopy, mixed-conifer forests. Marten need the canopy cover of mature trees, the cavities found in large diameter snags, and the ground structure created by downed trees. Their presence, or lack thereof, helps land managers determine the health of a forest.

The Wildlife Watchers program relies on volunteers to set up cameras and collect photographs and other data. Spearheading the project this summer is Jesse Peacock, a biology student at Eastern Oregon University. After a briefing by Mark Penninger, the lead wildlife biologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, and tour of the Mt. Emily area with Ecosystem Protection Coordinator David Mildrexler (see the prior blog post), Jesse and I set our sights, and our cameras, on the area.

Setting up the trail cameras is half art, half science. We mapped our study area and headed into the field looking for proper habitat: nearby riparian areas, dense canopy cover, and large dead trees. Once we found a promising zone, we tried to visualize the forest as a marten would: open sky through the canopy became the menacing territory of owls, fallen trees became our walkways, and squirrel middens became likely spots for a meal. We framed our shots, applied a pungent marten lure, and hoped for the best.

On Wednesday, two weeks after setting up our cameras, we headed back into the field with Brian Kelly and volunteers Allen Gorthy and Bob Peacock to check the cameras. Our results were fantastic: we successfully photographed a marten (a hard animal to lure in during the summer months) as well as a number of other non-target species, including black bear, bobcat, coyote, mule deer, and elk. Dead batteries wiped out a week of photographs at our most promising site, but that didn’t stop us from documenting a number of exciting species just a short drive from the HCPC office.

In addition to marten lure, we doused our sites in perfume. Apparently the felines love the stuff, and it may have brought in this bobcat.

A coyote trots away from the camera.

An elk passes through.

Two black bears checking out the lure.

Tree climbing for a sniff.

A buck in velvet.

Two mulies.

What we were after: an American marten. Jesse and Bob estimated the length of this marten to be just over two feet--likely a large male. (Note: the timestamp here reset due to dead batteries. This photo was taken on 7/10/11 at about 4am)

For more photos, check out Also, we'd love your help. Whether you want to take an active role in placing and checking cameras, or just want to tag along for a hike, contact Restoration Coordinator Brian Kelly at or (541) 963-3950 ext. 24.

-Joe Bushyhead

Thursday, July 7, 2011

HCPC in the Mount Emily country

When an organization has been around as long as HCPC, the continual process of getting to know the landscape can seem to have a natural, organic flow. This summer HCPC is connecting in a big way to the Mount Emily country; Owsley Roadless Area, Hellhole Roadless Area, Spring Mountain, Green Mountain and more. It started when HCPC’s esteemed Board recently visited the Owsley Hogback for a hike. An old, unmaintained trail along Owsley Hogback Ridge accesses Owsley Creek and provides wonderful views overlooking the Owsley Creek and Roadless Area. Following closely on the heels of the Board hike, Restoration Coordinator Brian Kelly co-led a wildflower hike with Botanist Susan Geer along Owsley hogback (see next Blog post). Next, Executive Director Greg Dyson took some visitors up hiking along the Owsley Hogback. I recently had the opportunity to visit the area with HCPC summer intern, Joe, and Wildlife Watcher volunteer, Jesse. We found a beautiful old growth forest stand on the edge of the Owsley Roadless Area (pictured at right).

Next we headed to Spring Mountain which is surrounded on three sides by the Owsley Roadless Area. A hiking trail leads through very nice forest to incredible cliffs that are popular with rock climbers (pictured below). From these rocky talus slopes are great views across to the directly adjacent Sugarloaf Mountain. The old growth pines grow right out of the massive boulders at the base of the cliff.
Spring mountain offers outstanding views of the Owsley Roadless area from the Whitman Overlook (pictured below). From this vantage point one can gaze over the steep slopes and deeply incised canyons that drop into Meacham, Owsley, and East Meacham creeks. The overlook area contains signs describing the historic journey of the Whitman family over this perilous terrain.

Rounding off our trip we explored the moist forests of Green Mountain. Green Mountain is surrounded by the Hellhole Roadless Area and the Mount Emily Roadless Area. While incredible old growth moist stands remain on Green Mountain, many of these rare old growth moist forests have fallen to the chainsaw. Note the dense understory of Pacific Yew, and the live and dead old growth standing trees pictured at right. It was a hot day, and as someone that studies land surface temperature, I was impressed by the large temperature difference between the old moist forest stands and the areas where the canopy was removed by heavy logging. The Pacific yew was gone from the areas that were previously logged because opening the canopy up in such an unnatural way dries out the understory of moist forests.

I'm looking forward to many more adventures in this incredible area!!

Posted by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator.